As Theresa May lurched from one crisis to another, I was asked last week by Helen Dunne, editor of CorpComms magazine, for some advice to address the PM’s failure to empathise and communicate effectively. Above all, the brief was ‘to make the Prime Minister seem more human’.
The results from myself and other commentators can be found here: https://corpcommsmagazine.co.uk/features-and-analysis/view/theresa-may-needs-a-new-media-strategy on the CorpComms web site. The general thrust of my contribution, however, was based on advice I often give to clients in Presentation Skills sessions: ‘Let a little light shine in on yourself and your audience will warm to you. Then everything you say will sound more convincing, because it is coming from someone they feel they know and can trust’. This, it has to be said, needs to be rather more ‘real’ and spontaneous than a carefully stage-managed display of leather trousers. Arguably the most effective thing Mrs May did communications-wise over the Grenfell Tower disaster was reportedly to have shed tears over the victims’ stories. But, cynical as it may sound, she needed to be seen to be showing that emotion, not simply beavering away behind closed doors in Downing Street. Just look at how effective the Royals proved to be, simply by being seen to show up in a timely manner. And how much ‘PR credit’ have they banked of late by opening up on mental health issues?
So how do you apply the ‘Letting some light shine in on yourself’ principle as a business presenter as opposed to a Prime Minister or member of the Royal family? By way of example, I was working on a rather dry presentation with a senior packaging executive. It was a bit of a slog, so we took a break and over coffee he admitted that the new idea he was preaching had actually been sparked by his children over breakfast. I asked him if we could use that and he gradually warmed to the idea. What this meant was that the audience were now seeing: family man; cute kids (from a picture he dug out); a man willing to share credit on a day when the overall theme was ‘teamwork’; and a man prepared to think outside the box. As a result, his was the presentation that everyone remembered and talked about afterwards.
It’s quite simple really, but be warned – it needs a leap of confidence to get the process going. Note that my client’s key theme only emerged during an informal chat over coffee. This is often the case – most people are simply too coy to offer up aspects of their personal life in a more formal setting and need to have it coaxed out of them. So be brave and do it in consultation with others.