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Do Not Give Anyone A Reason To Doubt You

Kelly Olive

Guest Q&A with Giles Atkinson, Founder, Keystone Communications

I can’t count how many times in the past month I’ve listened to a corporate spokesperson’s statement and thought, who approved that? As we continue to see more and more blunders by brand spokespeople, I wonder how much of this is the key message itself, or the person delivering it. I get it – it’s a high-pressure situation (see my previous post on pressure vs. stress), but like many pressure situations, preparation is key.

The long-term effects of controversial or just plain bad media commentary on a brand and spokesperson can be irreparable. But what about those of the everyday employee? Rogue tweets aside, have you ever said something in a meeting and thought, that comment will follow me around for a while?

For Giles Atkinson, the founder of Keystone Communications, the most exciting part of working with people on communications coaching is seeing someone deliver on their own promise. For more than 20 years, Giles has worked with CEOs, presenters, spokespeople, job applicants and many others who learn that they don’t always say what they thought they said and that nailing down what they want to say takes a bit of effort, and practice too.

I sat down with Giles to learn more about executive coaching and a few key lessons he teaches his clients.

How did you start working in professional training and coaching?

For my 17th birthday, my stepfather took me and my stepbrother to the London studio where he worked (to this day, he still does a very similar job to me). He put us in a room for two days and coached us on basic presentation, selling, interview, media and interpersonal skills. “You’ll need these skills one day, kids”. He was right of course. Not long after, early in my university law program, my team had to present an argument to camera. No one had a clue what do to, many ran, so I piped up and said I’d give it a whirl. It wasn’t pretty, but we got through it. That was the point when I really got interested in people and working with them to perform under pressure.

What types of coaching are executives learning towards?

Our clients are interested in anything that helps them win. Many invest in regular sessions to keep sharp, but I’m seeing more on-demand coaching than ever before. Typically, there’s a specific event to prep for, ideally when the benefits of success are significant (or the consequences of failure too harrowing to ignore). And I like that urgency when something has to get done; it helps clients focus and certainly brings out their true character!

What’s the biggest challenge you find among those that you work with?

I’ll give you two challenges (or opportunities) in presenting. In preparation, people often struggle to separate the details they need to include from the details they want to include. Why? They focus too heavily on the topic and not enough on what they want the audience to do with the content. There’s a difference between talking about a company’s new strategic plan and isolating the specific ask for the audience to execute on that plan. The net result is usually a numbingly long presentation, packed with preamble and context, that doesn’t answer an audience’s key question: ‘Now What?’ There’s always room to do more to meet an audience’s expectations. In delivery, recently it’s been pace. If someone’s tone is flat, picking up the pace almost always brings up their energy; it makes them come alive. 

Why is coaching important?

Firstly, and forgive the crudeness, generally when it comes to presenting, you’re either better than you think you are, or you’re not as good as you thought you were. A good coach will get you out of both holes. Secondly, awesome performance invariably meant gruesome rehearsal, and the journey from gruesome to awesome requires someone objective to get involved, someone who can tell you when you’re barking up the wrong tree. A good coach will help you find the right tree, and then they’ll get you barking up it like you’ve never barked before.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Do not, under any circumstances, give anyone a reason to doubt you.”

Lastly, what is your favourite quote?

“Sometimes it’s our job to save clients from themselves.” – Bruce MacLellan.