Allan Pease | Profile Magazine
Starting out selling rubber sponges door-to-door at the age of 10, Allan Pease has mastered the art of communication, offering such a unique insight into human behaviour he is now sought after by some of the world’s most respected and prominent leaders.
“Vladimir, two sugars in that coffee please,” Allan Pease gestures to the then Deputy Mayor of Saint Petersburg, Moscow.
“He didn’t speak English so it didn’t help,” Allan says with a ferocious laugh.
Although the coffee order was lost in translation for Putin, there was no language barrier for Allan, who is fluent in body language.
It was 1992 and just weeks after Communism had fallen when Allan and his wife Barb were in Russia, teaching politicians how to present themselves in the media.
“They were all karate chopping,” Allan says, hitting his right hand into his left, “and pointing and shaking their fists because that’s what Communism was about.”
Putin had not long resigned from the KGB and orchestrated the seminar for 300 of the nation’s new leaders, having been appointed the role of Deputy Mayor under Mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s leadership.
Allan has since watched Putin’s rise to Russian presidency with keen interest, eyeballing his every move to see how much he adopted any of his teachings.
“Russians have what I call the Soviet face, which means the whole time they look really serious, and that’s okay within Russia,” he says.
“When you look at Putin, he wears this face, and one of the most important things I teach Russians is if you’re going to impress foreign leaders you can’t look like that when you have other world leaders like Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama smiling and Putin showing no emotion.”
Allan’s infatuation with body language began in the 1950s, when he would shadow his father, an insurance salesman, around his hometown of Lorne, Victoria.
“Back in those days, insurance salesmen would go out and collect the premiums and, as a form of canvassing for new business, would try to sell more insurance and try and meet the neighbours,” he says.
“My father would take me with him two or three nights a week, the strategy was, there would always be women at home and a man on his own had trouble getting inside, but with a five-year-old they always invited him in for a cup of tea.
“Rather than studying my homework I’d sit around watching my dad negotiating and presenting.
“He’d tell me if the price is too high, they’ll move back and put their hand on their face or on their head; if they’re interested they’ll lean forward and ask a question. I thought everybody knew how to do this.”
By the time Allan was 10, he got his first job knocking on doors selling rubber sponges and then as a teenager, spent five years selling pots and pans on weekends and after school.
“At age 19, I joined the life insurance industry, which was big time selling. You couldn’t get into insurance until you were 25 and you had to have accounting qualifications, which I had none of,” he says. “I wanted to give it a go because I was a crack salesman, the best pots-and-pans salesman you ever saw.”
After 12 years in the insurance business, Allan then went into business with Kerry Packer and Tony Greg, founding Lion Insurance Brokers.
“When I was selling pots-and-pans, they’d get me to stand up in front of the sales group every week and teach them how to sell, I started my career as a teenager talking about handling objections, observing people, what customers were likely to do by the way they behaved,” he says. “That was extremely popular and so I put it into a 20-page handbook that I’d sell for $10 and they would knock me over in the rush to get one.”
In 1976, Allan, then aged 26, released his first book Body Language, not long before he was picked up by Mike Walsh, who started The Midday Show. Three weeks later Body Language was number one in Australia.
“I remember thinking if I can sell 10,000 of these it’ll be a smash hit,” he says.
Not one to rest on his laurels, once the book hit 30,000 copies, Allan went to the library to scour foreign phone books for the names of big publishers in America and the United Kingdom, before sending letters and a copy of his book to 57 of them.
Unfortunately Allan was turned down by everyone, so bought a cheap plane ticket to New York and walked up and down Wall Street, knocking on doors. After further rejections, a tenacious Allan signed with an agent who sold the book to Bantam Books.
Body Language soon went number one worldwide and was translated into 54 languages – last year it was still number one in six countries, almost 40 years after publication.
“I knew it was going to be successful but I hadn’t thought about it being a global thing because I was only in my early 20s,” he says.
In the 1980s, Allan had his own television series which aired across the entire Southern Hemisphere, and was a regular guest with TV personalities including Don Lane, Daryl Somers, Ray Martin and Kerri-Anne Kennerley.
“It all expanded from a practical thing of going out with my father and watching how he would present,” he says.
To stay current, Allan has reinvented his material every 10 years. The sequel, Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps, co-authored with wife Barbara, sold 13 million copies, eclipsing Body Language’s six million copies, his third book sold three million copies and his fourth sold another two million copies.
But when Allan then paired up with his wife Barb to pen a book about relationships and the differences between men and women, they became a worldwide smash hit.
For the next 15 years, they travelled around 70 countries including Europe, Japan and Russia on book and seminar tours and today still travel three months of the year, spending most time in eastern European countries, especially Russia and Siberia.
Over the years, Allan has met and appeared alongside a bevy of big names. Most recently, he was in Moscow with Richard Branson, he’s sat in green rooms with Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe; Lindy Chamberlain; Princess Anne of England; and met British football player Will Carling on the night the story broke he was having an affair with Princess Diana.
Allan also has a state-of-the-art recording studio at his home in Buderim, which sees him often rubbing shoulders with the stars – Curtis Stone recently dropped by to record a voice-over for his television series California Dreaming; and Allan and Barbara’s studio engineered the title track to Dreamwork’s movie Home, with Rihanna.
But while Allan enjoys dabbling in such industries, his passion is human behavioral studies, his bibles are Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals from 1888 and Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape written in the late 1960s.
“Some body language gestures are universal, the most universal one is flashing (raising) your eyebrows, monkeys and chimps do it too,” he says. “It’s an eye-widening signal used by primates to communicate, ‘I see you’ and it has a powerful effect on others when you meet them.”
“We started putting this biology into business training, for example, if you go to a coffee shop there’s a line of six people and you’re debating whether to stay or go, we’ve found if the person serving gets your eye contact, you’ll stay seven minutes longer before you leave, because you’ve been recognised with an eyebrow flash.”
Another observation from within large corporations is as people, mostly men, are promoted, they show less gestures and will keep a straight face when meeting people and shaking hands, whereas people in lower ranks tend to eyebrow flash, nod, and smile with their teeth.
“Showing your teeth when you smile is the second most common gesture and primates do this too; we’re the only land animal that reveals their teeth and doesn’t bite next,” he says.
“By showing you my teeth and giving you an eyebrow flash, you instantly feel comfortable and not threatened, whereas when someone who meets you and shows no expression are intimidating.
“These are only little signals but they’re enormously powerful in making first impressions because first impressions happen in under four minutes, that’s when people decide up to 90 per cent of their opinion about you.”
Not long before I arrive for our interview, Allan has written the last sentence of his new book, within its pages are the letters he wrote spruiking his first book, and all of the replies.
These days he doesn’t need to try so hard, he has people knocking on his door to work with him, in fact he’s one of three writers (Stephen King and Wilbur Smith are the others) with HarperCollins Publishers to have an advance on his book – he was paid 12 years ago.
The book will be titled The Answer and is about how to get what you want out of life and if the tales Allan has just spun are anything to go by, it’ll be another best seller.
Originally published in Profile Magazine