I enjoyed Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King on Question Time, fending off interrogation about his £900,000 salary and the ‘stratospheric pay increases’ that have resulted in executive pay in the FTSE 100 rising on average by 49% compared with just 2.7% for the average employee, according to last month’s High Pay Commission report.
King did a good job, coming across clearly . Facing up to an audience is never easy, especially when you know the situation is likely to be more akin to bear baiting than a polite discussion.
His appearance got me thinking about how to prepare for such an event. Luckily help was at hand when voice coach Milly Ellis of Be Heard off-ered to give me a lesson on how to overcome the mental barriers that can undermine performance in such situations. That is how I found myself in an empty room in Lambeth, London, focusing my attention on breathing, doing stretching exercises to release tension and emitting a range of sounds that reminded me of a baby gurgling .
It sounds strange, but these are the exercises used by actors to warm up before a performance . Once you know that, you do not feel so ridiculous. After 20 minutes it was on to “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” from Pirates of Penzance, as well as poems from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Blake and Victor Hugo.
You soon realise that most of us speak way too fast and give little meaning to each word, probably as we are keen to get through presentations as soon as possible. But this is to our detriment. We may not put the correct emphasis on a message, or flunk an interview. As a CEO we may not inspire. Or we may just lose that sale.
Given an hour of coaching I was motivated to think more carefully about language. I now look at words differently. And I am not the only one. Ian Watson, head of the Pret Academy, says Ellis has been an inspiration for the sandwich giant’s senior management development programme. “She has given our leaders an extraordinary confidence to convey messages with charisma and impact ,” he says. KFC company operations director Insa Klasing adds: “The transformation is incredible .”
As well as improving confidence and communication, voice coaching can help generate sales. Duncan Montgomery, director at accountants Whittingham Riddell, says one of his team brought in more clients in the 12 months following a session with Ellis than in the previous five years.
So for manufacturers seeking to convince buyers to take more products, retailers looking to teach customer service techniques to staff , or for anyone planning to look for a new job in the new year, why not give it a try? It worked for King George VI…