Speak So Your Audience Will Listen - Communicating as a Leader
By Cecilia Leong-Faulkner, Founder, British Theatre Playhouse Academy
Robin Kermode is a stage, TV and film actor, author of the best selling book Speak So Your Audience Will Listen and global communication coach. He is the leading body language expert for The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. Given these disruptive times, I was eager to engage with Robin to discuss his key insights on leadership and effective communication. Leaders have to communicate effectively, which has always been part of leadership, and you need team communication to get things done.
Where did you get the idea for your book Speak So Your Audience Will Listen?
I was often asked by clients at the end of a day’s coaching course if I had some detailed notes, so I started off with a few sides of A4 with some bullet points covering the areas we had worked on in the session. But then I thought it would be good to be able to offer a more comprehensive summary. This soon morphed into a full scale book.
When I was writing it, I was very clear on two things:
Firstly, I wanted the book to sound just as if I was talking to the reader. I didn’t want it to sound pompous or like a tedious lecture. So, once my thoughts were in order, I dictated the book into my laptop and let the computer do the typing! This really helped with the conversational style that I was aiming for. I’m pleased with the result. It also made it very easy for me to record the audio book, as I didn’t stumble over any complicated sentences. It ‘lifted off’ the page easily.
Secondly, I’ve read so many ‘teaching’ and ‘coaching’ books over the years which I felt were written too densely. They made it hard for the reader to see the wood for the trees. So, when I was typesetting the book, I consciously left a blank space on the page every now and then. I didn’t want it just to be wall to wall, relentless information. Areas of blank page give the reader space to think and to make notes.
As French classical composer Claude Debussy said, ‘The music is in the silence between the notes.’ We all need space to think and feel, so that we can absorb.
What is the best approach to leadership communication?
If I had to put this into only two words, they would be clear and consistent.
Being clear is about being simple and unambiguous. I remember a CEO once saying to me that he had a great opening for a speech to his staff. He had planned to say, ‘We need to work harder.’
I said, ‘I’m not sure what that means. Harder than what? Harder than you thought I should have worked? Or harder than our competitors are working?’ I also said to him, that his message would probably have upset most of his employees who felt they’d been working pretty hard anyway!
And being consistent is just as important. If the messaging is constantly changing, employees never know where they are.
We all remember teachers at school who were lenient one day, laughing at your behaviour, and punishing you the next day for doing exactly the same thing. This felt deeply unfair as a child and, as adults, we don’t like it in the workplace either.
So, clarity and consistency are vital.
In times of uncertainty, how can a team communicate openly with their leaders with trust and satisfaction?
Leadership is really an acronym for a successful, modern communication style:
Listen – Leaders must be good listeners and be seen to be good listeners
Empathetic – They must be empathetic and show empathy
Adaptable – They must be adaptable in these uncertain times
Decisive – They be decisive to be able to make difficult decisions
Energetic – They must have energy, because energy is infectious
Respectful – They must show respect for all employees, all of the time
Support – They must be there as a support for their teams
Humility – They must be genuinely humble
Interested – They must be interested in their employees
Present - And finally, they must be present in each moment
How can you coach leaders to be more warm, open and transparent to achieve engagement and cooperation without fearing negative consequences?
There has been a marked shift in communication styles since the start of the pandemic. We all recognise that. But I believe this shift had actually started a good five years or so earlier. Covid simply sped up the process and made it more pronounced.
Pressure from Millennials for leaders to become more natural and transparent heralded a decline in the old fashioned top-down leadership model. Together with a push for businesses to be purpose-driven, this has encouraged leaders to be more engaged and empathetic.
There has also been a huge shift in consensus team building over the last couple of years. The Humble Leadership style, that fosters this, is now being demanded by employees. This can be seen clearly in the UK with the popularity of England’s football manager Gareth Southgate. His style has been spot-on for the current times. And if you haven’t yet seen the wonderful series Ted Lasso on Apple TV, take a look. It is a fantastic example of sports leadership pitched to perfection. What’s also interesting about the lead character, Ted, is that he is essentially a deeply kind person. This is rare in a TV drama but it shows how leadership styles have changed dramatically.
A lot of companies have to adapt to change and be intentional about promoting well-being. What would your advice be for leaders?
As you know, one of the most expensive costs for an organisation is employee churn. It’s disheartening to spend time and money training up a new recruit only to have them leave because they are disgruntled or have not been looked after well enough. Life Cycle HR departments have really come into their own during Covid and I have no doubt will continue to be the linchpin of many organisation’s employee strategy.
As we move forward, and as we slowly move out of Covid restrictions, the work life balance of employees is something that all companies will have to balance delicately.
Genuinely attending to the emotional well-being of staff is now a must for all leaders.