KILL YOUR ROBOT
“Just be yourself” they tell you, seconds before you address a room with hundreds of business leaders, from a stage that’s lit up like the last scene in Independence Day. The truth is, if I were to be myself, I’d take an armchair on the stage, kick my shoes off, grab a can of Heineken and watch the football on my iPad.
“It’s just acting” I hear, from the seasoned public speaker who delivers speeches with a half-British, half-American twang. Everything he says sounds like an advert. The reality is that if I got up there and become just another ‘voiceover’ man, churning out PR soundbites, I’d get it wrong. People would see through me.
This tension between the ‘professional’ and the ‘human’ is one that we’ve often seen played out across the media. Commentators attack politicians or business leaders for sounding too clipped or polished; whilst others criticise different leaders for appearing too laid back.
Is there a balanced approach? Can a leader become professionally human? To have any chance, we have to accept some universal communication truths:-
1. Passion can’t be manufactured - If you don’t really believe in what you’re saying publicly, don’t bother. Scepticism is wired into the modern human. Your fake passion will become ammunition to those waiting for you to fall.
2. Vulnerability is as powerful as vision - Leaders often believe there can’t be any chinks in their armour. The reality is, you’re not wearing any armour. Publicly admitting that something has been testing, can galvanise a team.
3. Blow out storms quickly - A good leader knows the fears and rumours surfacing amongst the workforce. Extinguishing unhelpful sparks early on shows conviction and unites the team.
The tension between the ‘professional’ and the ‘human’ can also be seen as an issue between style and content. As a journalist I was taught that a good measure of content is whether or not you’d share it with your mates down the pub. Here are some tips:
1) Don’t say something in three sentences that you can say in one.
2) Ask yourself if you would enjoy listening to yourself. It’s weird, but it helps.
3) Before any talk or announcement, map out where you’ll be going right at the start.
4) Get a reality check. Pick two excellent thinkers and ask to them to audit your communication.
5) Avoid intensity. Passion is great, intensity is obsessive and nobody likes it.