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Transcript: How to Communicate and Be Heard (EP57)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.

Voiceover: To all of our loyal listeners, The Culture of Things podcast will now also have specific episodes produced for YouTube. To ensure you don’t miss out on this exclusive YouTube content, head on over to YouTube, click the subscribe button and hit the notification bell. Now, let’s get into the episode...


Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things Podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers, and this is episode 57. Today, I'm talking with Amber Daines. Amber, how are you?

Amber: I'm excellent. In lockdown like you, but enjoying the idea of more podcasts. I'm happy to be here today.

Brendan: Absolutely. I'm going to read a bit of your bio just to give our listeners a bit of perspective on who you are. We are literally about 10 kilometers away from each other. You live up in Kariong, I'm in Springfield, but we can't even sit together to record this. What a bummer.

Amber: No. Those plans that we had to be in a studio together. This is the next best thing, I guess.

Brendan: Absolutely. The beauty of technology, we're so lucky. Amber is one of Australia's most agile communications professionals known for her ability to devise and implement successful strategies across all forms of external and internal communications. The sweet spot is improving how leaders from all sectors speak right and advocate for their businesses and beliefs across media, internal communications, and other forums.

In the past decade, Amber has become a crisis communicators expert. As an example, she was part of AMP's communications team during the Royal Commission into misconduct in the banking superannuation and financial services industry. In 2020, Amber was named as best business communication specialists, and excellence in media training award, Australasia in the global 2020 Acquisition International Influence Business Women's Awards.

The focus of our conversation today is how to communicate and be heard. Amber, welcome to The Culture of Things Podcast.

Amber: Great to be here, Brendan.

Brendan: It's fantastic to have you. The other really important question I’m going to ask before we get into our topic is, how are you going with homeschooling with two young children?

Amber: I'm great at teaching adults so I've decided I'm not so great at teaching children, particularly my own. I think I'll stick to my day job. That's for sure.

Brendan: We seem to have a little bit less patience for our own children, don't we?

Amber: Absolutely. I think it's just not knowing when it's going to end.

Brendan: Absolutely, yeah. I'm really lucky I've got adult children because I'm not sure that I would handle it very well. Anyway, we'll put that aside. Let's get into our topic. Amber, this whole thing about communication and communicating to be heard, there's so much noise nowadays, so many impacts on people's communication, media streams, online, offline, or that sort of stuff. This is a fantastic topic to unpack and to give leaders out there hopefully some greater insight, greater perspective on communication.

What I want to just start with is, from your perspective, why is a topic on this so important? Why is communication so important when you're in a leadership role?

Amber: My core belief is that to lead well, speak well, to articulate yourself in messaging well. If you don't do that, it's very hard to lead because people won't understand what you stand for, what your messages are, and what you want them to do with that information. You can be a fantastic leader and be an introvert, and still communicate really effectively. It's not about changing your personality, but it's about being flexible in the way in which you communicate so that your audience, whether it be your staff, peers, it could in fact be new clients or customers, know who you are and what you stand for. That's really the crux of it.

Brendan: As far as a leader being a good or great communicator, what impact does that have for them being seen by (I guess) the general public out there?

Amber: I think it's about remembering who your audience is. You're not going to appeal to everybody, let's be honest. It's about knowing who matters most out of all the people I could be reaching, say through this podcast or any channel which I might choose, whether it be a blog post or perhaps traditional media interview. Who am I really trying to reach? Having all your messages, your examples, and your touch points resonate with them.

I think it's about not being appealing to everyone because you're not going to be a leader for everyone, but you can broaden your appeal by making sure that you are consistent and persistent in how you package yourself, what you talk about, I guess what you own as well. If you're really passionate about environmental sustainability, for example. You are doing a charity fundraiser and you are a leader in another world, being able to share that and why really brings the human side to your leadership position to your brand. It actually helps people get to know you, which is really the key.

People don't always remember what you say, how you say it, all your great jargon that you know, or your great statistics, but they will remember the stories you tell them and how you make them feel. Whether that be inspired, you might be motivating someone to do something for a particular cause, or even just positioning yourself for your next leadership role, or perhaps expanding your business.

Brendan: Such great points and the impact. How do you get a leader to feel comfortable with whatever their style of communication is and how they're portraying themselves? Because imagine, in order to send a message out there and particularly creating a level of authenticity, there's got to be some connection with who they are as a leader, what their style is, and really embracing that. How do you help encourage that in a leader?

Amber: I get people to really spend some time with me. Obviously, with lockdowns and Covid, it's all been a bit over video calls, zooms, and things like that, but I really try and get to know who they are. I also ask them how they think they communicate, and also where do they want to be? There's always a goal. For some people, it's like, I want to be a little bit more authentic, or I want to be more vulnerable, or I want to be a little bit more animated. I'm very dry when I speak. I'm really knowledgeable, but I'm not exciting my audience and motivating them.

We start from where they think they are. I spend a bit of time with them. It's almost like an audit or communications audit, and then we get into some coaching and some training, which might be weekly, it could be a whole big day together, it could be a couple of days together. We road test (I guess) what they think they should be saying and how they should be saying it. And we really finesse their personality, as well as their communication style.

I'm not big on changing who people are. I'm really about bringing to the fore their best communication qualities and even pushing them a little bit further if they already do a lot of keynote speaking or webinars, really amping that up to the next level.

For example, get rid of your slide deck, that's just a crutch. Be a great speaker. You wouldn't say Barack Obama with a PowerPoint presentation. You need to really be able to rely on your oratory or written skills, or your communication in some capacity that doesn't rely just on things like visuals, as great as they can be.

Brendan: They're really there to support. Flipping this on the other side, what impact does a leader with very poor communication skills have for the audience?

Amber: I think he can say it often in our political letters, for example. Not wanting to call out any particular examples, but I'm sure we can all think of our own depending on our political persuasions. Sometimes when you don't get the message right, like maybe what's happened with the rollout of our vaccinations across Australia, what happens is you create fear and you create resistance. That is far harder to break down than if you had just positioned yourself consistently and persistently from the beginning.

If the message has always been, it is a race. We need to get vaccinated quickly. These are the reasons why we want to go back to the sporting events, we want to go back to our normal lives, our workplaces, and our social gatherings. To do this—the world has shown us this—we need to have at least 70% of our population vaccinated, rather than that capitulation on, okay, we're doing well, let's not worry about it because now we're almost in catch up mode.

The reality is the first messages you hear, sometimes you hold on to those for whatever reason. It's very hard as a leader to persuade people to think differently because they'll hold you to account. We do that with our leaders. We say, but you said three months ago, this wasn't a race and it wasn't a big deal to be first. I think it's about knowing the end game and working backwards from there.

Brendan: Really topical point around, obviously vaccines and things like that. In your experience, which is extensive, what's that one thing that you think could have been done differently, which has maybe turned a bit more of this negativity into some positivity and increased the vaccination levels from where we're at today?

Amber: I think with all due respect, we do need to be mindful. We are in a once in 100-year pandemic. I think all our leaders, no matter who they are, would be struggling with knowing what to say and how to say it, but they are relying on experts. I think it's about backing up what you're saying with the people who are the experts, say your health professionals, your doctors, your vaccine specialists who can actually speak to the science, but also back you up on your policies.

I think anyone as a leader has to have a great team around them. They also need to be mindful that with their messaging, it needs to be simplified. People cannot handle four different messages in a week. One minute, we don't lock down then we do lockdown. If you give them a reasonable reason why you're doing it, people tend to come with you on that journey.

The risk is when you are stubborn, you are arrogant, and you don't apologize or have empathy in your messaging, and you just steamroll through, you're not going to bring people on the journey with you. I think that's something all leaders can probably take on board because you think about how you like to be communicated to. You like to be human. You don't want to be spoken to, like you're just another number, that you're just part of a grand scheme to get reelected for the next election. People are very savvy and they will spot that very quickly. They will stop listening to you or resist the messaging that you are trying to share, even if it is really good information and it's going to help you.

Brendan: You've touched on that vulnerability piece a bit. Let's unpack that. How important is a level of vulnerability in a leader's communication?

Amber: It's very important, but there are times you need to use it, and times you probably don't need to use it. I'm thinking when you're in a crisis, when something bad has happened, and you might be part of the people to blame (for example) you need to be able to apologize, you need to be able to empathize with the people you've impacted, rather than skipping the step, which a lot of people want to do in crisis communications and go. But we do this all differently now. You need to take people on the journey of we've made mistakes. This is what we could have done, this is what we've learned.

This is what I've learned personally, and this is how we're going to improve this for the future for you. I think vulnerability is very important depending on the situation. But there are times when you just want an inspirational leader, and you don't necessarily need to be vulnerable all the time. I think it's about knowing the audience, understanding where you are in the communications process. Are you happy we're launching this fantastic product in service mode, or are we actually a bit of an issue here and we need to address the issue?

As a leader, if I can talk about how this experience has changed me or relate to the people in the audience who might actually have similar concerns, that is going to make me much more palatable to the audience. It means people listen to you, because we do know, most people only hear about 30% of what you're saying, say on TV or webinar. They are focused on everything else happening in their world, your crazy backgrounds you might be having, or whatever else they've got going on.

To have cut through, it's really about having those fantastic moments to know when to be vulnerable and to turn that up. It can be very powerful. It's not about being weak. I think if you associate vulnerability with weakness, then that will probably turn you off being able to amp that up at the right time. If you can view it from a different perspective and step into the shoes of the people you're speaking to, I think it actually makes you a great leader and a very powerful one.

Brendan: Can you give us an example to help me and listeners understand when would be a good time or a good example to show that vulnerability in your communication?

Amber: I think when you've mucked up, to be honest, when you've made a mistake.

Brendan: That sounds too simple.

Amber: It isn't really. I'm thinking back to say, for example, in my experience, the Banking Royal Commission. There weren't a lot of apologies, really. They did come in the end, but they took a royal commission. They took people being on the stand. Even then, some of the people in the leadership roles, whether they be the regulators or banks, didn't really say sorry.

Whether that was for legal reasons, who knows? They're basically stuck to their guns. I think that made us at home, who were already feeling pretty despondent about the banking sector and fees for no service, charging dead people. All those things that happened really took us to a place of even more distrust with banks. I think there was one bank out of the big four who actually took out a one page ad in all the major newspapers that basically said sorry.

That was the most powerful thing they could have done. Before they rebuild the reputation, before they put in a new board and tell you how fantastic the culture now is, it's really important to get a fall on your sword at those critical times. Timing is everything. It is too late for sorry sometimes, as well. Knowing the timing, and if it feels hard, it's probably the time to do it.

Brendan: Great point. In your own experience, have you identified what stops people from showing that vulnerability at the right time?

Amber: I think it's fear. It's fear. It's a sense of shame (perhaps) in themselves. Depending on who they are in the industry they represent, it's also sometimes associated with that weakness. Let's be honest. People all think about themselves as much as they think about other people. They're worried about their position changing. They're worried about no longer being a leader or someone that people listen to.

I think by digging your heels in sometimes and particularly if you're part of the problem, for example, if you've been part of that culture that has supported that behavior which is wrong or you've turned a blind eye—you've in fact enabled it—you are in some ways responsible. I think the responsibility piece, particularly when it has a public lens to it—social media, TV, radio, or newspapers covering your story—is hard because you are thinking I could lose my job. This may make me a target. I think none of us want to feel like that.

It's very understandable why people avoid it, but I think in this particular era we're in, we expect more of leaders, we expect them to do more than just break in profits and return dividends.

Brendan: Have you got a view on how the media may have played any part in maybe some of these key leaders being less open to showing vulnerability in their communication?

Amber: It's an interesting one because obviously, my background is in media. I was a journalist for a number of years and I still have very much a soft spot for the media. Obviously, not all media outlets operate in the same way. But we do as journalists have ethics and values which we work by. At the end of the day, the job of any media outlet, in some ways, is to hold leaders and anyone in a position of power to account. That's really what the media should be doing.

You need to tell the stories when they don't want them to be told because we're trying to inform our audiences of what's happening and give people a chance to make up their own minds. Information can be presented (obviously) with some bias that definitely exists. There are some media outlets which are more left- or right-leaning, or have particular interest groups which back them or support them.

It's about being aware of that, but also realizing that the media's role in some ways, while it can be an intrusive, there are some of the major stories of our generation that would never have been broken if you just relied on individuals doing the right thing without the backing of a big organization like a Nine newspapers or the other outlets as well.

Brendan: It reminds me of a statement that one of my previous guests made, David Bacon. He's got a vast array of experience in communication, media press galleries, all that stuff. He stated a phrase, "It's not news anymore, it's views."

Amber: It's true. Opinion pieces are important.

Brendan: I think he was referring to when it's not an opinion piece.

Amber: All right, but it's actually just the way the news is presented.

Brendan: Yes. What's your take on that?

Amber: I don't disagree, but I just think, of course. Everyone has a view. As a journalist, when you write a story, you write about things that you love with more passion, enthusiasm, and commitment that you do things that you don't or that you don't have a vested interest in. I think that's human nature.

To think it would be any different would probably be naive in the same token. Really good investigative journalism takes you down rabbit holes that may or may not produce a story. But you've got to fund that and you've got to be very mindful that you've got to pay for really good content, otherwise, all you're paying for is advertising.

That's not healthy in terms of democracy, in terms of people making informed choices, and understanding you can't just have an echo chamber of whatever you think has been the only thing you consume. I'm very big on that. I force myself to, for my clients sake, read and listen to other outlets that are not necessary of my opinion, but if I'm going to be informed, it's really important to understand what the other side is thinking and saying.

Brendan: I have to say, hats off to you. Well done for doing that because I think there's a lot of us in society that don't take the time to do that.

Amber: Absolutely. I think it's because it's part of my job. Often I've got to work with leaders who are not from a particular political organization. I just have to have empathy for that. But also understand that everyone has a valid view, even if you don't agree with it. Unfortunately with social media, people hide behind some of that, too, to probably be more passionate and (I guess) aggressive about some of their thinking than they would be if you were in this face-to-face situation. I think people hide behind that a little bit, which is unfortunate. I think it creates a bit of discommunity amongst people.

Brendan: It certainly can. Amber, it's a great segue. You're a professional at this media stuff. You've segued into something that's just on my mind, online versus offline communication. Just to start that piece, what are the key differences from a communication perspective that leaders need to be mindful of when they're communicating online versus offline?

Amber: I think it's about access and it's about timeliness. Access, for example. A lot of us have a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account. That's access to many, whereas obviously, a news outlet like Nine newspapers or Murdoch press, for example, you actually got to have a paid subscription. There are firewalls, which mean that unless you subscribe to that content and pay for it, you don't have access to it.

Understanding (I guess) the drivers behind that particular media organization, but also realizing at the end of the day, in my mind, it's the same thing. I would not want to see any of my clients or the people I work with saying—offline or online—different things, because we are all very smart and we don't just read one particular news outlet or watch one TV station for news. Most of us will flick around.

If I see, for example, a leader touting their belief in something on one particular broadcaster because they feel like that's going to create sympathy, they're going to get people listening, they're trying to just attract ease and eyeballs onto them, and then I see them in a completely different publication talking very differently about that topic, obviously, I'm not I'm going to think that's discrediting their personal brand. It's just being aware that there is continuity between online and offline these days. I think at the end of the day, I treat them exactly the same.

Brendan: Treating it exactly the same. Is there more of a different strategy involved around the work that you do and guiding leaders from an online versus offline strategy perspective?

Amber: Only really, in terms of timing. The immediacy of social media means that if you have something that's breaking news, particularly in a crisis, you can have something on your community Facebook page within seconds. Traditionally, what we used to happen before social media—those of us who remember that era—you would actually have to rely on the media to actually print that story the next day in the traditional newspaper, or get a media release to cut through the 1200 media releases a day which go to the average newsroom, to try and get that story out there.

I think the control of social media means you can control your own message, but it's really the timeliness which I see as different. Sometimes we plan for two or three months, for example, for a client who might be going on 60 minutes or they might be going on, for example, a 7:30 program. They're big stake outlets. But we've often got long lead times. When I say long, long in journalism land might be one or two weeks. Whereas with social media, it's that minute.

Even online news outlets, the story that you read this morning online on ABC, for example, would be temperately different by 11:00 because there'll be different news feeds coming in, and that front page gets refreshed. Whereas 20 years ago, that newspaper was really yesterday's news. It was from yesterday, printed today. I think the immediacy of online is what you harness in your strategy. You use the other opportunities to reinforce who you are and what you stand for.

Brendan: What are some of the pros and cons of that immediacy with those online media platforms?

Amber: The pros are the fact that you can control your own message, and people like that idea. They like not having to rely on a journalist to tell the story for them because if you're not particularly well media–trained or you're not really conscious of what you're saying might be interpreted, the story you think you're giving in an interview might be different because they're going to go to two or three other sources and say, well, actually it's true. It's not a single voice story.

I think the immediacy of social media means you are in control of that. I guess the downside is, you can be your own echo chamber. You can be too prolific on social media and then you get people not listening to anything you say. A bit of scarcity makes what you say and your currency actually more valuable sometimes.

If you were doing a daily blog every day on LinkedIn, I might read it for a few days, but then I probably would start to go well, I've got so much other news coming in, am I really going to read that daily, is that too much, unless it's bang on in my industry or something that I'm really passionate about. I think you've got to be careful with social media, that you don't do it just for the sake of getting a message out there, because it is a one-way conversation sometimes. You might get some supportive comments, you might get horrible trolls as well.

Just being mindful that it's got to be a return on investment for everything you're communicating. It's not just about having a lot of content and being prolific, it's actually about being strategic. Sometimes if people know, oh, I've got to wait a week to hear from you, they're more likely to engage with it at a deeper level.

Brendan: It's a really interesting perspective as well. How do you find the balance of that? Where does that balance sit?

Amber: It's really up to the individual. I think for me personally, with my own communications, I only have a couple of social media platforms that I use regularly. One is LinkedIn. I sometimes use a little bit of Twitter just to keep informed. I don't tend to post on it. I use Instagram as well just to be quite visual and in the moment. But I use those all very differently. I don't have 16 social media accounts and then I'm managing all these different profiles.

I think keeping your personal and your professional profile separate, particularly as a leader, is very important, and having privacy settings and things in place. By the same token, it's just about working out where your audience plays. A lot of my businesses are obviously going to come through LinkedIn. I'm not in an industry or a sector and communications training where Facebook is really going to work for me. It's not. It's not about a product or a low-level service that has volume. It's very much small groups, CEOs, and one-to-one.

Understanding where your message more likely resonates will be the key to having cut through. I tell people to measure it. Measure it completely. Likes are not a measure, by the way. We all have like juiciness. I had another guest of mine say years ago, when you're scrolling, you have about five likes and then you don't like anything else for that session on Facebook or whatever. Sometimes, likes make you feel good. You get the rush of I'm important and special, but is it converting to business? If it's not, you need to rethink your strategy.

Brendan: On that point, again, with likes, I 100% agree with you. Likes is not a great measure. What is a great measure, though, that your communication is cutting through and actually getting to the right ears or the right audience?

Amber: Depending on what your goal is. If you're a not-for-profit, for example, it could be about fundraising. Are you actually raising more dollars? Are you getting more people to stay with you longer as customers or clients? Are people commenting positively and engaging? Are you hitting a note? Because I think when people comment, that is a little bit more than a like. That takes more effort.

Are you engaging at that level? I think sometimes that can be a great barometer of who your clients and customers are, who's your audience that you're actually really speaking to? If it's a similar group of people, it's a really great bit of low-level market research you've done to go, okay, there's a lot of comments here from the superannuation industry on this particular post. Maybe that's something where I need to pursue and do something more targeted with. You can actually just use your own intel to really quickly gather where people are listening to you, how, and who.

Brendan: Amber, I know you do also see alliance and work around the personal branding space. How does personal branding fit into this whole communication, communicating, and being heard?

Amber: It's about being visual really, your personal brand often. My background is print journalism. I have worked in TV for a number of years. But at the end of the day, I really love the idea that you should be able to do a little bit of everything. I think that your personal brand, that's where things like Instagram can be very powerful. I'm not into TikTok. My 12-year -old son is, but apparently a lot of businesses are doing TikTok now, so there you go.

Brendan: I'm sure you can dance with the best of them, surely.

Amber: I don't know. It just feels off-brand for me, but maybe I'll have to get there one day. The idea that you are visually representing yourself and the things that you're interested in and passionate about, whether that be exercise, or you love reading certain types of books, or you comment on what's ever popular on Netflix this week, that all adds to your personal brand story.

I think for leaders, they have that power to curate that in a way which is meaningful and is not just a bunch of similar photos. We don't want to see a whole bunch of corporate headshots or photos of you in your cafe every day doing the same thing. We want to make sure that you are relevant, but also visual. I think it's about telling a visual story.

We do know people, even in traditional news, will look at the picture first, the photo that's come up, read the caption, then write the headline, and then decide if they're going to write the story. Visual storytelling is a very important part of your personal brand.

Brendan: Have you got—I'm sure you do—a perspective on (I guess) the balance of letting people in that vulnerability part, the personal side of who you are? For example, I take pictures of the home studio and just let people see where we may be producing this show from, but then there's, that's not my professional brand. I need to make sure I'm putting some stuff out there that actually aligns with the stuff that I can help people with or whatever. Is there a balance there that sits somewhere?

Amber: There's always a balance. I think it depends on what your drivers are, why are you doing it if you want people to see that stuff. Some people are very comfortable with people saying their piles of old newspapers, tax returns sitting there, and laundry that needs to be folded.

Brendan: My workspace is perfect. I don't have any of that.

Amber: I have none of that. You can have a snazzy background like I've got today that covers all that stuff.

Brendan: Thankfully, the camera is just looking at me this way, not that way.

Amber: I think people love a little bit of humility. I did see one of my friends who actually has an agency which represents influences for businesses. She was posting the other day and she has a great lifestyle normally when we're not in lockdown, and does all these fabulous things with celebrities, and always out and about. She actually posted like, this is what you don't see. She showed like she didn't eat all these chocolates because she's usually very disciplined. And she had used that spin bike for two weeks.

All her growth routes were coming through her head because she hasn't been over the hairdresser for six weeks either. Very much, first world problems, let's be honest. At the end of the day, it probably got more interest than her fabulous post about who’s been hanging out with Richard Branson in Necker Island, because it showed her to be real. It also let people see that she also was having a tough time with lockdown.

Brendan: Just out of interest, when's the last time you had a haircut?

Amber: Six weeks. I was so lucky, I had my hair cut the day before we went into lockdown.

Brendan: Did you have inside information?

Amber: Not really, but I'm pretty rigorous every six weeks. I've missed a couple now. We're going to have a whole bunch of natural hair very soon, I think.

Brendan: I'm supporting the ISO buzz cut or whatever they call it, which my daughter did for me.

Amber: Did you do your own?

Brendan: My daughter did it for me. There's a little bit of pain involved in ripping the clippers out of my hair, but I survived and it's going okay for me at the moment.

Amber: Brave man.

Brendan: Now I've decided, I'm not sure, it feels like, why don't I just do that every time. Now it's just so easy. Get on the back deck and just run the clippers over it.

Amber: There you go.

Brendan: Side note. I'm not sure how that helps with our communication. Anyway, just letting people know.

Amber: Your personal brand is now Brendan with his buzz cut.

Brendan: I'm not sure that's the brand I'm going for, ever. A little while ago, you mentioned verbal communication and nonverbal communication. I think you used 30% verbal. Do I make that assumption that 70% is nonverbal? What are these nonverbal things or tips that you can share with us that help get the message across?

Amber: We're doing some of them today. For example, we're on this podcast and you've decided to stream us live and record us. For example, I'm using my hands a bit. I'm talking with my hands. I've made sure I've framed myself in a way that, even though I can't be in front of you—I love a live audience, and I'd much prefer being with real humans—I can still use my hands to express myself. I can use my voice, which is very powerful (obviously) in podcasting, and also looking at the camera, eye contact.

All those (I guess) body language would be the old term we would use for that. The other way we talk about it is presence. You create presence, and how do you create presence? You have to be totally 100% mindful. I did know in your prep notes for me today, you mentioned, treat this like a keynote, 100%.

My phone is off, my emails are all turned off, and I'm here and I'm present with you. That really is a big part of that nonverbal communication that you can tell when someone's engaged from, am I listening to your questions or am I just giving you key messages that I want to share? An audience at home is very savvy on that. That will work out pretty quickly that that guest is not listening. They're not engaged and they're not personable.

It's all about those sorts of things. Being a great listener is one of the best skills you can possibly have. I must admit, when I was younger, I was probably a typical enthusiastic corporate PR woman. I was quite young when I moved from journalism to PR, and I wanted to impress clients and so.

What do you do? You keep talking, you don't listen. You ask questions just so you can talk. I learned very early on that that doesn't work in terms of winning clients, trust, or creating rapport. Being a great listener would be something I really encourage all our leaders to do more of.

Brendan: It's a great aspect. How do we become better listeners?

Amber: Presence. It’s just being present and mindful. I know there's a lot of people who talk about mindfulness. I'm probably the last person in the world that would ever do yoga, but I do subscribe to mindfulness and being very present. For me personally, for example, when I go for a run, I do not take devices with me. I don't listen to music. I'm in nature.

I'm listening to the birds, the annoying truck that's going past, partly from a safety point of view. Secondly, just because it's important to be tuning in to those sounds around you and observing, like you're seeing it for the first time. I think the same thing can happen in our communication, particularly with clients and people that either we know or we've worked with before.

Often they are telling us exactly what they think or feel, not with their language, but maybe with their body language, or their tone, or the way they're not listening. You can tell their body shuts down, they're distracted, they're looking everywhere else but to you. Being engaged and being a great listener is one of the key skills, actually being heard, and generating influence in your business and in your life.

Brendan: Amber, if you got a story that you could share with us of your own, maybe from a client base. Again, you don't need to name any names, but just where (I guess) their style of communication, their level of communication was, can we say low-level, and we spend some time with them, work with them, and it's really doubled down and taking them to another level. Have you got something you can share with us around that?

Amber: Absolutely. I’m thinking of one particular leader who I think was great on paper. That's a really hard one, because he had all the MBAs, all the bits, and all the pieces. What they weren't great at doing was being with their staff.

They were physically in an office on its own level, for example, like in a tower, I call it the ivory tower. They do webinars one way. Not really any questions, they’re not really listening, never did a floor walk, never sat with people who worked for them. A lot of them have been longtime employees. Never had lunch with them except for the big fancy lunch at the end of the year, which is the big Christmas lunch, but that often was out of the comfort zone for their staff.

What they were finding was, no one was actually listening to any of their messages. When the business went into crisis mode, they didn't look to that leader for the answers. They were looking to the middle managers, they were looking to the people that actually related to them, spent time with them, and communicated at a level that wasn't just a whole bunch of corporate speak that didn't mean anything. Meanwhile, they're on a million dollars a year and you're talking about job cuts.

It's just understanding how you're going to communicate, and the form you're going to communicate depends on your audience. If you've got a frontline workforce, probably a lunchtime webinar, where they don't probably check their phones that much, they're not sitting on laptops is not going to fly. You need to actually do face-to-face or you need to go into that showroom or that work environment and be vulnerable.

Brendan: What I'm hearing, and you tell me if I'm right on this, is that really a key element of communication and being heard is that you have to connect with people, and you have to use different styles, different mediums, whatever, to really create that connection. Otherwise, it doesn't matter what you say, no one's going to listen to it.

Amber: That's right. Particularly with internal communications it's important to understand how people like to be communicated with. For some of us who have desk jobs, this forum is fine. But for other people that might be driving trucks, or they might be doing heavy, serious work where they're not able to stop, and they're clocking in and clocking out, and their lives are very different, you've got to work at how are you going to get through them, how do you make sure that your messages are not falling on deaf ears. Sometimes it's about using other people in your organization.

The example I gave, the middle managers, the people that actually worked every day with everyone knew everyone by name, kind of spent time in that factory environment, they were the people that were going to have the most cut through with the team, not the people in the head office. Being mindful, you can cascade those messages down, but allow other people sometimes to deliver it, and then they back up your leadership, if that makes sense.

Brendan: Makes perfect sense. The only other thing I want you to share on that is that, how do you help leaders realize that if they're not at that level already?

Amber: What I do, I actually get them to do a survey. It's pretty hard for people. I either get the HR person or whoever's working with them to do it to talk about how many of these things have you attended? How many of these newsletters have you opened recently? People are very honest, particularly when they're not happy.

When they're happy, they don't tell you anything, they just go along and don't participate. Sometimes, a pulse survey or something like that just focused on comms, two or three questions, and incentivize people to complete it—could be having a free lunch, it could be whatever it might be; food always works really well, I find—you actually get people to tell you honestly.

Obviously, in that, you get a mix of people that are very honest and if it's anonymous, obviously, people will be more honest, but it's just about asking. I think that's what we often, as leaders, forget. We get to a certain level, and we stop asking questions, and we think we know all the answers. The reality is you've got to be relevant to your audience. The only way to keep doing it is keep asking really good questions, keep that reality check happening, and don't be afraid to change what you're doing. Change can be hard, but it can actually be the most powerful thing you can do as a leader.

Brendan: It sounds like seeking feedback as an important first step is what you're saying.

Amber: It is, absolutely. Honest feedback, and be willing to do something with the feedback. That's the other key. The amount of times you will do a survey and nothing changes, then you're not going to get the same engagement next time you try and do that.

Brendan: Absolutely, so true. Amber, I want you to share with us the Amber Daines' top tips for 2021 and beyond of how to improve our communication and be heard.

Amber: Number one, get trained, of course. That's what I'm going to say. That's what I do for a living.

Brendan: I was going to say, do you know anyone that does that work well?

Amber: Communications coaching can help anyone, whether you're just in a startup, you're going out on your own for the first time.. You're hosting webinars because we're all doing that more and more now because we can't see people face-to-face. Get some professional training, get some feedback. You can invest in yourself and it will really exponentially grow your business and your brand.

The second thing I would say is once you get that fabulous training done, use it. The worst thing people do is they'll go and get some fabulous speaker training, and then they do one keynote, and then you don't hear from them again. Find opportunities where you can actually practice, and improve, and get feedback on how you're going.

The third thing is to do something scary. If your idea of getting up and doing a webinar for 500 people in your business is scary, but you've been asked to do it, do it. Set yourself that challenge because it's very easy to play safe and go, oh, I'm a great writer, I'm just going to write some articles for the business, or I might do a prerecorded video where it's already sanitized. They can be great stepping stones, but do something a little bit scary that pushes you, that shows your vulnerability, but you'll also be very proud of yourself if you do it and you do it well.

Brendan: Amber, I've known you for a little while. You are a very practical person. Three very, very practical tips, stuff that people can really take action on. I have to say that thank you very much for the training you gave me just in the preamble to this conversation today I had yourself and Mark on the line. Both of you say, just adjust this, just adjust… My lack of technology around this stuff and making sure I'm placed correctly. I can testament to your coaching and training early on. You gave me five minutes, which has been really helpful.

Amber: Absolutely.

Brendan: Well done. Amber, what I'd also like you to share just in closing is again, you've worked with leaders for a long time, you have your own business, you're a leader in the community, again, you've won awards in media, journalism, and stuff like that. What's that one thing that has had the greatest impact on your own leadership journey?

Amber: I think failure. I've learned more from my failure than I have for my success. That probably sounds a little bit trash, but it is true. I think when you're doing well and everything's going great, obviously, you feel fantastic. There's no learning in that because you're doing everything that you need to do. You think about what you think you need to do.

I think when you try something that doesn't work, what can you take away from that? What can you teach yourself and teach others? I think the failures are actually in hindsight. There's a saying that they use in the dance world, which is no pressure, no diamonds. I really believe that's true. That's where the gold is. That's where you actually learn and grow, and you actually become a better leader because you've done something that hasn't worked.

Brendan: No pressure, no diamonds. I like that. I'm not a dancer. I haven't heard that one before.

Amber: Back in those 1980's leotards. That's what my dance coach used to say. No pressure, no diamonds. Of course, when you're 10, you go, oh, what does that mean? It really resonates with me.

Brendan: Fantastic. With your leg warmers on, as well.

Amber: Absolutely.

Brendan: Amber, I would be remiss of me to not mention your own podcast, The Politics of Everything, a great podcast. I'm subscribed to it. I love listening to some of the varying views there, which is fantastic. Tell us a bit about your own podcast journey in The Politics of Everything.

Amber: That started probably four years ago, and I had about a year-and-a-half in virtual mothballs, as I call it, because I was busy consulting to the government during the recent drought we had in New South Wales. That was a full-time job and I just didn't have the stability to run the podcast. That break was great because I got to refresh what I thought about the podcast and what I thought the audience might want as well. I did listen to the audience.

The podcast itself is just a great channel. It's not a profit-generating model. I love to keep it authentic. I don't want sponsors because I just want to be able to have the guests that I want to have various views and experiences in life. Some of them are well-known and some of them are not, but that doesn't matter. I think everyone has some expertise and experience, which others can relate to and learn from. It's a bit of a passion project for me.

Brendan: Well said. I guess in keeping with our theme, how does The Politics of Everything help you communicate and be heard?

Amber: It makes me a great listener because I often don't know the people I'm interviewing. They're not necessarily clients, friends, or peers, although some of them are. I really have to relate to them at a level. The first time I’m often meeting them is two minutes before the podcast. It's about being a great listener and realizing that, okay, I might have this set of questions, but if they tell me something really interesting, I'll let them talk about that. Or I think the audience is going to really learn something, I'll get them to explore that more.

It really helps me be a great listener rather than always being that sort of presenter and that person who people are looking to for knowledge. I actually get a lot of knowledge and I guess motivation from some of the people I've interviewed as well.

Brendan: Well said. I certainly second that in my own journey. It's quite a challenge in using one of your points out of your comfort zone and actually having a conversational learning about someone that you haven't really known before or spent some time with. It's a good way to go, isn't it?

Amber: Absolutely. Challenge yourself.

Brendan: Absolutely. I'm with you. Amber, this has been a fascinating conversation. Once again, you are the consummate professional. Your ability to articulate today, your presentation, that 70% has been fantastic, the 30% has also been fantastic. I'm probably lucky that I can listen to the recording again and just take some more notes. Thanks very much for joining us today.

For our listeners and those on the livestream, we'll put how to get ahold of Amber into our show notes so that people can get in touch with her. If they want some help with their own communication skills, style, how they can better be heard, and even around the personal branding, you'll know how to get in touch with Amber. Amber, once again, thanks very much for being a guest on The Culture Things Podcast. I really appreciate it.

Amber: Great to be here.

Brendan: To lead well is to speak well. The ability to articulate your message and have people understand your message, is a key leadership skill that can be learnt.

Amber is a communications specialist with a wealth of experience helping leaders learn these skills. 

As she said, leaders have to be flexible in the way they communicate, allowing various audiences to know who you are and what you stand for. It’s not about changing who you are. It’s about bringing forward your best attributes, showing vulnerability when needed, and embracing your true authentic self.

Being you, ensures a solid base for communicating and being heard.

These were my 3 key takeaways from my conversation with Amber:

My first key takeaway – Communication is about connecting with people. If you don’t connect with people, they will resist the message. You also have to be careful that you’re not trying to appeal to everyone. If you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one! You can broaden your appeal by being relatable and vulnerable. Tell stories and muster emotion in people, this will strengthen the connection with people

My second key takeaway – Leaders ask great questions. A friend once said to me, as a team member your job is to have the answers. And as a leader, your job is to ask the questions. I find the best way to ask great questions, is to be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying. Do this, and you will always ask great questions.

My third key takeaway – Leaders are great listeners. After asking great questions, your job is to now actively listen. Listening is one of the best skills you can have. If 70% of communication is non-verbal, most of this should be devoted to listening. Be prepared, be mindful, and be present - this will help make you a great listener.

So in summary, my three key takeaways were – Communication is about connecting with people. Leaders ask great questions. Leaders are great listeners.

If you want to talk culture, leadership or teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, leave me a comment on the socials, or you can leave me a voice message at thecultureofthings.com.

Thanks for joining me. And remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation!


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit thecultureofleadership.com to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.