This week our community ambassador Jacqueline Shields interviews Australian journalist and author- Gretel Killeen. Follow Gretel on Twitter via @gretelkilleen.
Gretel Killeen’s career has run the gamut in the field of communication. She has written more than twenty books, hosted radio and television programs, worked as a journalist, a stand-up comic, and a voice artist. In addition, she has written and directed for film, TV and stage. She produced a documentary following the plight of AIDS orphans in Zambia, as well as profiles to raise awareness about unexploded ordinance in Laos, poverty in Bangladesh, the defense force on Australia Day in Taren Kaut, Afghanistan and rabies eradication in India. Gretel is a renowned MC, key note speaker and debater. She is currently channeling all of her experience into instructing individuals and corporations in the art of communication. Most of all, Gretel is keeping it real.
Gretel, you’ve recently moved into the corporate world to help executives and corporations improve their communication skills and find their authentic voice. How do the three areas of writing, performing and business interconnect?
To be truly successful in each of these three fields, you must stand out by expressing uniqueness. Unfortunately the pressures of society and the workplace until now have discouraged this and instead encouraged us to conform and suppress our individuality.
The Tall Poppy Syndrome in Australia has contributed to this. Women need look no further than our plethora of magazines to see how strong the message to fit in is. The ads tell us the importance of ‘being you’. However, upon opening the publication we see that page after page tells us what to wear, what to eat and how to be. It’s befuddling hypocrisy. Those who don’t conform are ridiculed and harshly judged.
Pulling people down who do stand out is accepted as the way our society operates. In the long term such inhibitors can lead to ordinariness in our personal and professional communications with a lack of integrity and profundity. I’m keenly aware of that when I gently encourage people to be themselves. It requires firm support and guts, but the rewards are enormous not only professionally but personally as well.
My team and I work to allow the unique voice to emerge with strength, confidence, and profundity… and dare I say it… enjoyment.
How do you differentiate an authentic voice from an inauthentic voice?
An inauthentic voice is dull and its speeches are riddled with clichés and predictability.
An authentic voice speaks from the heart and the mind; it surprises and engenders trust with its honesty. Those who speak with an authentic voice are those whom we subconsciously believe in and follow.
If we look at the corporate environment, those with an authentic voice are those who don’t use jargon. They acknowledge their faults and vulnerabilities, and in doing so come across as honest. There is in fact a move in corporate leadership towards embracing and acknowledging mistakes. This is increasingly becoming a requirement with the evolution of social media and the transparency this brings.
As a leader, you cannot afford to be deemed shallow, two dimensional or artificial. The day of the archetypal ‘suit’ has gone. The audience wants authenticity, and we teach people how to access and deliver that.
Who do you feel exemplifies an authentic voice?
Off the top of my head? Richard Branson, Mother Theresa and President Barack Obama. Obama is a classic example of an authentic voice. He conveys an overriding aura of ‘realness’. His delivery is to the point, said with feeling and often with humour.
In our country most politicians come across as perfectly rehearsed automatons. At the other end of the spectrum, stand-up comics are a group who exemplify having an authentic voice. They are the most successful communicators in Australia. They deal with the toughest crowds, are out on a limb expressing obscure new thoughts, and if they fail the audience is unforgiving. Their vulnerability is their selling point.
The exchange of information allowed by technology has led all communicators, whether comics or TED speakers, to raise the bar for the corporate world. The audience now knows what is possible. They do not and should not expect to be bored or unstimulated by a presentation. If the speaker does not touch his audience, move them or teach them… then perhaps he deserves to boo’d off or at the very least heckled.
What inspired you to share your skills with the corporates world?
I am obsessed with the expression of the individual and enabling each person’s unique self to show. I believe that we can do this at work and still effectively represent the corporation.
When we continually stifle the self, it results in deeper social issues such as depression. The pressure to hide yourself from society and to conform is incredibly strong. Of course no one fits into this mould and the result is that many feel an underlying sense of inadequacy… of not being good enough to present our real self. So we present a fictitious persona that is safe and dull; that could say what anyone else could be saying instead of standing out, being who we are and making it a fulfilling and stimulating experience for everyone.
I think the tide is slowly turning. No longer do we need to hide our personalities and all the things that make us real people. Before, especially in the 1990s, showing your true self was seen as self-indulgent. More and more you can talk about your life or share an insight into your passions, inject a sense of irony or humour, and use metaphors that resonate with you that others can relate to in your corporate persona.
With the rise of technology people are increasingly yearning for a real off-line connection. People want to be touched. Metaphorically, if not literally. But because we have been so focused on the fonts we use, the links to articles we share, the photos we show and hiding behind our online personas, we are losing confidence in face-to-face communication.
‘According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy”. -Jerry Seinfeld. You teach being ‘comfortable, fearless and powerful’ when presenting. Has this always been the case when you are in front of an audience?
There have been times when I have been absolutely terrified. I remember when I first performed, I prayed for the ceiling of the building to collapse. Admittedly I was dressed as a drunk housewife in a black negligee. That said, it took me some time to realize that I was the only person who’d come to the event not planning to have a good time. In my career I’ve been criticised, vilified, praised, defamed and honoured. I’ve had to learn to swallow my nerves and believe in myself.
How do you do that? What is your approach when addressing an audience?
My approach is to have a logical structure to my presentation or performance because the skeleton of a presentation is vital. I remind myself that I am there to enrich, entertain, educate and enjoy. I focus on how this experience will benefit others and how it will also benefit me.
When I’m coaching in the corporate environment, I emphasis these three areas:
Remove the expectation of perfection. People don’t relate to perfection. They relate to flaws. So work out what you are comparing yourself to that is making you so insecure. Acknowledge that you are perfectly imperfect.
Have confidence in the value of your contribution and if you don’t feel you are saying something important… rewrite and prepare until you do.
Know what it is that you are trying to achieve i.e. when you go into battle you need to know what you are fighting for. You need to work out what you want your audience to feel and how you want to feel during and after the presentation.
What is the greatest problem most people have with public speaking?
Fear that they will not be good enough and as a consequence they won’t be liked. However we forget that imperfection is what we relate to. Perfection is alienating.
It’s all really a question of self esteem. (Ironically however some people are appalling communicators because they have an excessive degree of confidence and inability to acknowledge the chasm between themselves and their audience.)
To overcome your fear you need to think through the goal of your material, familiarize yourself with it, and make it interesting to you and to your audience.
Your presentation is not something to be endured. If that is your approach then your audience will definitely feel it. You need to find your own uniqueness and strength and hone in on it. That might be your compassion, your statistics or your ability to self deprecate. You need to turn your uniqueness into your strength.
We also need to redefine the word ‘nervous’. Often we are actually ‘excited’ and not ‘nervous’. But if we are ‘nervous’ we need to ask what we are nervous about and break it down and solve each aspect of the anxiety. We need to treat it as a real foe and assess how we are going to defeat it. Saying to someone ‘ don’t be nervous’ is ineffective. What we need to do is apply the appropriate tools to conquer it so that we are focused and forceful.
One of these tools is having a structure to what you are saying. If there is logic to your presentation it takes a lot of the nerves out as it makes sense and flows. A speech, like any form of writing, needs a story arc. The story arc is very effectively applied in the film and TV industries to keep the audience captivated. This is knowing when to have the drama, the highlights, the intensity amongst your beginning, middle and end for the greatest impact for your audience.
Do you feel social media helps or hinders communication?
Both. Social media is fantastic in that it gives everyone a voice. But unfortunately it doesn’t give everyone something worth saying. A lot of people use social media to communicate other people’s thoughts. This happens for a number of reasons. Perhaps they are too busy or too lazy to think for themselves, or perhaps they think it’s a positive to be aligned to someone else’s profile. And many people too simply bombard the world with constant messaging, whether they be their own thoughts or others’.
But the greatest use of social media is not quantity… it’s quality. Using social media to express individuality and uniqueness to bring information, enjoyment and enrichment to the lives of others.
About our Ambassador // Jacqueline Shields. Luckily Jacqueline is not a cat. She’d be on her ninth life. Her inquisitive nature sees her say yes to pretty much anything – a Tough Mudder, an African Safari, sailing down the Nile in a felucca and even a HTML workshop. And each and everything she tries, she takes great joy in writing about. You can connect with Jacqueline on Twitter @hillrepeats.