Cut the BS with Emily Zawisza
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Cut the BS
Emily Zawisza started our interview with a big sip of coffee. She then negotiated with me to use the word “slurp” – over the word “pause” – to communicate that moment in the transcript of our conversation. This all makes sense because Emily is: A.) Funny, and B.) Good at negotiations. At Four Day Weekend out of Fort Worth, Texas, she helps the group book corporate entertainment and speaking engagements around the world. She’s very successful at it. Four Day Weekend is a sought-after keynote speaker and entertainer for hundreds of events, conferences and conventions every year. This is why it was a treat to find time in Emily’s schedule for our visit about Business Speak (BS). Enjoy!
Oh….and slurp. ☺
Q: How do you pronounce your last name?
It’s pronounced Zuh-Vee-Shuh. I used to be Emily Chapman and then I married into a Polish last name, so I still get stuck on spelling it out. (laughter)
Q: What’s your official job title?
At Four Day Weekend, I’m the Director of Corporate Sales. I’m also a cast member in our troupe and I help in our corporate keynotes and entertainment.
Q: What is Four Day Weekend?
Four Day Weekend is a troupe that started in Fort Worth, Texas in 1997. There was a group of three guys that put up $700 each to get a 6-week run of an improv show in a space in Fort Worth. People kept coming to the shows and it continued. Now we’re the longest-running comedy show in the Southwest, and we’re about to have our 23rd anniversary with two locations. Every weekend, on Friday and Saturday nights, casts on both sides of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex put on completely improvised comedy shows. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I visited with Emily before COVID-19 hit. As of this writing, Four Day Weekend is temporarily closed for live performances.) We get all of our content from index cards and sticky notes that we have everybody fill out in the audience. It’s really fun. Over 15 years ago, we started bringing an HR-friendly version of our show to corporate events. From that, we started to emcee and host events as well as do corporate keynotes -- where we teach the skills of improvisation and how they apply to the corporate world.
Q: When you create content – whether it be as keynote speakers, educators or entertainers – for these business events, how much do you have to get up-to-speed on the business speak of the group you’re serving?
Yeah, we absolutely want to customize around our client. I start every ideation session by asking, “What is important to you? What is the industry lingo that I need to know?” The biggest thing that I’ve learned about those conversations is to just be vulnerable and OK with not understanding a term at first. I think that you’ll find the person on the other side of the conversation has empathy for that. They want to teach you. It’s so intimidating to be wrong or to feel stupid, and I feel like as I’ve grown in my career I’ve been able to say, “OK. I’m not in the ophthalmology industry. You have to break that down for me.”
Q: Do clients ask you to work in some of their commonly-used BS into your content?
Yes, in entertainment especially. When you’re working with a team in the oil and gas industry for example, and you come up with some sort of ridiculous acronym that they get, they think, “Oh my gosh! You’ve learned so much about our company. This is truly about us.” That’s super fun. They really appreciate it even if it’s just one or two acronyms or pieces of information within their industry. That’s a homerun every time.
Q: Can you recall the first time some business-specific acronyms – like ROI or KPI – were run by you and you had no idea what it meant?
Yes, I started working with Four Day Weekend about three-and-a-half years ago now. I took my first meeting at a big oil and gas company that had a male-dominated C-suite. There are five executives (all 60-year-old white men) asking me about business terms that, in retrospect, they know I don’t know, and I’m thinking, ‘What are they talking about?’ All of it was coming at me so fast. It was incredibly intimidating. There was a lot of that at the very beginning and it wasn’t perfect, but I learned a lot.
Q: Why do you think those situations occur? Do you think the BS-ers in these situations are trying to establish a pecking order, if you will, or is it they’re just so used to the terms they use that they’ve lost sight of how confusing they may sound on first impression?
(laughter) I’ve experienced both situations. I’ve experienced the BS jargon where they give acronyms to save time and get a quick understanding. The other side of it, in that specific meeting we’re talking about, it felt like a status thing. I think they were testing me… the worth of why am I there? That type of thing is pretty rampant, and I don’t think it’s just gender-based. I think it’s a lot of different factors that can go into that which is difficult to navigate.
Q: How do you handle it now when foreign-sounding BS terms are coming at you?
The more prepared I am for a meeting, the better it’s going to be, period. I think I’ve learned a lot through experience, getting older and taking a little bit of the ego out of it that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know what that term means.” My personal theme this year is vulnerability which comes from author, Brene Brown. Do you know much about Brene Brown?
Q: No, but I’d love to hear more though.
Oh, she’s fantastic. A quote [from her] that I am staring at in my office right now is “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat. It’s understanding the necessity of both. It’s engaging. It’s being all in.” So, in that scenario, with those executives from the oil & gas company, I can’t change them. I know that. Beyond that, I think, “OK. What were those terms that I didn’t know?” The next time I walk in, I have more status because I feel more prepared and I’m innately more confident. It’s not a bad thing. I don’t tear myself down because I wasn’t prepared in their industry lingo. It was way over my head. However, it’s now three years later, so I’m very comfortable in it now. The salesperson and improviser I was three years ago and the salesperson and improviser I am now is just a little bit more well-versed.
Q: Are there any specific BS terms that you don’t like?
Yes, I do not enjoy “see below” in an email. “See below” means “I have no interest in putting any effort into this email. I need you to read the entire chain and catch up. And I’m putting it all on you to ask the questions that I could just make very clear in a 2-sentence email.” That drives me so insane.
Q: That’s funny! I do that a lot. I’ll have to re-think that practice now. How about your own communication? Are there things you say on the job that you wish you didn’t?
There is something that is so rampant and, as a public speaker and a presenter, I personally do this. When you go back and listen to our interview, count how many times I say “so.” It is so annoying. (laughter) It is everywhere. It is the new “like” from the 90s. Do you hear that often?
Q: Yes. Part of my consulting work is I do presentation skills training and we zero in on what we call “nonwords.” We all have our nonwords. “So” is a big one. You’re not alone.
It’s actually ruining my ability to listen to people! I feel a lot better knowing I’m not alone. Being cognizant of something like that that is a filler word or a nonword, it does make me more present and intentional in how I communicate which is a good thing.
Q: How can people find out more about Four Day Weekend and the work you do?
Check out our website, http://fourdayweekend.com/. To inquire about corporate services – whether it be entertainment, hosting or training -- please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. To purchase our national best-selling book, Happy Accidents: The Transformative Power of "Yes, And" at Work and in Life, you can visit: https://www.amazon.com/Happy-Accidents-Transformative-Power-Work/dp/1119428564. It came out in 2017 and it was written by the three co-founders of Four Day Weekend who are absolute joys: David Wilks, David Ahearn, and Frank Ford.
Q: What’s the book about?
Happy Accidents is our story of entrepreneurship. Dave, Dave and Frank talk about how they started the company. They weren’t business majors, but they realized, “Oh, we need a business philosophy that works as this business is growing.” They took the key philosophy of improvisation which is yes-and and they applied it to their business. Using that philosophy, they grew from a show that started in Fort Worth to now a troupe that has performed for two sitting US Presidents, the United States Congress and does work with Fortune 500 companies all over the world. Also, woven throughout the book are some practical activities and things that you can do to apply improv principles to your work life and your personal life. We use it as a compendium piece to our keynotes. It’s a really fun read.
Speaking of fun, we hope you enjoyed our visit with Emily Zawisza of Four Day Weekend, and we wish her (and you) many more slurps of delicious coffee!
Q: Zuh-Vee-Shuh. That’s actually a pretty cool last name. Do people freak out trying to pronounce it?
Yeah, that’s why in my email signature, I started to do the phonetic spelling because I know, being in sales my whole life, it’s really intimidating to call somebody and then have to face a name that you are probably going to mis-pronounce. I try to make it easy.
Q: Does Four Day Weekend get booked more for training or as entertainment in the corporate world?
People understand the entertainment aspect of Four Day Weekend because they’ve either seen our show or they’ve been to a corporate conference where they’ve seen us perform. That makes it easy for them to turn around and sell us to their team or to their company. The training aspect has really taken a rise in about the last five years. We have seen such a rise because people understand now the aspects of communication and how the principles of improv work within them. We’re getting attendees to think about the way they listen and the way that they add to the conversation. It’s really fun whenever I talk to clients after an event and they say, “Oh, we’ve been yes-anding all week. People keep yes-anding through their meetings in the office.” It’s really fun to see.
Q: I’m guilty of doing your pet peeve: forwarding on an email chain and typing “see below” to the recipient. I’m sorry. I’ll have to rethink doing that now.
Thank you. You’re an improviser so you know. It’s like walking on stage and asking a question. You’re like “Oh, so now I start the scene? Great. OK. Awesome.” It’s the same kind of feeling of “I’m going to drop this in your lap, and I need you to read the entire email chain and get caught up-to-speed.” There’s a lot of those scenarios where you could just add, you know, “Dan from accounting has some questions. I think it’s this. Let us know your thoughts.” It could take that much, but people don’t do it.