Archive for Helen’s Blog – Page 2

Politics and body language

Can body language really affect election results?

When people assess politicians in the media, physicality and body language have a significant, albeit subtle effect. It’s said they can swing a close-call election, although this is controversial.

The claim arises from the very first televised leadership debate, which took place in the US in September 1960. Around 70 million viewers watched as vice President Richard Nixon was pitted head-to-head against the young, relatively inexperienced senator, John F Kennedy.

Despite his vast political experience, Nixon did not come across well to the viewing public. He had been in hospital for two weeks in August 1960, with an infection that left him sallow, drained, and twenty pounds lighter in weight. On the day of the debate, he was at the end of a bout of flu, with a raised temperature, and had banged his bad knee getting out of the car at the TV studio. By the time the cameras started rolling he was grey, in pain, and no match for the handsome, charismatic, tanned JFK.

Lessons in political body language

As well as the differing appearances of the two Presidential candidates, their body language was worlds apart. JFK looked into the camera to answer each question. To viewers at home it seemed as if he was addressing them directly. Nixon, on the other hand, spoke both to the reporters in the room and to the viewing public, not realising that moving his eye-line to do so made him appear shifty.

While radio listeners were convinced by Nixon’s political arguments and felt he had won the debate, TV viewers were convinced by Kennedy’s physicality.

At least that’s how the story goes. The evidence for this seems to have been lost in the mists of time, although some people believe it was based on a survey of just 2,100 people, of whom just 13% listened on radio, most of them Republican (Nixon) supporters. So it may or may not have its basis in truth.

Either way, just a few weeks after the debate, Kennedy won by a tight margin.

The rocky politics show

As the UK’s general election looms, many Brits are caught between what they see as a rock and a hard place. Jeremy Corbyn is widely disliked – even among ardent Labour supporters. Theresa May is leading Brexit – the blight of many people’s lives.

On 8th June one of them will be elected Prime Minister. But who will people vote for? And how might the body language of these two would-be leaders make a difference to that decision?

This week Mrs May and Mr Corbyn appeared on TV, answering audience questions before being grilled by the UK’s most feared, intimidating interviewer, Jeremy Paxman. Although this wasn’t quite a debate, as they weren’t in the studio at the same time, there is general consensus that there was no clear winner.

So what feelings did the ‘debate-that-wasn’t-a-debate’ trigger in people’s subconscious, particularly in relation to body language?

It’s just a jump to the left….

Let’s consider Jeremy Corbyn to start with. When he came on stage, he couldn’t work out whether to be ‘bloke in a bar’ (aka Nigel Farage) or ‘serious leader’ (aka David Cameron). He stood with hand in pocket, leaning on the podium with one hand, weight on one foot, for all the world like he was just about to order a pint of beer.

He must have realised this wasn’t exactly professional, for he quickly changed into salesman mode, emulating the powerful, hands-open gestures of his Labour forerunner, Tony Blair. At this point he came across much more professionally – although he still lacked gravitas.

This was partly because of nerves. The earnest looking Mr Corbyn fiddled with his fingers as though reassuring himself. This type of gesture emulates a parent soothing a young child and is commonly used at times of stress.

He also stuck his foot out at an angle during his interview, pointing it away from the interviewer in a sure sign that he didn’t want to be there and was ready to move off at any moment.

…and then a step to the right…

Theresa May, despite her political experience, was also nervous. At the start of her audience question session she could be seen breathing once every two seconds. If she’d continued with that breathing pattern, she would have found herself seriously hyperventilating. Luckily for her, she got it under control fairly swiftly.

Mrs May smiled more than Mr Corbyn, which gave the impression that she was warmer, but sometimes it felt like the smile of a clown: painted on to hide an underlying discomfort.

She also had a habit of tilting her head. Perhaps she did this as a listening pose, but it had the effect of making her look like she has a neck problem, which diminished her stage presence.

Theresa May tends to come across as strong and authoritative. This is partly to do with her pace of speech and her vocal timbre. But on TV, her high heels prevented her from breathing properly and projecting her voice effectively. This exaggerated her vocal strain, which didn’t do her any favours.

Like Jeremy Corbyn, she also stood with her weight on one foot – a bad plan for anyone who wants to come across with true gravitas, as it means that part of your brain has to focus on balance, and this reduces the ability to focus on communication. (Is it purely chance that Mrs May favours her right foot while Mr Corbyn favours his left foot?)

Finally, although this isn’t strictly related to body language, I don’t think senior politicians should wear short skirts. Who wants to see the Prime Minister’s thighs when she sits down for an interview? This has nothing to do with prudishness or feminism but everything to do with cultural and religious sensitivities – not mine, but those of many in our very multi-cultural society. We have never seen Angela Merkel in a short skirt. I think she could give Theresa May a few lessons in political dress etiquette.

So who will win?

Right from the start, even some of the most hardened Labour supporters have thought this election a done deal – even though Labour are closing the gap on the Conservatives and a poll today shows we might even end up with a hung parliament.

As an unbiased, floating voter at this stage, I think Mrs May’s authority will sway the public, regardless of her politics. She comes across as much more powerful and for the most part she engenders respect with her physicality and her voice.

Unfortunately for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t, and I suspect that this is Labour’s downfall – not just choosing a leader whose policies cause so much controversy, even within the party, but choosing someone who lacks the gravitas and executive presence that other people look up to and admire.

(With thanks to Sky TV for the screenshots of the TV programme, and to Chatham House for the use of Jeremy Corbyn’s photo.)

Effective messaging: why so many fail

Read on for my offer of free individual advice

With hundreds of business communications demanding our attention each week, and thousands of marketing messages every day, we forget most of what we see, hear and read.

Even pictures – said to be worth a thousand words – are sometimes of no value whatsoever. And although we remember more of what we hear than what we read, we still forget at an alarming rate.

Our decline in memory is shocking. Psychologists say that just an hour after we learn something new, we’re just as likely to forget it as remember it. After a day, we retain just a third of the information presented, and by the time a month has passed, we might remember a fifth of what we were told.

This ‘forgetting curve’ was revealed in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus, who studied how much information the human brain retains and how much it forgets.

Effective messaging: you’re dead in the water without it

This doesn’t bode well for our communications. If people can’t remember what we say, what’s the point in wasting our time and energy trying to convey a message?

Are you setting yourself up for disappointment?

Senior personnel who know they’re not quite achieving their aims, or want to do better, usually think it’s something to do with the way they deliver messages. Often the root cause is the messages themselves: what they say rather than how they say it.

This never surprises me. Effective messaging isn’t taught in schools, universities or workplaces, and I spend a lot of time teaching clients to work out the best way of achieving buy-in.

The basis of effective messaging

The principle of cutting through the clutter is simple: people remember things which are more important to them.

Research shows that we all evaluate messages based on our own individual beliefs and experiences. If you can frame a message to relate to the personally-important values of your audience it is much more likely to stick. A high quality argument using attitude-relevant information is a powerfully persuasive tool.

When you’re creating your argument (message), the questions to consider are “why should my audience care?” and “what’s in it for them?”

More than two thousand years ago, Aristotle recognised that to make an impact, you have to tap into people’s emotions. Marketing consultant Simon Sinek outlines this well, supporting the theory with some biological science – always a favourite of mine. Although Simon’s spiel is oriented towards sales rather than general persuasion, his points are relevant for all communications. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, he says.

This is so true. If you can dovetail your “why” into your audience’s “what’s in it for me?”, you are well on the way to effective messaging.

How to create effective messaging

Effective messaging is simple, relevant and clearly beneficial to the recipient(s). Its principles are beautifully explained in a great little book called Made to Stick: why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck. This describes why “we have no difficulty at all in remembering the details of, say, a bogus scare story, and yet often struggle to recall information that may be vital to us”. The book takes us through concepts of simplicity, the unexpected, the credible and the emotional, among others. It is well worth a read.

If you can create a well-crafted, sticky message, you will help the recipients of that communication to slide down the persuasion funnel of awareness, interest and consideration, and encourage them to take action… until BANG! You’ll have them in the palm of your hand, following your suggestion.

But don’t take my written word for this. I’m up for a challenge if you are. If you’re a UK-based business leader reading this in April or May 2017, and you’d like to assess your skills in this area (totally gratis, no strings attached), send me a message, tell me who it’s for, give me a little background, and I’ll let you know how it reads and what chance it stands of achieving its aims.

Communication stress: the secret bane of business

From client meetings to boardrooms

It almost makes me weep to see so many high-flying execs painfully stressed about important events. Offices around the world would be much happier places if senior personnel recognised that this overwhelming anxiety is unnecessary. Work would become more productive without endless hours spent on something which probably needs a fraction of the time.

In the days and even weeks leading up to an Event (always with a capital E) over-anxious executives can barely think about anything else. Their sleep suffers, their muscles contract with unreleasable tension, their worry levels shoot through the roof. It doesn’t matter whether they are preparing for a board meeting, a media interview or a keynote speech: the discomfort is the same. It can be incapacitating.

Confidential concerns

The main fear is forgetting what you’re going to say or giving the impression that you’re not up to the job.

If you are light-skinned it is easy to give the game away by blushing beetroot red. (Of course women can always put this down to hormones, but no-one wants to do that in front of senior colleagues or clients.)

You might have the tendency to shake, sweat, go pale, develop a dry mouth, tremble vocally and/or lose your train of thought. In this last case, the ‘forgetting’ worry becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the likelihood of appearing incapable increases exponentially.

With communication stress so incredibly widespread, I’m in the very privileged position of hearing about it from some of the most senior personnel in the business world. I’m also in the very lucky position of being able to help.

The elephant in the room

Communication stress is an enormous elephant in the room on many occasions, and most of the time it is completely invisible. So while you might be swallowing hard at the thought of the contribution you’re about to make to that significant meeting or what you’re going to tell the audience of VIPs who’ve flown in from far-flung countries, you can be pretty sure that at least one other person in the near vicinity is struggling with the same feelings of impending doom.

There are some very real, biological reasons why your brain switches off at moments of great stress. At times of great danger it is evolutionarily advantageous for you not to focus on intellectual activities. It’s more important to get the hell out of there when your life is at risk, rather than sit quietly and weigh up the philosophical advantages versus disadvantages of the situation. But let’s be honest – a business communication is hardly going to kill you.

Communication stress: a hidden health issue

I have the utmost sympathy for anyone who suffers from communication stress, but I am also frustrated on their behalf, as this doesn’t need to be an issue. If more people spoke out about it, more people would get the support they need.

It’s a crying shame that senior people feel they have to be so secretive about their issues with communication, particularly as this can affect their health, working relationships and professional progress.

I believe that communication stress should be medically recognised as a health issue. It should be considered on a par with issues like depression: widely discussed, with sufferers treated compassionately in the workplace and help available on demand.

However, while people with depression were once stigmatised, communication stress is so covertly hidden that no stigma has ever grown up about it. There’s not even a little green shoot of a stigma. It’s still very much underground and from what I can tell, it’s likely to stay there.

Overcoming communication stress

A very savvy US President once told America that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Franklin D Roosevelt was well ahead of his time in understanding the problems we cause ourselves and voicing them so eloquently.

The good news for secret sufferers is that the stress, worry and fear surrounding work-related communication is eminently surmountable. As I tell my senior clients, much of it is about knowing how to communicate effectively.

That means knowing how to frame a message effectively to get the optimum reception from your target audience. It means knowing how to deliver that message well. And it means understanding your body well enough to control your physicality and take charge of the event (which now has just a little ‘e’).

This is all certainly possible. I’ve helped many, many people to wipe out their communication stress entirely – sometimes very quickly. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch. I’m on a mission to crush communication stress in the boardrooms of Britain and beyond, and I’d love to help you stamp out your concerns and find your communication spark so you can shine on every occasion.

English pronunciation and accent discrimination

Making and breaking careers

Whether you are a native or non-native English speaker, your accent can play a major role in how you are perceived. Surveys show that accents have an impact “on success, in employment, social life and elsewhere”. Sadly, and very unfairly, ‘accentism’ appears to be an acceptable prejudice.

Take singer Cheryl Cole, who was sacked as a judge on the US version of The X Factor, allegedly because the US audience found it hard to understand her Geordie tones. Was this a reasonable decision by the producers in an attempt to increase viewing figures? Or was it a case of pure accentism?

There is strong evidence that talent show judges are not the only ones whose English pronunciation affects their careers. In a survey carried out by the law firm Peninsula, nearly eighty percent of UK employers questioned admitted they had made discriminating decisions in job interviews, based on regional accents. Foreign accents didn’t even come into the picture. This was pure discrimination by Brits against people with a native British accent.

The US has strict laws against accent prejudice (perhaps Cheryl Cole should take note), but while UK law lists a number of ‘protected characteristics’ which are illegal to discriminate against, accent is not on the list. Race or nationality discrimination is illegal. Accent discrimination is not.

Why non-native speakers can be harder to understand

This is not solely a British problem. Around the globe we are all increasingly exposed to accented speakers. In 2015, nearly 250 million people lived outside their country of origin, yet linguists and sociologists are concerned that the world has not accepted or adapted to this new reality.

In an article by the business news outlet Quartz, sociolinguist Ingrid Piller explains how accents make it “easy to make judgements about a person’s cultural affiliation or education”.

Psycholinguist Shiri Lev-Ari reveals that “we’re less likely to believe something if it’s said with a foreign accent”. We are also less likely to remember what that person has said.

In practical terms it is more difficult to listen to someone who speaks with an accent different to our own, whether or not we have the same mother tongue. We need more mental power to concentrate on their words. Non-native speech exacerbates this, particularly when different sounds, different syllables and different parts of the sentence are stressed in an unfamiliar way. When we do not immediately recognise vocal sounds or speech patterns, we can struggle internally to make sense of them – even though we might not recognise this consciously.

Those who are less fluent in a language use longer pauses in their speech. I am a big fan of the pause, but silences lasting longer than two seconds can be hard to take. Partly because of this tendency to pause, non-native speakers can take 30% longer than native speakers to get their message out, making it tiring to listen. It also doesn’t help that non-native speakers tend to fill the silences with long errs and/or umms.

So who cares about your English pronunciation?

To understand why the business world cares about accents we need to examine the meaning of the word ‘accent’. This is defined as a group of pronunciation traits shared by people in the same geographic location or belonging to the same social group. In other words it is the way we sound when we speak.

Everyone who speaks English has an accent, whether it is the old fashioned BBC English pronunciation known as Received Pronunciation (RP), a UK regional accent, tones from another English-speaking country, or an accent completely foreign to the English language.

Accents are so powerful that we all notice immediately if someone does not sound like us. Conversely, when we leave our local or national area, our own accent marks us out as different. And that can lead to problems.

Death by accent

Setting work discrimination aside for a moment, let’s look at accentism in the news. Media outlets are peppered with stories about murders committed on the basis of accent alone: the Scouse-accented student killed in Manchester and the English-accented boy kicked to death by Scottish teenagers, for example.

Unfortunately this trend is nothing new. Accentism is centuries old. It has even led to ethnic cleansing.

More than three thousand years ago in ancient Jordan, for example, when the people of Gilead defeated a tribe of invaders, they wanted to be sure they had killed the whole tribe. There were no visual differences between the Gileadites and the survivors, so the Gileadites asked anyone suspected of being from the invading tribe to say the word “shibboleth”.

With no “sh” sound in the invaders’ dialect, those who pronounced it “sibboleth” were identified as the enemy and killed. This was one of the first recorded events of accent-related genocide.

To change or not to change your English pronunciation?

Fast forward to the modern day, and with accentism still a widespread and acceptable prejudice (in the UK at least), many people consider changing their accents. This, too, can lead to problems.

Dr Alexander Baratta from Manchester University researches people who purposely adapt their English pronunciation to fit in with those around them. He has found that a third of people who do so are ashamed of it, but they force themselves into it because they are scared of how others will perceive them if they continue to speak in their own accent.

Dr Baratta explains that someone who tries to change their accent can end up with identity issues. “From 9 to 5 they’re one person, but when they’re home they become someone else”, he explains. He warns that changing your accent can undermine your sense of self, make you feel as though you are betraying your true identity, and bring up angry, bitter emotions.

Accent happiness

Before you start worrying too much about how you sound and whether you should change, I’d like to stress that there are some very significant positives associated with having an accent different from those around you. Some people will appreciate it greatly.

Your accent suggests all the positive qualities associated with your culture: an Italian accent hints at passion, a French accent oozes charm, for example. Languages and accents can also be pretty romantic, if this clip from the British comedy film, A Fish Called Wanda, is to be believed. (A word of warning – it is slightly X-rated!)

On a more serious note, when we hear someone with a foreign accent, we know they are clever enough to communicate in at least two languages. To me that’s pretty impressive, considering much of the native UK population only speaks English.

As another positive, your accent immediately reveals your geographic and/or cultural roots. This helps others with a similar background to identify with you quickly, leading to strong business relationships among those from the same community.

What is the best English pronunciation?

Your place of origin influences the English pronunciation that you prefer. You probably feel most comfortable conversing with someone whose accent matches your own. You won’t even notice that they have an accent. The similarity between you will hint at a shared heritage and possibly even a shared gene pool. This is your tribe; your extended family.

You will also have a preferred accent that is different from your own. This too depends on your origins. Surveys show that Brits usually find the Southern Irish accent the most trustworthy, closely followed by RP, while Brummie, Liverpudlian and Essex accents tend to fall into the least liked category.

Americans favour the Glaswegian accent (think Billy Connolly) and Cockney (think Ray Winstone).

On a global scale the world’s sexiest accent is said to be Northern Irish. (If you hail from Northern Ireland, you’re in there!)

Shake off the worries

Many of my clients, already at the pinnacle of their professions, express doubts about their English pronunciation and ask me if they should change their native or regional tones to blend in with those around them. The answer is generally ‘no’.

To my mind, surveys about accent discrimination give a misleading picture, so I’d like to set the record straight. In the UK, the only accents which might potentially hinder your business success are very strong regional accents and very strong non-British accents. If those around you have no trouble understanding you, if you articulate clearly and confidently, and if you are already at the top of your tree, be assured that your accent forms a valuable part of who you are, and you should treasure it as part of your heritage and personality.

I’ve been stressing this for years, but many senior leaders and C-suite executives are still concerned, and the issue never quite goes away.

Display your accent with pride

If this still feels like a major issue for you, take heart. It is certainly possible to reduce an accent if it really does get in the way of your career progression or business success. US actress Renee Zellweger, for example, adopted an almost perfect RP accent for her film role as the very British character, Bridget Jones. She certainly wouldn’t have got the part with her native Texan twang.

But at the risk of sounding repetitive, I find that most senior personnel who focus on their accent are worrying unnecessarily. My message to you is this: be who you are, be the best that you can be, and (as long as people understand you) accent be damned!

Enhancing your powers of influence, on the other hand, is quite a different matter. If you want to discuss how to communicate with impact and if you’d like to raise the game with your leadership communication, do get in touch. Let’s see how we can make you stand out even more positively from the crowd.

Make eye contact to boost your influence

Do you REALLY know what you’re doing?

Most people think they make eye contact perfectly well in a business situation. Most people fail to recognise that what they think of as eye contact is not really eye contact at all – at least not in the influential way that they expect.

This is hardly surprising. If you are at the unconscious incompetent stage of learning (where you don’t know what you don’t know), it takes someone to point out any lack of awareness before you achieve that ‘aha’ moment.

Once you realise your shortcomings, you can take action to overcome them. When you start making more effective eye contact, your business relationships will improve and work is likely to become more efficient and productive – and potentially more profitable.

Make powerful connections

Meeting someone’s gaze is one of the most intimate and powerful things you can do. It allows you to communicate and connect with another person on a conscious and unconscious level.

There are strong theories that maintaining this type of connection might be the key to happiness, well-being and longevity.

Let’s think about that realistically. When you are deep in conversation with your loved ones you look them directly in the eye. There’s no embarrassment, no concern, just a deep sense of connection.

When you want to win an argument, you look your adversary right in the eye. The two of you undergo an eye-to-eye power struggle and the loser usually looks away and backs down.

When you are giving a talk, meeting a client, pitching for business, or facing an investors’ gathering, eye contact is just as important. If you can make eye contact effectively, this will ensure you stand out from the crowd and it will tell those around you that you are an expert, not an amateur.

Connect with and understand other people

When you address other people – whether in an enormous conference hall or at a small meeting – true eye contact will draw people in and encourage them to listen. They will feel you are talking to them personally.

To make eye contact in a business setting, keep your gaze to a triangle between the other person’s eyes and their upper forehead. Looking down towards their nose or mouth is a social gaze, and is generally considered inappropriate at work.

It is, of course, rude to look away when someone is talking to you. So when you look people in the eye, they are much more likely to look back at you, creating an interpersonal connection that will help you ‘sell’ your message and gain buy-in to your suggestions.

Maintaining eye contact also helps you figure out how people are responding to you. When you make eye contact effectively with someone, they may well give you a nod, a smile, or some other acknowledgement that they are listening.

If you do not get a positive response, or if you feel that people are losing concentration, this is a very powerful sign that you need to change what you are doing. You might think about altering your pace or devising another way to keep them engaged and alert.

Getting it wrong and getting it right

There’s eye contact and eye contact. Staring is rude. Connecting gently is powerful.

So how do you connect powerfully?

First let’s look at what to avoid, using the example of Ed Miliband, former leader of the UK’s Labour Party. Speaking at a pre-election debate between seven party leaders, Mr Miliband directed most of his answers to the viewers at home, staring directly at them through the camera lens rather than addressing the studio audience or his fellow politicians.

Mr Miliband obviously hadn’t read the scientific research about the use of maintaining constant eye contact to change people’s minds. It doesn’t work. It just makes people feel uncomfortable. In fact, research demonstrates that holding eye contact for too long encourages the recipient of the stare to resist persuasion. It is completely counterproductive.

Contrast Mr Miliband’s robotic style with that former US President Bill Clinton, well-renowned for being a charismatic speaker. His performance is among the best. He connects with others through very careful and expert eye contact.

Windows to the soul

Your eyes can reveal your innermost feelings – often inadvertently – and this can put you at a disadvantage.

The former Premier of Alberta provides a classic example of this. In a debate between Canada’s political leaders, she made eye contact with her rival while her eyes flashed incredibly hostile and negative emotions. This made her look very odd, but she was probably unaware of her facial expressions until she saw the footage after the event.

You won’t always have TV footage to help you improve, so it is best to keep negative emotions under wraps.

Make eye contact to create rapport

When you converse with another person, that person should always be your main point of focus, but your line of vision should not remain static. If you stare at them without breaking eye contact, they will quickly start to feel uncomfortable.

It is generally acceptable to hold eye contact for around three to ten seconds. Any longer than this might make you appear aggressive. Or romantic. People need a little respite from your gaze, or their discomfort might prevent them from taking in your words and distort any message they are trying to convey.

Research shows that in social conversation people normally look at one another for around 30% – 60% of the time. For people in love, that figure rises to 75% of the time. And for business conversation it can be anything up to 90% of the time.

There seems to be more invested in a business meeting than in a loving relationship. Perhaps the stakes are higher when money is concerned. You can usually kiss and make up with your significant other after an argument, but if you miss out on a big deal, there are no second chances.

It’s fine to look away

It is hard to speak and make eye contact at the same time. When you talk, you need moments for your brain to work out what to say, and this usually causes you to avert your gaze.

A speaker always looks away more than a listener. It is even acceptable to close your eyes briefly, as this helps your brain to retrieve information. Don’t be afraid to do this if necessary – it won’t seem rude.

The duration of gaze in business conversation is gender specific. When two businesswomen speak, they spend 80% – 90% of the time looking at each other. It’s the same when a man and a woman speak at work. But when two men converse in an office situation, they hold each other’s gaze for only 60% – 70% of the time.

Why men and women make eye contact differently

I suspect the gender differences in eye contact relate to the different neurophysiology and/or neuropsychology of men and women when it comes to listening. Research suggests that when men listen, this activates only the left half of their brain, which stimulates changes in the direction of their gaze.

We all move our eyes to access information in our brain. There is evidence to show that eye movements can prompt memory recall and there is a theory that we also move our eyes to create ideas.

The psychological discipline of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) believes it is possible to recognise what is happening in someone’s mind by watching the direction of their gaze.

Make eye contact

NLP suggests that when one brain hemisphere is active, we move our eyes away from that hemisphere and look in the opposite direction. In other words, when the left side of our brain is active, we are liable to look to the right.

However, while there is research to support the ‘direction of gaze’ theory, many scientists and NLP practitioners admit it is contentious.

It also clashes with the well-held theory that men tend to create solutions while they listen. In NLP terms, problem solving involves looking to the left. Yet we know that the left side of men’s brains are stimulated by listening, so as far as NLP is concerned, they should be looking right. I take the NLP map with a large dose of salt.

Leaving the actual direction of gaze aside, if both sides of the brain are activated, as they are when women listen, the concept of ‘opposite direction’ does not apply. In this context there is no such thing as an ‘opposite direction’, therefore there is no stimulus for a woman to look away from a speaker. It follows that there is less break in eye contact. It appears that women literally stay more focused on the person speaking, which is why they make more eye contact in a business situation.

The eyes have it

Your eyes could seriously let you down if you are not careful. Or they could be the making of you if you use them well. Simple techniques can significantly improve how you make eye contact, and can help you become more successful, respected and influential at work.

While this article provides food for thought, it is only a glance into the window of a world of information about eye contact. It can’t offer individual feedback about how well (or otherwise) you make eye contact. Neither can it advise you on a personal level how to enhance your visual connections with other people. That can only be achieved in person.

I’m passionate about helping leaders connect with others more deeply, and that includes developing the skills of optimum eye-contact. So if you’d like to assess your style and techniques in creating those all-important interpersonal connections, and if you are a leader who wants to communicate more successfully, drop me a line and let’s talk. I’ll be watching out for you.

The power of communication in leadership

How much truth is there in the old adage, “it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it”? Is this merely urban myth? Can you really engage an audience and hold them in the palm of your hand while speaking pure flimflam?

Well yes, actually you can. You might not keep their attention for very long, but you can certainly get away with it for a few minutes before the novelty wears off.

As a gift for the festive season, I’d like to introduce you to a man who knows how to get an audience going more than most. He’s Pat Kelly, self-proclaimed thought leader, but in reality a comedian, actor, improviser and people watcher.

Pat hosts a satirical (and often fabricated) current affairs program, “This is That”. One of his extremely clever sketches revolves around a presentation in the style of a TED talk. He spends nearly four minutes demonstrating how communication in leadership can make a significant impact without actually imparting anything of value.

Is true communication in leadership based on executive presence?

The “Thought Leader” sketch is a spoof. It is the subtlest, politest form of satire, yet it teaches a surprisingly strong lesson.

Pat Kelly’s physicality, the way he presents his slides and his slick changes in vocal tone, pace and pause combine to make the audience feel he is an expert (although an expert in what remains to be seen).

Meaningless as his points may be, his audience laps up his words, nodding and applauding in appropriate places. Pat’s presence gives him credibility and authority, making him both impressive and reassuring. His drivel-based speech is a triumph of executive presence over true communication in leadership.

You say it best when you say nothing at all

Pat Kelly certainly does not connect to the audience through any strong message. In fact he admits point blank that he has nothing to say and that he is purposely hamming up his performance. But the audience still leans forward to take it all in.

In the words of singer Ronan Keating, “It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart without saying a word”. That is exactly what Pat Kelly achieves.

And yet….if you listen to Pat’s sketch from another angle, it presents a four-minute deconstruction of a TED talk. It is brilliant in its simplicity, and highly educational. If you are giving a talk you can certainly take a few tips from the Thought Leader.

Performance enhancers or gimmicky ploys?

The Thought Leader reveals a variety of performance enhancing techniques. While these are parodied as mere gimmicks – and some of them are – many are also valuable presentation tools when used appropriately.

For example, if you change your vocal tone, pace and volume for different elements of your story, you will help your audience to journey through the story with you. With vocal congruence between what you say and how you say it, people will connect with your words and are more likely to buy into your message.

If you change the way you move – from walking to standing still, from gesticulating minimally to gesturing widely, from smiling to looking serious – you will engage your audience more productively. But (and this is a big but) … only if you move with authenticity and communicate with integrity. A talk is not an illusionist’s stage show. It is an opportunity to converse with people, even though they don’t immediately respond in words.

Communication in leadership – a valuable video parody

While the Thought Leader speech is all smoke and mirrors, if you peer through the smoke you will see some very clear ways to engage an audience.

Unlike the Thought Leader, you need strong content to achieve your aims. But if you take some of your lead from Pat Kelly’s communication style, you are likely to strengthen your performance and enhance the way the audience perceives you.

This gem of a video is worth seeing again and again. Watch it with an enquiring, open mind – you may well learn something new each time.

Could the nightmare happen to you?

Speaking in public. We all fear getting it wrong. And when it goes dramatically wrong, the embarrassment is all-consuming. Not to mention the frustration.

Perhaps this rings uncomfortable bells for you. Have your leadership communication skills ever flown out the window at a critical moment? Have you ever wished the floor would open up beneath you?

Many prominent people have come to a sticky end during a presentation that should have promoted them rather than mortified them.

Today, for your voyeuristic entertainment (and education), I’ve compiled five classic examples of catastrophic presentation failures, with advice on how to avoid similar situations.

1. Think before you speak

The top prize for talking rubbish (quite literally) goes to Gerald Ratner, the former Chief Executive of Ratners – a successful jewellery business in the UK and the US back in the 1980s.

In early 1991 Ratners was bringing in profits of £112 million. But one year later, after a single disastrous speech by its CEO, the company was £122 million in debt, with £500 million wiped off its share value. Gerald Ratner, unsurprisingly, was sacked. Ratners changed its name and eventually became a profitable business again. But people still talk about ‘doing a Ratner’.

So what did Mr Ratner do that was so bad?

He showed contempt for his customers by denigrating his own products – the very products that kept his company in business. At the time, Ratners sold a set of “cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95”. Speaking at an Institute of Directors conference, Gerald Ratner confessed that people often asked how he could sell this set for such a low price. “I say, because it’s total crap,” he revealed candidly.

He went on to tell the audience that Ratners’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.  The comments that that sparked multi-million losses were filmed for posterity, and you can watch them here, with the ‘crap’ remark just after four minutes from the start, and the ‘prawn sandwich’ statement just after six minutes in.

So how can you avoid doing a Ratner?

If your leadership communication skills are up to scratch, you will always assess your material critically before you speak. Think about what you say from the audience’s perspective. Will they understand you? Is there any way your words might have a different meaning? Does your message come across clearly? How will it be perceived? If it gets out on social media or in the press, will there be any repercussions?

This all sounds so simple and straightforward, but as Mr Ratner proved, even the most successful among us can come a cropper. Talking of which…

2. Failing to prepare means preparing to fail

If you want to fall flat on your face in a talk, don’t bother preparing it. There is a classic example of this from Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for Best Actor in 2004.

Famous actors speak fluently and effortlessly when they’ve learnt their lines. But when there aren’t any lines, even Hollywood icons can make us cringe.

Sean Penn hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech, and the video shows him shrinking into himself as he realises that he should have planned for the moment when the eyes of the world were on him, not to mention all his colleagues in the audience, who were watching too.

Scroll to three minutes in, where his speech begins, and you’ll  see him shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. He stutters as he hunches into the microphone. You can feel the tension during the long pauses as he sighs and tries to figure out where to go next. His voice shakes slightly, giving away his nerves. The audience smile, but I’m sure they are squirming inside.

To ensure you never make an audience feel awkward, you need to know exactly what you are going to say. Create your speech very carefully beforehand and practise it well. But unless you happen to be an actor, don’t script it. You’ll never remember it word for word. Just know what themes and messages you want to put across, and how you want to people to receive them.

Run through your talk two or three times before the event to give you an idea of how it feels to verbalise. It will never come out the same way twice, but practising will allow you to improve your performance. It will also help you to firm up the content and structure in your mind, making you less likely to go blank while all eyes are on you.

3. Plan for the worst case scenario

Technology is all very well, but in this day and age we tend to rely far too much on PowerPoint, Prezi and teleprompter (autocue). And when technology fails – as it is prone to do at important times – it can ruin even the most carefully prepared presentation.

Early last year when former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin fell victim to a failed teleprompter, she started burbling a stream of nonsense. The words were English but the sentences didn’t make sense. Her leadership communication skills were sadly lacking.

To her credit, she kept on going. But as the queen of controversial noise-making, Sarah Palin’s incomprehensible ramblings must have damaged her credibility, which was already pretty low with many people.

The main thing she could have done for herself was to work out her messaging clearly beforehand. What was she trying to say? How could she best convey that message? How could she remember it?

Knowing your content well will help you remain calm and collected when things go wrong. If you have no back-up plan, you can always return to your main message and reiterate it to reinforce your point.

You’ll know your call to action – what do you want people to do as a result of hearing you speak? Your whole talk should be focused around achieving this aim. So if you do get horrendously lost, just repeat your main message, go straight to your call to action and end your talk there. You’ll finish with aplomb and you’re more likely to come across with authority and credibility.

4. Remember – the show must go on

I mentioned a back-up plan – and no good speaker should be without one. Sadly, film director Michael Bay, was not a good speaker. When his teleprompter went down, the event became embarrassing for the organisation involved and humiliating for Michael Bay.

Mr Bay had been brought into a Samsung press conference to promote their new, curved television screen. He was obviously nervous and was more used to being behind the camera than in front of it. Video footage shows him almost wringing his hands as he desperately tries to think of what to say. The compere attempts to help – asking questions which should have elicited a good response. But it is no use. Michael Bay’s nerves overtake him and he turns around shamefacedly and leaves the stage with his head hung very low. It’s an awful moment.

This incident could have been avoided very easily. Whenever you use technology to support your talk, a simple back-up plan is to print your talk as bullet points on cue cards and place them on the desk or podium in front of you.

The rule of thumb is to have no more than four bullet points per card, and no more than four words per bullet point. That way, if there’s a problem with electronic equipment, you can just glance down at the cards to know exactly where you are and what comes next.

Oh, and do number your cards properly. There’s nothing worse than dropping them and messing up the order. Very embarrassing.

5. Always be yourself

You’d think that politicians would demonstrate great leadership communication skills to encourage people to vote for them. That isn’t always the case.

For some reason, this US politician decided to batter the audience with his words. Bellowing wildly at his potential voters, while pacing the floor like a caged tiger, Phil Davison was determined to shout out his qualifications – including a Master’s degree in communication – and roar that they make him the right man for the job.

How I laughed, in the light of his performance. Oh dear. Poor man. He seems completely unhinged, and definitely not someone to put into a position of power.

But is he like that at home? Does he communicate with his family by barking at them? Does he wander back and forth across his living room – three steps to one side, three steps to the other? I imagine that the answer to these questions is ‘no’.

Mr Davison was trying to create an authoritative persona. He was aiming to sound like a leader. Instead, he opened himself up to ridicule. The Youtube video of his talk is entitled “Hilarious politician – worst speech ever”. I feel rather sad for him.

If you can’t be yourself when you are speaking, people will see right through you. Authenticity is vital, so don’t ever try to be what you are not. Allow your true self to shine through. (And do stand still unless you have a reason to walk.)

If you are truly passionate about your topic and if you want your audience to benefit from your suggestions and ideas, they will treat you kindly and you are much more likely to succeed in your aims. Being yourself will serve you well.

Of course many people aren’t exactly passionate about their topic. Perhaps it’s rather dry, or dull. If this is something you struggle with, do get in touch and I’ll show you how to boost your leadership communication skills, make your speech sparkle and avoid any gut-churning presentation nightmares.

Embody your authority to demonstrate leadership

The role of physicality in leadership

Being a great leader isn’t just about making careful choices and guiding people towards your way of thinking. It’s about connecting with others in a way which engenders respect and makes them want to follow your directions because they believe in you and want to do well for you.

In other words it’s not just how to talk the talk. You need to demonstrate leadership by walking the walk as well.

Your physicality has a significant effect on those around you. It also influences how you feel. And you can use it in very powerful ways.

Recognise the mind-body connection

We know that there are many links between the mind and body. The connection is well known by the medical profession and, if we veer away from leadership to look at health for a moment, the links are easy to see.

A negative mental state can create physical illness. There’s a clear correlation between psychological factors and an increased likelihood of heart disease, for example. And how we see ourselves in relation to others – our social status – is also a major cause of ill health. This status syndrome is related to how much control we have over our own lives and what opportunities we have to participate in society.

But while the mind can have negative effects, the reverse is also true. We can harness the power of our own psychology to achieve great things.

Using health again as a tool to understand this, it is clear that mind-body therapies can help people to manage chronic pain conditions like arthritis, and ease symptoms of disease. There’s even a practice of hypnosurgery, where patients are sedated before an operation using hypnotherapy alone, with no anaesthetic.

So the mind can control the body. But how much can the body control the mind? And how does this impact on leadership?

Embodying leadership

There’s a growing body of evidence that the way we hold ourselves and the way we move can change the way we think and speak.

In one of the most watched TED talks, renowned social scientist Amy Cuddy explains how we are “influenced by our non-verbals – our thoughts and our feelings and our physiology”.

Dr Cuddy’s research shows that when we put ourselves into a physically powerful, open posture, our testosterone levels rise, both in women and in men. As testosterone is, in effect, the ‘dominance’ hormone, this gives us a feeling of supremacy and authority over others.

Our powerful posture is also linked with a drop in our levels of cortisol – the stress hormone. In other words we become less stressed when we physically display more power, and this helps us to feel more powerful.

Conversely when we take on a closed posture, shrinking our body into itself, for example by hunching or by crossing our arms and legs, our testosterone levels drop and our cortisol levels rise. In other words we feel less powerful and we become less powerful when we act less powerful.

Dr Cuddy suggests adopting a power pose for a couple of minutes before any stressful event, creating the right frame of mind and body to feel confident and in control.

Shaping your body, shaping your mind

While Amy Cuddy advocates “fake it till you make it” and “fake it till you become it”, we need to do more than just pose to demonstrate leadership in a true physical sense. There’s no substitute for a strong and steady executive presence.

Specialists from areas as diverse as martial arts, psychology and chiropractic have studied the links between physicality, kinaesthetic sensation and executive presence. And they’ve all come up with pretty much the same answer: there’s a deep-seated relationship between what we do with our body, the way our mind works and how people perceive us.

The crux of this is that the shapes we make with our bodies are directly related to how we feel inside. People pick up on this and respond to us accordingly.

To take an extreme example, if we feel low or depressed, our body will literally be de-pressed: pressed down by our feelings and held in a slumped position. How many people will look up to us if this is the physical message that we give out? It’s no way to demonstrate leadership.

“Life makes shapes”, according to Stanley Keleman, a chiropractor who has pioneered the study of links between our musculoskeletal system and our feelings. His book, Emotional Anatomy, shows exactly what we do to ourselves, using a series of pictures and diagrams to represent the bodily shapes we create and how they come across to others.

Understanding others, understanding ourselves

It’s often easy to understand how someone feels. Most people read body language automatically without even realising it. Facial expressions in particular seem to arise from our genetic make-up as human beings. We communicate our emotions through six universal expressions which everybody understands, regardless of age, culture or language.

But while reading other people’s body language might be a walk in the park, it can be difficult to notice what we communicate through our own physicality. That’s why a whole industry of body psychotherapy, physical teaching and somatic coaching has sprung up to help us achieve the results we want.

Learning to demonstrate leadership through embodiment

It’s a minefield out there. As a novice in the physicality of leadership, how do you decide which discipline to trust to help you make the most of your body? So many practitioners claim to help you demonstrate leadership through embodiment.

Here are just a few examples of some of the techniques on offer…

The ‘DIY’ guide, Embodying Experience, provides a five-step methodology towards getting rid of outmoded behaviour patterns and reassembling the elements of your experience into new and better behaviours.

Alexander Technique teaches you how to use your body in an optimal way, through a series of very gentle hands-on lessons and repetitive actions which increase your kinaesthetic awareness and empower you to replace unhelpful habits with comfortable ways of moving with grace and presence. (I’m a big fan of this.)

The practice of Leadership Embodiment mixes principles of Aikido and mindfulness with theories of biology and neuroscience to help you develop a deeper feeling of leadership and a greater aura of authority.

Somatic coaching also leans on psychobiology and mindfulness, training you to become more aware of sensations – listening to your heart and your gut as well as your brain, for example – and helping you to release physical habits and patterns, allowing you to move more fluidly and with greater presence.

There are dozens of other body-related practices to choose from as well. It’s no wonder people get confused.

Choosing your best path to embodied leadership

While working out the best discipline to follow, it seems sensible to do your research then follow your gut instinct. Which concept makes you feel more comfortable? Which do you feel drawn to? You can only achieve change when you trust and engage in a process fully, so it needs to feel right from the start.

Having said that, the physical approach might not be appropriate for you in the first place. You might not have the time, patience or staying power to immerse yourself in practices which can take years to learn. Or you might feel that immersing yourself in physicality risks reducing your intellectual focus.

Demonstrate leadership through powerful communication

My approach is to help clients embody leadership naturally, almost as a side effect of communicating differently, rather than focusing on the body alone. This approach succeeds quickly without the need for years of work.

By starting to own your words more effectively and by communicating stronger messages, you will feel more powerful and appear more powerful. You will gain greater influence by developing a richer, more resonant voice. And when you start to question people more resourcefully and listen from a different perspective, you are likely to draw out creative suggestions and visionary ideas to help you and your business succeed.

All these elements of leadership communication, along with many more in my coaching repertoire, will empower you to convey strength and authority – enhancing your physical presence and raising your reputation as a leader.

Executive presence counts (in just two seconds)

Win hearts and minds through executive presence

You have just two seconds to make an impression. Two seconds to make a lasting impression that counts.

In the first two seconds of meeting you or watching you speak, people will get a gut instinct about you. And research shows that initial gut instinct is usually accurate and permanent.

So when you want to make a great impression, those two seconds might be the most valuable you will ever spend.

But what can you do in two seconds?

You can speak six words. For example: “Our product is innovative and successful”. Will that get you buy-in? Probably not. Two seconds really isn’t very long.

It is, however, long enough for you to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere and an aura of professionalism. This is executive presence at its best.

What is executive presence?

Executive presence is an invisible force field around you. At its most basic it consists of your voice and body language. But there is much more to it than that. Executive presence is person-to-person chemistry.

In the same way that we are drawn to friends and potential partners on a social basis, we are also drawn to powerful people on a professional basis.

By allowing your inner self to shine – bringing traits like honesty, integrity and authenticity to the fore – you are likely to stimulate a warm, open response. And that response is almost immediate. It certainly takes place within two seconds.

Seriously – two seconds?

If you have ever locked your car doors at the traffic lights because of someone dubious on the pavement nearby, or if you’ve swapped seats on a train because you felt uncomfortable about sitting too close to a particular individual, those judgement calls are down to gut instinct. And negative gut instinct takes just a couple of seconds to kick in.

Similarly if you have ever been at a party where an attractive person smiled at you from across the room, sparks might have flown. You might have had an uncontrollable desire to speak to him or her. Positive gut instinct also takes just a couple of seconds to appear.

And so we come to the business side of things. The principles are exactly the same. It takes two seconds to make an impression. Good or bad.

Here are ten very different speakers – take a look and decide within a couple of seconds who draws you to them through executive presence, and who doesn’t.

  1. A politician
  2. A young lawyer
  3. An entrepreneur
  4. A student
  5. The COO of a major international organisation
  6. A finance executive
  7. A prime minister
  8. A sound expert
  9. A vice-presidential hopeful
  10. A Chancellor
  11. A Nobel prize winner

Achieving executive presence

Some of the speakers above engender trust through a truly authoritative executive presence. An executive presence that grabs and holds attention and gently persuades people to listen.

These speakers feel comfortable and powerful within themselves. They have vocal gravitas. They are physically convincing and they create a strong, inclusive atmosphere. They own the space around them.

Some people naturally demonstrate executive presence. Others have to learn.

At the root of executive presence is a skillset built around personality aspects which we all possess. If you can engage with those elements of your personality and acquire the skills to support them, you will start to draw people to you as your executive presence grows.

All my programs include some elements of executive presence – the most comprehensive by far being my one year Reputation Raiser program, aimed at ambitious business leaders who want to shine.

If this matches your goals, let me assure you that – with the right guidance – achieving your ambitions is just one step away. Do call for a chat about your aims and aspirations, and let’s make them a reality as soon as possible.

The vocal attraction of business leaders and Hollywood stars

Powerful men are attractive. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve all seen media photos of beautiful women draped around very ordinary-looking guys who just happen to be highly successful.

Money may well come into it but if those men communicate for a living – whether they are actors, politicians or entrepreneurs – they’re likely to have charisma. Very few people succeed in life without it. (Sports stars are a notable exception, as they make it to the top through physical rather than intellectual skills.)

For the most part, charisma plays a role in success. And the voice plays a big role in charisma.

The power of an attractive voice: influential or just plain sexy?

There are distinct similarities between what’s attractive to clients and stakeholders and what makes you fall for someone romantically.

In a business setting a man’s attractive voice can express authority, gravitas and credibility. But it only takes a slight vocal tweak to convey intimacy, sexuality and passion instead. Such is the power of the voice…

So, as a society, what do we like about a man’s voice and what’s the difference between boardroom authority and bedroom appeal?

To answer this question, let’s look at the vocal qualities that everyone appreciates.

Low and lovely

Here’s the bottom line: we all like low-pitched voices. Whether we’re listening to a business contact or a male love interest, the depth of a man’s voice can have a significant impact on how we feel. And how we feel will determine how we act.

Listen to British chat show host/comedian Alan Carr.

Now compare him with actors Morgan Freeman and Matthew Macfadyen. Or even with Bill Mitchell, who has probably the best lager advertising voice in the world. (I’d buy beer from him and I don’t even drink beer.)

Even staunchly heterosexual men will be much more drawn to the deep male voices than the squeaky tones of Mr Carr (sorry Alan).

Manliness and the attractive voice

Our response to low voices is hard-wired in our genes, whether we are male or female.

Depth of voice is related to levels of testosterone – the hormone which makes men masculine. Our perception of ‘maleness’ is closely linked with physical strength, as it was useful in our evolutionary past to have a strong male leader who could slay sabre-tooth tigers with ease, fight off hordes of marauding cavemen, and carry back buffalo from the hunt. In other words, we needed a truly manly man in charge.

Those requirements are no longer fundamental today, of course, and no man needs to be Hercules to succeed in business or personal relationships. Despite this, our biologically-triggered response to the low voice has stuck.

Voting with our ears

Recent research shows that politicians with low voices are more likely to succeed. Not because they are stronger or fitter in this instance, but because the voice tends to drop with age and a deeper vocal sound has a more positive impact on the voting public.

People are more likely to elect politicians in their 40s and 50s, whose voices convey an optimum level of seniority and wisdom. Politicians in their 60s and above can start to sound as if their health is failing, and may come across as too old to lead.

This might interest Donald Trump, who has just turned 70. He would be the oldest US President ever to take office if he wins the election later this year.

Rich and reassuring

Meanwhile last year, on the other side of the Atlantic, a much younger politician, Ed Miliband, led the UK’s Labour party to an appalling general election defeat. His strangulated, congested sound was mocked by voters, and he resigned immediately on the day of his phenomenal failure.

Richness of tone is vital when it comes to the attractive voice. A rich voice often equates to a powerful person.

The gloriously rich and resonant voices of Sean Connery and Daniel Craig may have contributed to each of them being cast as James Bond. The world’s best known secret agent is always successful in missions and always gets the girl. His attractive voice a fundamental part of his appeal.

Melting and melodious

Speaking with an attractive voice involves using a wide range of vocal notes. The voice is a very fine musical instrument and can be used to evoke emotion. And emotion is what people act on. Even the toughest corporate executive follows his gut instinct when deciding whether he wants to do business with someone.

The world’s number two tennis seed, Andy Murray, is a powerful man in many senses of the word. He is loved by the British public as a great sporting hero, and was married last year after a 10 year courtship.

But if Andy were working in business or competing against others for the love of a good woman, his voice would not be his greatest asset by any means. None of the energy he shows on court comes through when he speaks. He sounds flat and monotonous, even at times of great joy such as winning a major tournament. This makes him vocally unengaging and would reduce his ability to influence in a workplace.

Compare his sound with that of the Welsh actor Richard Burton, who, more than 30 years after his death, is still considered to be one of Britain’s greatest voices. Rich, resonant, melodious and just beautiful.

From boardroom to bedroom

The low, rich, melodious voice is attractive in both boardroom and bedroom, but one more element adds blatant sex appeal.

Research reveals that women like their men to sound breathy. It seems that heterosexual women want partners who are large and low voiced, but not aggressive.

Adding breathiness into the voice reduces the perception of aggression and therefore makes a man more attractive. Pillow talk is hushed, and a man with an intimate bedroom voice can make the ladies swoon.

Although he’s not known for being a romantic hero, Clint Eastwood provides us with a great example of breathiness. He’s one of the ultimate tough guys, but he moderates his voice with breathy tones to appear calm, considered and reflective (usually while killing someone).

Oh and let’s not forget the guru of love himself, the large, husky singer, Mr Barry White.

To add a sexy breathiness to your voice (or to avoid it in a work situation) you can learn how to use your vocal cords properly. They need to be fully closed for a rich, resonant tone, and not quite closed for that come-to-bed sound.

Creating your own attractive voice

But what if you’re a medium-sized man with a middle-of-the-road voice? Don’t worry – all is not lost. There are ways and means to a richer, deeper voice.

Learning how to breathe more effectively, and using your abdominal muscles instead of your throat to pump out your sound, will create some amazing changes to the way you sound.

This is simple and natural, involving techniques which we all used as children but which, as adults, most of us have forgotten. The vast majority of my male clients find their voice drops naturally and turns more masculine and attractive after a very short while.

David Beckham is a point in question. He’s not a client (otherwise I couldn’t talk about him) but in 2008, for example, his voice was high-pitched and awkward. With significant voice training under his belt as well as football training, he now sounds very different – much lower, much more masculine.

But you don’t need to be a professional footballer to work on your voice. If Beckham can do it, you can. And by understanding how to use your bedroom voice and your boardroom voice at appropriate moments, you’ll certainly boost your chances of success – one way or the other.