Teaching executives how to behave in a lift – An interview with Robin Kermode
Robin Kermode originally trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has been an actor for over 30 years. A well-known face to audiences on television and the London stage, he is also a popular voice-over artist and presenter (annually the MC for the World Tennis Masters at the 02 Arena in London), a popular media commentator and regular keynote speaker at conferences and corporate Away Days.
Robin has been coaching personal and public communication skills for the last 15 years; working with senior executives, entrepreneurs, politicians, charities, corporate teams, professionals and media personalities. He is an expert on all forms of corporate communication; from conferences to board room meetings, from sales to customer service, and for all internal communication.
You recently released a second edition of your book ‘Speak so your audience will listen’, in which you outline the most important steps of public speaking. What are some of the main things that enable a speaker to connect with his audience?
The first step is about you, about how comfortable you are in your own skin and the energy that you let off. The next step is about reaching out, connecting with somebody, and how able and willing you are to empathize and understand. How comfortable people feel in their own skin is intimately linked to confidence and charisma.
Confidence is based on how you feel about yourself and charisma, from the Greek ‘gift of grace’, is all about how you make someone else feel special. We always think of really charismatic people almost as a Jesus-like figure – the people who are just amazing on the world stage. But actually, if you meet those people 1-1 they make YOU feel amazing and they don’t have to big themselves up at all because of the confidence they have in themselves.Of course, when it comes to speaking, voice and body language are inevitably intertwined.
I truly believe that if your voice is right, your body language can’t be doing the wrong thing. You can only produce the voice in the right way if your body language is in the right way, and that doesn’t mean being rigid, or attempting to perform some sort of Pilates, it just means that should be standing vaguely straight.
At the end of the day the audience will judge whether they think we are authentic or not; all we can do is come across as calm, centered, and concerned about them. The structure will then come down to our level of empathy and the understanding of a particular audience, because fundamentally if it’s not relevant they won’t listen. At the end of the day, it’s about the fine balance between you and your message.
You currently work as a ‘body language commentator’ for the several British newspapers. How does body language really fit into public speaking, and can one be studied without the other?
You really can’t separate one from the other. As you know, body language is not read as individual parts. You can’t look at one element and draw conclusions from it – you really have to look at the whole thing. The most interesting specialist I met regarding body language, was a Norwegian detective. He had been investigating a mass homicide on a Norwegian island and I was coaching him in the UK for his press conferences. He was an excellent detective – there was no doubt about that. I was able to talk to him about body language and how he used the study of body language as a detective. It ranged to everything from where you sit across an interview table, to how you move your hands as you speak and what your pulse says about your state of mind. When he met me he was utterly incapable of not constantly analyzing me. It was like a full body scan, slightly terrifying, but he’s the one who taught me this valuable lesson: you have to read the whole thing, the whole cluster.
As a speaking coach you tend to work with many executives and business leaders. In your view, what is generally wrong with how executives and leaders speak to their teams?
Ego I would say is the biggest issue. Funnily enough, I find the higher up in an organization you go the nicer people are; their people skills are often better and they tend to be able to see the bigger picture. The biggest issue with senior leaders, I think, is that they don’t often speak from their emotional centre. They really struggle with aligning their voice with their emotional centre and understanding what that actually feels like. As executives and leaders they also need to understand the effect they have on their teams. They forget when they’re ‘up there’ what it feels like to be ‘down there’. So if you’re somewhere in the lower-middle of a company the CEO feels SO far away, and as an executive or a CEO you tend to forget that. Sometimes my coaching sessions simply start with us exploring how they can appropriately say ‘Good morning’ in a lift …
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