Having trained as an actor, I worked for several years as an audio-director, directing spoken-word recordings. I began coaching people in communication skills in 2002. I train a range of people, from CEOs to bar staff. I teach voice and presentation skills, elocution and English pronunciation. I also prep executives for job interviews. I have trained hundreds of people from more than 60 countries.
What’s the most important thing to remember about communication?
Everyone must be fully engaged in the conversation. When speaking you have to hold people’s attention – you can’t influence them if they’re not listening.
What are the most common mistakes executives make when it comes to communication and/or presentations?
Allowing their business role to obscure their personality – they sometimes forget about being human and begin to relate less well to other people. Once colleagues regard you as a function rather than someone they can talk to they will mentally disengage from you.
Also not being fully present in the moment: when speaking about one subject they might be thinking ahead about what they have to say next or even about something else entirely. Focus on what you are saying now or you will appear to lack commitment.
Are good communication skills nature or nurture?
Both. The nurture comes in drawing out what is naturally there but is often long forgotten or blocked by a lack of confidence.
What are the key tips you give to those giving presentations?
Never read a verbatim script. Plan a ‘road map’ of your presentation, progressing from subject to subject, using trigger words and key points. Write sentences that are to be spoken and listened to, not read. Be yourself. Talk to the audience, not to your notes or a screen. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Breathe!
What alternatives are there ‘to death by PowerPoint’?
Tell the story. You are the storyteller. In your story there are a handful of pictures to give the listener some memorable images. That’s all they are. PowerPoint should add impact. Don’t allow technology to obscure your message. Ask yourself: if there is a power cut, can I still give a successful presentation?
What will the next wave of presentation style look like?
I hope it will be simple, direct, natural and friendly. Presentation should appear less like a speech, more like one side of a conversation – but, paradoxically, that requires quite a lot of technique.
What are the best ways for leaders to stay in touch with their team/employees?
Let them see you, hear you – in person, in a live-link, by video on their tablet or mobile phone. Nothing beats the human face or the human voice.
Who are the best communicators? Which do you admire and why?
The best are those who appear to be completely relaxed, fully present in the moment, happy to be themselves, passionately connected to their mission, and enjoying the opportunity to engage in conversation, or, in the case of presentations, to share their message – ‘I have something wonderful to tell you’. They seem to have an ability to talk to anyone, whatever the situation.
David Attenborough is a legend – that melodious, inclusive style, never dumbing down but utterly accessible. Mary Portas is passionate, direct, impactful, effective. Clare Balding is fresh, enthusiastic, energised. Steve Jobs led the way in the simplicity of his presentations. For perfectly honed delivery, see early Barack Obama: watch his 2008 election night speech on YouTube. The way he phrases each sentence to bring out its full meaning is flawless.