If you’re looking to amplify your message and make a bigger impact with your ideas, research, or experiences, this is the episode for you! Described by her clients as their “secret weapon,” today’s guest is pro speaker coach and founder of The Science and Soul of Speaking, Jill Wesley. In addition to having coached thousands of business leaders, entrepreneurs, authors, and professional athletes., Jill is the Head of Speaker Coaching for TEDxSanFrancisco. Whether your goal is a Ted Talk, a board presentation, or influencing colleagues about a passion project in a team setting, Jill’s expert guidance is applicable: (1) Get clear on the story you want to tell. Dig deep to find the heart of the new idea or your unique take on an existing one and distill it down to 10-12 minutes maximum; (2) Identify your end game and approach the speech like a product launch; and (3) Work with a coach or another trusted person who can provide candid feedback and help you get the content in your bones. Other timely highlights from our conversation include tips for maintaining the engagement of highly distracted viewers during virtual speeches and five messaging imperatives when talking about race.
Episode 51: Shifting Leaders and Change Agents into Future Makers with TEDx Speaker Coach, Jill Wesley
Shani Maosky: Is your team not performing well? Is morale low and turnover high? Are you falling further behind the competition? I’m here to help. I’m your host Shani and this is The Leadershift Show where business strategy and culture finally meet and we make the long-awaited shift from rhetoric to results. I promise I’m not your typical boring leadership consultant and I will help you get your shift together. Let’s do this.
Hello, leadershifters, and welcome to another episode of The Leadershift Show with yours truly, Shani. I am joined today by an awesome guest. She is Jill Wesley dialing in from outside of San Francisco. Jill is founder of the Science + Soul of Speaking. Her clients described her as a secret weapon. Another way that she’s been described, and this is how I knew that we were going to have a great interview on the podcast, she has been described as a smartass, irreverent and someone who laughs a lot. Well, hello.
Folks, get prepared, we’re going to talk about speaking and keynotes. Leadershifters, if you are looking to up your game as you give important speeches or keynotes or even have aspirations for a TED talk, stick with us as we talk about those things today. Welcome to the show, Jill.
Jill Wesley: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.
Shani: I’m excited to have you here. Let me start with a question I’m sure you get all the time, the name of your business, the Science + Soul of Speaking. I love that because of the yin and the yang. I’m a Libra, not that I’m into signs at all, but the Libra is balance.
Jill: I’m not either but I’m a Libra.
Shani: I just, I love how you even in the name of your business give the essence of what it takes to be good at speaking. If you could talk about how you selected that.
Jill: Oh, I’d love to. Thank you for the compliment. The name came to me because I was sick and tired of watching really wonderful leaders that I worked with, people who were interesting and passionate about their work, we would be having a conversation over coffee or having lunch or working together and they were fabulous while they were sitting eating with me. Then they would get on stage and it looked like the soul was sucked out of them. That’s where I was like, “What the heck? What happened to Chad? Chad disappeared from the–” I used to say, “I need to see more of you in this talk.” Then I realized it’s the soul.
A lot of times you’ll hear people say that really great speaking is an art and a science. The science is pretty straightforward. That’s the psychology and the communication strategy and how you construct a message. It’s an art, it’s not something that most people can tap into. What is an art? If I say soul, most people will immediately understand that they get to show up as themselves. If they’re naturally extroverted and sarcastic, et cetera like me, that’s how I am on stage. If someone is more reserved, and a little bit more soft-spoken, they deserve to be on stage too. We don’t all have to act the same way. The Science and Soul, that’s what it means.
Now, people will define soul differently. I always ask my clients, “What does soul mean to you?” Some people are like me. I’m like, “Soul? Well, I’m thinking James Brown,” but other people are thinking of something way more spiritual.
Shani: I feel good.
Jill: No, but I’m playful because you get to tap into whatever soul means to you.
Shani: There’s an authenticity about it that, yes, of course, you want to grab people’s attention and you got to weave in some story because people will remember what you said or what you did. They’ll remember how you made them feel. All of the stuff that is more of the science and the structure but if you get up there and you’re not yourself, you’ll never have the impact that you want to have in delivering the message.
Jill: That’s right. As a successful woman professional, a lot of us early on didn’t fully show up the way we would naturally show up because we had to navigate rooms where we were the first or only woman in the room. A lot of times, I look back at footage of me years ago, 20 years ago and I’m thinking, “Who is that?” It looked like I was trying to be so serious. I needed to be taken seriously also because that was the messaging I was getting from others. Now, on stage, listen, I am who I am. [chuckles]
Shani: Especially as a young woman, you felt like you had to be serious to overcompensate for the youth even though brilliance knows no age.
Jill: So true. No, it is really true. I think we both walked that path and I don’t want people to feel like they have to live or speak in an inauthentic way to be taken seriously. Part of my work is really about expanding the concept of leadership and what that looks like.
Shani: That’s amazing, I love it. It reminds me of a story that Brené Brown tells, speaking of authenticity, she’s the queen of vulnerability. Everything she writes about, she talks about how a client was engaging her to come do a speech and they said, “Can you stay away from the references to religion and stay away from the four-letter words?” What she said to them was, “Listen,” and I’m paraphrasing here, I’ve worked with thousands of executives and one thing that I know is that when people are stressed out, the two things that they go to all the time are religion and cursing. If you want me to curtail that, then maybe I’m not the right speaker for you.”
Jill: It’s so good. I actually have a sign in my office, a sign that says, “Maybe cussing will help.”
Shani: Of course cussing will help.
Jill: Of course, it will. I was raised never to cuss but it’s too late.
Shani: Oh, completely. I was raised not to cuss but as soon as I started working at Goldman Sachs in a male-dominated industry, first in the oil and gas group and then on the trading floor, forget about it. I was raised in Savannah, Georgia where you know–
Jill: I do declare.
Shani: Right, exactly. I don’t give a damn as if damn was the worst word you could ever say. I throw f-bombs all the time. My poor mother, up until the day she died, every time I said it, she would just cringe and tell me that I didn’t have to use that word.
Jill: You didn’t have to. I think it’s like a little act of rebellion. Plus, there is research that shows when people hurt themselves, it does help in terms of pain relief. Like it’s a release to be able to do it. I’m just saying.
Shani: I love it.
Jill: Tell us, I know, tell us a little bit about the types of clients with whom you work both on a one-off basis and on an ongoing basis.
Shani: Sure. My clients, I call them future makers. The definition of a future maker is a person who’s helping to shape the way we live and work. Their work is beyond just getting up and doing a keynote, they’re doing a keynote for a reason. It’s not back off, I’ll let you know, a list, something on their list, they’re using their voice to create significant change. My clients are successful entrepreneurs, I work with senior executives in some of the world’s top companies, and I work with pro athletes.
All of them have a message that I get the honor of helping them shape it and refine it and make sure that their intellectual property is really clear and people understand that this message goes with this person. Then they can create a movement as a result.
Jill: I love that. For example, do you have the liberty of giving us a few examples of some clients whose messages you have helped shape and give voice to?
Shani: Sure, I’m going to pick some recent examples that way it’s fresh in my mind. I do a keynote accelerator and I just finished working with the cohort. One of my clients is just fabulous. She was an early Uber exec, Harvard MBA, super brilliant, senior executive at another global firm. Her work was all about leading with kindness and she said, “Is that too simple?” I said, “No. I’m in Silicon Valley. I’ve worked with fortune 100 companies my whole career. We could go back to a bit of kindness”.
For her, it was about stepping forward and being willing to just be fierce and courageous with the simplicity of going back to basics. For Zahara, her message was– she went to business school, we created a two by two to chart out what human kindness means. Basically, human kindness is the courage to be kind to yourself because often the people most difficult to work with or report to, are people who are incredibly hard on themselves. They’re chasing some dream that they’re trying to prove something to people, they’re highly critical of themselves when no one’s around and that spills out.
It’s the courage to be kind to yourself and to offer that grace to others. She thinks it’s an act of courage to do it which I think is fabulous. That’s an example of someone who was just in the group. Let me think of someone else who is– I’m working right now with head of strategy for– I can’t say the company but everybody would know who it was that sounded mysterious. His work is all about giving entrepreneurs the permission to not just fail fast and break things but learn deeply from these things and remind entrepreneurs that when there’s a failure, yes you can bounce back and move on that you have to take into account what happens to all those people that work with you.
There are a lot of these mythological stories in Silicon Valley about the leaders that get up and tell all their failure stories. What’s great about my client, he’s saying yes, but those were other people’s dreams that didn’t come to fruition. You can’t forget about the people that helped you build. It’s not just all about us.
Shani: I love that. People who have something meaningful to say you help them craft it into is it always a keynote or can it be some other format?
Jill: It is a different format. What I do with clients is we create the 10 to 12 minutes foundation piece. I call it an asset. It’s the thing that someone’s going to make money with. It’s because I do coaching for TEDx and TED speakers, the hardest thing for someone who has deep expertise and experience, the hardest thing for them to do is to pare things down to a short message. Even though a TED or TEDx talk, a standard talk was 18 minutes, there’s a lot more experimentation with shorter talks on those stages because of the attention span of the audience.
I do the heavy lifting with clients to create that 10 to 12-minute piece that they can then use for their media interviews, for podcasts, when they’re panelists, when they’re speaking on a stage, when they’re speaking in a board room. It’s the heart of what they’re always going to be talking about. Then I teach a component-based system. If someone’s going to do a 90-minute keynote, they understand which components to add to it. If they’re going to do a three-minute segment on a morning show, they know how to pull out the essential piece from the 12 minutes to make sure it’s a really strong sound bite.
Shani: That’s terrific. How has this changed in the era of COVID? There are less keynotes being delivered in person and in front of large audiences.
Jill: There was a huge shift. I’ve been in the speaking industry almost 30 years. It’s basically been every 10 years. There’s something that happens in the economy that shifts things. September 11th and then in Silicon Valley, it was the dot-bomb and then it was again in 2009 that the economic meltdown and then right now the pandemic. The big shift was helping my clients to speak effectively in a virtual world. So many people just assumed, well forget it then. There’s no live speaking. I always have to remind people even if you’re speaking virtually, it’s live.
You’re not speaking into an abyss with no one there. You may not be on stage the way you were but you’re still speaking live to audiences. The big shifts for the clients I’m coaching and I’m actually busier than I was before because there are more speaking opportunities. People are leaning heavily into online events and podcasts.
It’s not an ideal situation, I know people miss getting together in person and speaking at live events. However, it’s not a bad thing to just get up and at least put a shirt on it looks presentable, I’m borderline today and just being able to speak from your house versus traveling half a day or a full day to get to a speaking gig. The big change is how to really grab people’s attention and keep their attention and then also develop the relationships with people who are holding different types of virtual events so they’re thinking of you and they’re placing you on their roster.
Shani: What would be the advice you’d give to a client who’s used to presenting in person who is now going virtual and is a little stuck even though you’d probably say just do what you would do on stage.
Jill: You have to change it.
Shani: What was number one piece of advice you give someone who’s trying to shift to deliver their message over zoom or some other platform?
Jill: Got it. The number one shift I tell people is, you are up against a huge number of distractions. Even in-person, people were not paying attention to us that much but at least they’re looking in your general direction even if their mind is wandering but in a virtual setting, somebody’s eating a burrito and they’re doing their taxes. There are a million other inputs that the listener is struggling with. The number one thing I do is we always design an audience focused talk and the number one thing I teach people is high levels of engagement. It has to be an interaction.
You cannot, even in person with keynotes, you shouldn’t just do a one-way transmission. I’m always looking for engagement but you are going to need to do several moments of engagement throughout a virtual talk. That may be pulling the audience asking them to comment, it may be to allow questions throughout your talk instead of waiting to the end because you need pattern disruption to keep people on board with you because they will drift away. If we don’t design for engagement, the videos is on but people aren’t there with you.
Shani: Absolutely. Figure it being proactive about knowing there are going to be disruptions and proactively putting pieces into whether it’s an online keynote or conference or even just a staff meeting, building in ways to engage and that can be even more creative than people think. Of course, here we are on Zoom and Zoom has some tools at all for our disposal. We can do polls, we can screen share, there’s the chat room, there’s breakout rooms.
Jill: Exactly. Get people in groups.
Shani: Think even more broadly than that. What are the other tools that you can use through screen sharing like whiteboards and sticky notes?
Jill: All of it and there’s ways– I did a virtual keynote a few weeks ago for my client and ahead of time– because it’s like people were already with Zoom fatigue. I knew that that could happen within a few weeks. Ahead of time, we arranged for their team. It was maybe 60 people, it wasn’t a massive audience but we arranged ahead of time to send everybody a package to open up where there were some of the materials we were going to cover but elements of surprise and there were snacks. It’s just something to just show we’re still in this together.
We may be distributed, we may feel disconnected but the technology actually allows for some new ways of connecting. I’m pretty playful. We were teasing each other and being playful about– while we were waiting to start, I said, “Does anybody have a Zoom walk of shame moment that they’ve had?” People were making each other laugh because it was like oh yes there was– My three-year-old ran into the scene without any clothes on running away from the bathroom and being playful.
Shani: I love it. I want to touch a little bit on your experience as a TED and TEDx speaker coach. What’s that like and how did you get into it? Let’s start there. It’s wonderful. I’m head of speaker coaching for a TEDx San Francisco and we’re one of the top events in the country and our event– I’m really proud of it, because it’s in San Francisco, our event is very specific, our speakers are doing leading edge work in science and technology.
Jill: Geneticists and neuroscientists and blockchain and all kinds of interesting speakers. They’re speakers that would be– their goal was not to do a TEDx talk, their goal is to do their work and so our event’s curated, it’s different from most, where we don’t have submissions, it really is like, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year? Let’s invite them. I get to be totally on my game because my job is to help the expert translate, they’ve been doing one thing for 17 years, how do you do that in 18 minutes and in a way that people can understand?
My journey, I love it, it’s life-giving, I really enjoy doing it, I work with TEDx speakers and a bunch of other events that hire me privately. The big thing for the journey was basically, like most people, I had seen talks, and I reached out to them and said, “You need a TEDx coach”. I’m used to working because I have a corporate background, I’m used to working with a lot of different people at once. This is the work I feel like I’m supposed to be doing/ I’m pretty much the first person in my family to be doing exactly what I want to do for a career.
Some events will have nine different people coaching the speakers and that’s fine. For me, it’s not hard for me to coach 18 people at once because I have a system, I know what I’m doing, I’ve been with them the past four years and it’s it’s been a true joy.
Shani: That’s great.
Jill: I know.
Shani: Without giving away the secret and the secret weapon, [laughs] what are two or three tips that you give to anyone you’re coaching for a TED talk that would be relevant, really, for any leadershifter?
Jill: Any leadershifter, if they’re considering they want to do a TEDx or TED Talk, let me just briefly explain the difference, there’s one TED event that’s held annually, and then there are thousands of TEDx events. If someone’s interested in doing a TEDx event, and remember some of the top TED Talks ever were TEDx, Simonson X was in the TEDx talk, Rene Browns was at TEDx talk.
What I care about for anyone who’s interested, the number one thing is, what is the story you came here to tell? What are you really here to speak about? Because the definition of a big idea is, are you sharing something in a different way? Is it either new information or are you sharing something in a way that people haven’t heard before? When I’m interviewing someone who wants to hire me, I will often say, hey, listen, if your message is, if you believe in yourself, you can do anything, I’m going to get rid of that immediately because that can inform what you want to say, but you’re going to have to go deeper than that and you’re going to have to be more explicit and unique.
It’s making sure that man, if somebody said, listen, this is the only thing that you can say to a group of people, what is it? Which is hard, that’s number one. Often when I’m working with clients, they think they have their big idea and at the end, that’s when I– It’s really funny after my clients work with me, about 30% will say, I thought I had my big idea, but it wasn’t my big idea. Sometimes it feels too audacious or it feels too provocative to say what you really want to say and that’s where I’m going to keep digging until we get there because audiences crave that. The second thing, first thing is, what’s the message you came to share?
Second thing I tell people is, if you’re going to do one of these talks, what’s the end game? A lot of people act as if it’s something on their bucket list. If anything, it should be more of a launch. Maybe because I work in Silicon Valley, I approach everybody’s talk as if it were a product launch. What are you doing prior to the talk as we work together to let people know the talk is coming, it’s a launch date of sorts.
My clients who have millions of views on their talks are the ones that have really approached it as– listen, just because I’ve done a TEDx talk, and I can add TEDx to my bio, you want people to see it, don’t you? You’ve put out months and months of work into this, so let’s put together the platform and once the talk is recorded, I help them put a plan together for getting people to see it. Then also, from a business development standpoint, leverage this really powerful message to help your nonprofit or help your business, that’s a big thing.
The last bit, I always tell people, and it is really true, work with someone who has experience as a coach, it doesn’t have to be me, but it’s not something– I always tell clients, whether it’s a keynote, or a TEDx talk, you can’t create a keynote or a talk in isolation and too many people do that. It’s a living thing. You can create your prototype, but you have to constantly be delivering it and getting feedback in a strategic way from people so you get to see what is landing and what isn’t.
The key thing is to think of it as a living thing so by the time you get on stage, it’s in your bones you’ve spoken it aloud so many times and it integrated. You’re not just, here’s my talk I’ve memorized because I’ve done it in my living room 75 times, that’s not it. You’ve tested it, gotten feedback and improved it.
Shani: Are TEDx speakers ever allowed to use teleprompters or is it always from memory?
Jill: Okay, the TED event itself has made different accommodations for big celebrities or big execs who haven’t had as much time to work on things, but in general, for the big Ted stage, it needs to be memorized. They’ll have speakers practice for a year, a year and a half. It has to be– the production is so intense, they have to have it down. Our event is in October, and I’ll usually start with most of the speakers in February, and all of our speakers are super busy working on gigantic projects.
Shani: Right, they’re busy being future makers.
Jill: Yes, that’s right, that’s it. I’m in the speaking industry, but our particular event isn’t for speakers. It’s for people– if it’s someone who’s doing a certain job during the day and they’re coming to speak on it. We are original source stage so it’s someone talking about someone like you, well, what is a leadershift? Well, let me tell you, having gone through these different experiences and coached at the highest levels, this is what I’ve come to tell you. It’s that versus someone getting on stage and just talking about a bunch of other people’s work the whole time. You do have to have it memorized.
Over the years, I’ve interviewed people on stage at TEDx, we’ve allowed people to bring notes, as long as somebody owns whatever the format is, it’s fine. It’s a good pattern disruption for the audience, but ideally, you want to have it memorized and it’s so natural that it feels like you’re really speaking from the heart, because you are.
Shani: Right, because you’ve got the science and the soul. I’m just going to take a minute to address the audience here. For those of you for whom a TED talk is on your bucket list or on your list of goals in the short or the long-term, stop and consider what we just heard from Jill. What is your message and is it differentiated or is it just another take on a topic that has been done to death? What is the new idea or your new way of thinking about that idea? If you don’t have that, you need to figure that out.
Number two, think about any speech that you give as a launch, especially if you’re building towards doing something as high profile as a TED talk, you want to think about that. Even if getting better at delivering speeches and keynotes or even just presenting in the executive suite if your career is dependent on you landing the message, these are all still the right pieces of advice to launch your idea because you’re not just going in and speaking bullshit one and done. Typically, you’re going in and you’re giving speeches about something that really matters in your functional area or for your product or for your customer. You’re trying to influence.
Then, number three, when it really matters get help. The best leaders know to ask for help whether it’s a coach to help you with your speech or a leadership or executive coach or somebody else that can give you the honest and candid and raw feedback that you need to freaking nail it, don’t be afraid to ask for that help.
Jill: Thank you for reinforcing those because why would somebody expect to do something that’s as high-stakes as a TEDx Talk or I’ve coached executives to speak to other decision-makers in boardrooms for years. There’s so much at stake. You can’t go in there with a rough draft. You need a thought partner. You need someone who’s going to help you not just with the strategy, but help you deliver.
I’m playful about it, but I always tell my clients especially the senior executives or if I’m working with the C-suite I’ll say, “Listen a lot of people haven’t told you the truth over the years and that’s what I’m here to do.” You’re smiling because you’re the same, I know it. It’s like here’s the deal, everybody at this point on some level has either put up, shut up or kissed up to you.
Shani: I love that.
Jill: They put up with it because you’re a genius and they’ll overlook your speaking skills. They’ll kiss up to you because maybe they want something. The big thing is– I say it with kindness, but my job is often to go “timeout”, what? I’m totally lost. Let’s get you back on track. You would want someone to talk to you like that with kindness because you it’s too high risk to do it in front of a bunch of people when it counts.
Shani: Absolutely. That’s the essence of feedback. One of my biggest professional goals in life is to get people more comfortable giving feedback. That’s one of my entire online courses is about and it’s not just critical feedback. It’s also reinforcing positive feedback so that people understand what they’re doing well and they know to keep doing it and to do more of it. It goes back to the kindness thing that you were talking about. One of your clients’ doing– being honest with people is actually kind.
Most people don’t think of it that way because it’s hard for them to give honest feedback. You’re actually being unkind by letting somebody continue to do something that doesn’t serve that, right?
Jill: So true and it’s on the smallest level. When you get home after a meal and you smile in the mirror and there’s spinach in your teeth and then, what the hell? This has been here? Or my fly’s down. Come on. Tell me. We can move on, but tell me if there’s spinach in my teeth, please.
Shani: Absolutely. Okay, I want to switch gears for just a minute and this is a little bit of selfish interest, but I think other folks will be interested in this as well. You work a lot with the NFL and NFL players and I went to the University of Miami.
Jill: Oh, that’s why you’re a hardcore football person. Yes. [chuckles]
Shani: Yes, and although lately we haven’t been anything to write home about, we probably have put more players in the NFL in the past 30 years that are household names than any other school out there.
Jill: All right. I love it that you have continued loyalty and pride, yes, perfect.
Shani: Yes. Okay, we’ve been talking about the work you do with executives and TEDx speakers. How is it that you work with NFL players? They have a message too, right?
Jill: Oh, my goodness, they definitely do.
Shani: Can you talk to us about what types of messages you’re helping them with and what the contexts are if it’s different?
Jill: Sure. I’ve been fortunate to work with NFL players for 15 years and my goodness, it’s such a joy to work with them. The clients I’m working with are speaking on behalf of their nonprofits. They may have an endorsement deal and they’re speaking for a brand or a company. They’ve been asked to do a special appearance and they’re going to be addressing a large group of people in a community or in a business event.
I’ll tell you, working with active players who are often much younger than I am and then retired players– the pro-athletes only play for a few years. There’s retired athletes who are in their early 30s, but the great thing about working with them is they know how to put their heads down and do drills. They have a stronger muscle than a lot of executives do. They’re so used to– you’ve been talking about feedback just like in your course.
Coaching in athletics is about giving feedback. There’s a feedback loop. You perform, you get feedback, you apply it, you get feedback you apply– as a coach, those clients have an advantage because they’ll try it. If they know I have a game plan, if there’s a play I’m asking them to try and build, they understand the value of it. They respect the expertise I have if I’ve been doing it as long as I have.
They speak on all kinds of topics from modern masculinity to environmental issues, they speak on healthy families, they speak on entrepreneurship, all kinds of fabulous topics that are relevant outside of football. The number one thing that they often want people to remember is that they’re more than football. Their ability to perform at high levels on the field is also something really valuable to go in and talk to a team or do a virtual keynote for a company because they know more about resilience in a different way than a lot of people.
Shani: Yes, I love that. There’s so much there. First of all, one of the things I heard you say that I want to highlight is they’re coachable.
Jill: Oh, my gosh, yes, they’re so coachable.
Shani: I think that’s really important because executives when they get to a certain level, they either think they know it all which you don’t or they think they need to come across as knowing it all, but even the CEOs of the biggest companies in the world don’t know it all and have coaches. Do yourself a favor, folks, be coachable. So simple, but so important.
Then the other dot I just connected was about the launch. Football players, by the nature of the sport, don’t have long careers. Maybe if you’re special teams, you’ve got a longer career than most because you’re a kicker and you’re not getting tackled up right and center all the time, but really doing some of these extracurricular speeches are a launch to what’s next after football in many cases. They have to think of it that way.
Jill: That’s what I’m really trying to do. Yes.
Shani: Yes. The analogy, again, for leadershifters because as much as I’d love to think that I have a bunch of NFL or NBA or NHL players watching my podcast, prove me wrong in the comments. Tell me if that’s you. I think most of my audience are corporate people and a lot of them are thinking about what’s next because they either want to switch careers or they’ve been forced into a career shift or shifting industry or even their industry is going by the wayside. Whatever it is that’s causing them to have to look forward. pretend you’re a football player and you don’t want to be washed up at 30. How are you going to set yourself up to launch the next phase?
Jill: Right, absolutely.
Shani: Yes, okay. One last question before we call it a show because it’s topical, diversity, inclusion, Black Lives Matter they’re so– we can have a whole podcast on this I’m sure. I can’t imagine that you don’t have clients coming to you right now saying, I’ve got a big speech that I’ve got to give either internally or externally on that subject.
Jill: That’s right. I do. I actually have a background in diversity, equity and inclusion. Even though my day-to-day is doing strategy and speaker coaching, I do have that background and the first thing I would say– First of all, thank you for asking that question because it is important for us as a society to continue to use our voices and call people in and have tough, uncomfortable discussions because I believe that that’s how our country actually becomes stronger, is when we can– just like a family. If we never talk about things, we’re giving each other the silent treatment or we’re always arguing, it’s a dysfunctional family– if we can figure out some common ground so I appreciate the question so much.
I have been very busy behind the scenes working with big companies and execs on how to do some messaging. The number one concern people have is, I don’t know what to say/ what if I say the wrong thing? I say, “Oh my gosh, you’ve been saying the wrong thing for years.” [chuckles] Either nobody told you– There’s no human being who hasn’t messed up. I understand that you feel like, “Oh-oh, I can’t do anything wrong because I’ll be punished.” Listen, this is where resilience comes in, and again, here we come back to feedback, this is a time for people as a nation to get feedback on what the lived experiences are for other people.
I may not personally, and this is true, have experienced the type of fear or violence or discrimination that other people have had, but it doesn’t mean it’s not real for other people. As a leader, my responsibility is to create dialogue and as a leader, to create an environment where people can feel seen and heard and understood. I have a model that I teach, that I use with leaders and it’s a checklist, basically. When they’re going to put a message together and they’re going to speak virtually to their team or they’re going to put together an email or they’re going to have a conversation on the phone with someone and there are five steps that you can use.
Especially if someone is just like, “Listen, lady, just give me a checklist,” I have it for you. I can’t tell you exactly what to say but I’m going to tell you, “If you hit these things, you’re going to have more success.” Step one is, you have to lead with the truth. The truth meaning if your company right now, if there’s some uncertainty, when you do not address the fact that there’s uncertainty, it impacts stress levels for people. You have to say something like, “You may have read in the paper that our industry has been severely hit and this may eventually hit us,” or “We’re going to have to make some tough decision.” Tell the truth because when you don’t, it’s worse for people and you lose. Truth brings credibility.
The second thing after truth is empathy. It’s being able to both affective and cognitive empathy, meaning you get a sense of how other people may be feeling and what they may be thinking. Even if you wouldn’t react the same way, showing empathy as a leader, a lot of time leaders are so far away from what it’s like day-to-day. Right now in the Bay Area during COVID– Obviously, COVID is really serious and a terrible experience for a lot of people. It’s mainly an inconvenience for me. I know that I have a ton of privilege. Yes, I have to home school and order-in food but I’m not impacted the way other people are, so having empathy really matters.
Having a leader saying something like– especially when it comes to diversity or race, “I know that some of you are hurting right now.” It matters. After empathy, people need to hear hope. They need to know that you, as a leader, are interested– you want to share that it could be better, that we are in this together. After hope, people need to hear your vision. Don’t just say, “We’re in this together.” Tell us what it looks like when we’re together. What will we do? Do you have any vision of what that can be? Then, the last piece is your commitment.
One of the biggest pit balls for leaders right now is putting out a statement but there’s no follow-up, there’s no follow-through, there’s nothing happening afterward, so commit publicly or verbally or in your email what you’re going to do. I’m going to continue to listen, I don’t have all the answers but I care about you as people. I know we have employees who are hurting and we have other employees who are confused and uncertain and hearing things for the first time. Let’s work through this together, here’s my commitment to you. We are going to do X, Y, Z within the next quarter because you as people mean a lot to me as a leader, and we’re going to move forward.
Shani: Great. Then, that becomes iterative. At the end of the quarter, you come back and you lead with the truth about how you did versus commitment.
Jill: If you don’t– [chuckles] We’ve all been in that situation where someone’s comes up and said a great speech and it’s like– That’s why my work is beyond the stage. It’s great to have a really powerful message. Did we create behavioral change? What shifts as a result?
Shani: Right. What shifts? Don’t be the leader who cried wolf, oh, we’re going to do all things to commit to more diversity and inclusion and hiring and devotion and then think it’s going to go away that you checked the box by acknowledging it. No, it’s not going to go away.
Jill: Right, and remember that we’re stronger together when we have tough conversations and when we bring more people into the room and sitting around the table.
Shani: That’s fantastic. Jill, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jill: Thanks for having me.
Shani: How can folks reach you if they want to hire you or check out one of your courses or otherwise engage with you?
Jill: Thanks. If someone’s interested, who wants to really work on their messaging and create a signature keynote for your community, you can reach out to me directly. It’s Jill@sciencesoulspeaking.com. It’s science S-O-U-L speaking dot com and I can give you more information.
Shani: Fantastic. Leadershifters, for those of you who are craving the Ted talk thing, I hope that you got a lot of value out of this today and that you’ll follow up with Jill when you get your chance at the TED ring. For those of you who are just looking to improve your presentation and delivery skills within your own spheres of influence, really, everything that we talked about today is relevant to you too because the big idea doesn’t necessarily have to be on a TED stage. It can be for your team, for your organization, for your customers, for your family, for your religious organization. What I love the most about our talk today was what you call your clients. Future makers.
We’re all future makers if we want to be, and so go out there, be a future maker and tune in next time. [chuckles] Thanks again, Jill and Leadershifters. We’ll see you on the next episode.