How many times have you watched a business or political leader on television and thought, ‘they’ve been over media trained!’? Their performance may be polished and it’s probably pretty articulate. They’ve got the on-screen energy. The body language is ok. It’s difficult to take issue with what they’re saying. It’s just that the whole thing doesn’t connect with you. They lack empathy. They’re not really talking to me. They’re up there somewhere else addressing goodness knows who!
I’ve experienced this countless times. Politicians of all persuasions fell into this mode of communication during the recent election campaign. They addressed the nation but forgot to talk to me. I’ve seen this happen at AGMs, employee town hall meetings, in staff videos and, of course, when business leaders account for themselves or their brands in the broadcast media. A little voice in my head wants to scream, ‘have you forgotten who you’re supposed to be talking to?!’
When I sit down with someone, on a sofa, in a meeting room or in coffee shop we engage in conversation. We converse. We’re responsive. We’re usually at ease and we try to connect. It’s not a performance. We are usually just being ourselves… and this is the point. When it matters and we want to engage with someone, we stand the best chance of being understood when we’re natural, spontaneous and authentic.
Much has been said about the value of authenticity. It is now a highly-prized characteristic in leaders. Authentic politicians are more believable. Authentic business leaders are more compelling. It’s apparently now an attribute to be learnt! For me though, the key to authenticity is simple. We need to remember how to converse. We must rediscover the art of conversation. Being conversational isn’t reserved for the home, the coffee shop or when with friends. It’s a way of communicating that also translates to the TV studio or the big platform. It’s about a willingness to use simple language, avoid jargon, have a sense of humour and to personalise content. It’s about sharing insight, telling stories and above all, willing our audiences to be entertained and engaged.
Try it. It’s not that difficult. After all, you practice this at home all the time.
By Stephen Watson