How to Speak like William Gladstone

What could you learn from one of the most influential politicians of history?

Despite his less-than-PR-friendly stare, William Ewart Gladstone was elected Prime Minister four times during a political career which stretched across six decades. His legacy is that of a figurehead of eloquence, an unwavering spirit and above all, an influential leader.

A staunch advocate of advancing the rights of the common person, he managed to bring forward enormous social change despite being a thorn in the side of the aristocracy.

Here are six lessons on communication skills from Gladstone’s biography which are as relevant today as they were during his time in office.

1. Use plain language and always prefer a simpler word.

2. Speak in short sentences.

3. Be distinct in your diction.

4. Test and question your own arguments beforehand, rather than waiting for a critic or opponent to attack them.

5. Seek thorough understanding of your subject and rely upon these to give you the right words.

6. To influence an audience you must first plan your message and then tailor it to their reactions.

Want to learn these skills? Contact me today for a bespoke lesson to give you the skills you need to speak to anyone and everyone.

Although it’s often better to answer difficult questions head on, sometimes you need to stall for time. Politicians are experts at dodging difficult questions and that’s why The Politician’s Playbook, if wielded judiciously and ethically, can be a powerful tool in your arsenal towards avoiding embarrassment before your peers.

Sailing Against Stormy Seas

Picture yourself as a seasoned sea captain, steering your grand vessel – your organisation – through a tumultuous sea of probing questions.

The waves are relentless, crashing against your deck, each one seeking to unsettle your course.

As a CEO, you’re expected to respond with precision, maintaining the course, no matter how high the waves may rise. But before we begin remember this: if your company has done something wrong, the best thing to do to restore its image is to admit fault and pay reparations to the effected parties. The second best thing to do is to manage the damage.

1. The Artful Deflection

When the question posed is not relevant to the discussion at hand, or when it infringes on personal boundaries or privacy deflection is an apt strategy. Just as a good skipper manoeuvres their ship to avoid the worst of a storm, so too can a CEO learn to steer the conversation away from turbulent topics.

Akin to trimming your sails to catch a favourable wind, you should learn to take the conversation away from the heart of a storm.

To practice this, find a trusted colleague and roleplay this scenario:

2. Broad Strokes and Generalisations

Sometimes, the specifics of an issue may be confidential or too intricate for your audience to fully understand.

To avoid causing embarrassment, politicians often paint their answers with a broad brush to avoid being painted into a corner. Their replies will be vague, ambiguous and cover generic elements that can pacify even the most relentless inquirer.

By reading current affairs to understand the mood of your audience and writing your responses to align with replies they will find easy on ears, you can avoid getting bogged down into the specifics.

3. Parrying with the Question

If you’re met with a loaded question filled with false assumptions or bias, you can either challenge it directly or parry it gently.

In a political duel, this is akin to examining the question’s validity or challenging its underlying assumption.

As a CEO, you can use this tactic as a buffer to ensure you are not made subject to further media furore.

Practise this by:

3. Changing the Point of View

If you can’t disclose information because of confidentiality issues, legal restrictions or because the information is still uncertain you need to give a non-answer.

When a magician pulls off a visual trick, the real magic is keeping his sleight of hand hidden. Similarly, a politician may conjure up an answer that sounds compelling, yet it merely dances around the question.

To practice this:

5. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Reiteration and repetition is an useful tool to reinforce key messages.

Just as a lighthouse’s beam persistently sweeps the sea, highlighting a safe passage, a politician’s talking points serve as their guiding light, offering a reliable return path when straying into challenging seas.

As a CEO, you can build your own lighthouse by identifying and repeating key points that encapsulate your vision, mission or accomplishments.

In this moment, talk about:

6. Delays: The Waiting Game

When you genuinely do not have enough information to give an informed response, it’s ethical to delay answering until you do. It’s better to provide a well-researched and thoughtful answer later than a potentially incorrect or misleading answer immediately.

But sometimes, even the most seasoned sea captain must weather the storm. Politicians often employ the tactic of calling for more information or research, allowing them to ‘batten down the hatches’ and weather the storm of a challenging question.

Practice calling for a brief pause, a moment of consideration or further investigation when navigating particularly stormy inquiries.

These phrases may be particularly helpful

7. Appeal to the Heart

As long as it’s truthful and not used to manipulate, sharing personal anecdotes or making emotional appeals can be an ethical way to build rapport and express empathy.

This is akin to the sea captain telling tales of previous voyages to calm a worried crew. A heart-warming anecdote or personal revelation can shift the focus from a challenging question to shared understanding and empathy. To hone this tactic, think of personal stories that could be used to respond to a variety of questions.

Navigating difficult questions is an inevitable part of the CEO’s journey to retain their faith in your leadership.

8. A Lesson in Authenticity

Politicians may employ these techniques with dexterity, but they also underscore a critical aspect – the need for authenticity. To build trust, your audience needs to believe in your sincerity. Practice balancing these tactics with a commitment to transparency and honesty. It’s a fine tightrope to walk, but mastering it will ensure your audience sees you not just as a CEO, but a leader.

As you prepare to navigate the ever-unpredictable seas of communication, arm yourself with these proven techniques.

Master the art of deflection, learn to paint in broad strokes, parry the loaded question, master the smoke and mirrors of non-answers, echo your key points, learn to delay, when necessary, appeal to the heart and above all, always maintain your authenticity.

Remember, the sea of public opinion is a challenging and capricious beast, but with the right tactics and the right attitude, you can navigate it successfully. After all, the ultimate goal is not to dodge every wave, but to ensure that your ship stays on course and your crew believes in the journey.

Learn More:

Are you poised to effectively navigate the diverse conversational waters that come with your leadership role?

From the shallows of small talk to the profound depths of strategic discussions, your communication prowess is integral. Contact me today to learn how you can elevate your skillset, becoming an even more empowered, authoritative, and accomplished speaker.

There are a growing number of tutors who claim they can teach you how to cure cancer by changing how you breathe.

Are you as concerned as I was at learning that?

If so, read on to learn how common breathing techniques are being misused by some to push anxious and ill people deeper down a sales funnel at the expense of their mental and physical health.

Don’t Breathe and Tell Me How You Feel

I’m aware there’s a range of misinformation in any industry. It irks me every time I see it. It doesn’t mean the entire industry is rotten, it just means enough of its members are not debunking it.

My realm of Communication Skills Coaching is no exception.

Whether it’s voice coaches who demand students somehow “project their voice from their palms”, voice acting tutors who claim drinking certain teas can “protect their vocal cords” or communication consultants who repeat the Mehrabian myth, I try to admonish these claims whenever I see them, because they often cause more harm than good.

On the other hand, I have encountered numerous effective techniques that can help clients enhance their breathing and speaking abilities, such as exercise, diaphragmatic training and impromptu speaking. All of which focus on the breath in some way or another.

But, to avoid falling for the myths it’s crucial to differentiate these legitimate methods from the harmful practices I’m seeing practiced by some.

Genuine voice coaching emphasises developing controlled breathing habits for proper voice projection. In comparison, illegitimate breathing coaching tends to misuse these same techniques, leaving individuals vulnerable to manipulation by authority figures.

When working with a client on their voice, I briefly observe their breathing patterns to help them improve their spoken tone. I look for signs like hunching shoulders or sucking in their stomach while inhaling or speaking, as these habits can limit the amount of air available for speaking, resulting in a stifled sound. Given the voice works mostly on air, it sounds far better when there’s plenty of it and your muscles are relaxed.

But, none of my coaching involves making clients hyperventilate so they reach a state of susceptibility to be goaded into a deeper sales funnel, which is what I’m seeing more and more ‘Guru’s’ do via something called Breathwork. (Not to be confused with the similarly named practice of Breath Work which is the act of monitoring ones breathing when meditating).

Depending on the practitioner you contact, Breathwork claims it can do everything from resolve PTSD, heal broken bones to even cure cancer. But there’s no science behind any of this. Breathwork’s claims are nonsense, it’s a pseudoscience through and through and because of this it’s potentially dangerous. Yet, while it may not be ethical, it certainly is profitable.

That’s why this article is likely to be controversial, because there’s a lot of money involved in being what some call an emotional release salesperson.

Now Take a Deep Breath

Imagine for a moment you’re in one of those darker places in life.

Maybe a loved one has left you.

Maybe you’ve been involved in a traumatic accident.

Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

In the moment, there seems to be no solution.

Nothing you’ve tried to help has worked and so seeking solace in spiritual healing, you forgo the rational efforts and instead your desperation brings you to the online doorstep of one of the thousands of online ‘Gurus’ who markets themselves with something like the hashtag #SpiritualHustle and offers everything from sensory deprivation tanks to luxury meditation sessions.

For the sake of our example, let’s say you’ve decided to follow a Breathwork coach. An hour later and with less money in your bank account, you find yourself sat on your floor either listening to an audio recording or watching your likely chiselled Guru showing you how to focus on your breathing.

As you steadily inhale and exhale your body begins to relax. The tension in your body begins to fade. Your mind starts to rest and for the first time in months your worries begin to melt away.

Ten or twenty minutes later, your first Breathwork session ends and the resulting calm makes you feel as if you’ve made some progress. Sitting down to work on your problems, lo-and-behold this newfound mental clarity helps you find something which gives you that first step forwards towards recovery.

Thanking your Breathwork Guru for their sage advice on teaching you how to breathe, you look forward to the following exercises to arrive in your inbox the next day.

But a few weeks later, you find yourself trapped deep within a sales funnel, hundreds if not thousands out of pocket, perhaps at some exotic retreat, surrounded by other practitioners going: [inhale] HAAAAAAAAAAH, [inhale] HEEEEEEEEEEH, [inhale] HUUUUUUUUUH, [inhale] HOOOOOOOOOH for hours at a time. Practitioners who, like you, despite the happy face they show in public, are having panic attacks in private.

Nevertheless, you continue to practice as your athletic Guru advises, because in their world: “Breathing Heals All”.

What is Breathwork?

Breathwork claims that regulating your breathing can heal your mind and body. Whether it’s blunt force trauma, cancer or “releasing suppressed traumatic childhood memories related to one’s own birth”Breathwork practitioners often promise it can help “release toxins and remove free-radicals from your body”.

Yes, you’re reading that right. Some tutors of Breathwork claim their students can learn how to (quite literally) breathe away their physical or mental illnesses.

Frankly, I’ve always found it quite insidious when someone suggests their alternative method could be a potential cure for cancer, but many espouse it really can achieve such a lofty goal.

Not to be mistaken for the breath control found in meditation, Breathwork was brought to the West by an Austrian doctor named Wilhelm Reich in the 1940’s along with a similar pseudoscience named Orgone therapy. It experienced a revival in the New-Age spiritualism movement in the 1970’s and has since become increasingly popular thanks to a deluge of misinformation and medical scepticism fuelled by homeopathic practitioners with flashy videos on social media.

Mechanically, Breathwork is the act of forcing yourself to control how you breathe. Whether it’s three minutes of rapid inhalation and exhalation, or expelling the breath for 60 seconds or more, it doesn’t matter. Its tutors demand students follow a regime of absolute control over their respiration.

Now, given you can survive for three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three minutes without air, to place this most crucial part of your survival in the self-professed hands of a Breathwork expert who is likely a similarly self-styled, awakened individual from the increasingly popular and unregulated life-coaching industry, I’d say that’s quite a dangerous thing to do.

Soldiers and athletes have known for years how controlling their breath helps steady their heartrate and focus their mind, but I doubt many of them think it can cure all that ails you.

Like most pseudoscientific therapies, a common thread ties them to China where many gained prominence after the intellectual purge. Subsistence farmers lacking any form of medicine desperately tried to help their loved ones through esoteric wishful thinking; inedible animal parts became traditional Chinese medicine. Massage therapists rebranded themselves as Chi energy manipulators.

Breathwork on the other hand doesn’t come from China, meaning it lacks much in the stereotypical image and requires the least investment or equipment given we all have a set of lungs, that’s probably why it’s so popular amongst its teachers. There’s no start-up cost, barely any education necessary and the student can learn from the comfort of their own home.

A Typical Breathwork Session

If a student of Breathwork follows the typical techniques of their Guru they’ll be told to do three things:

Following this morbid practice causes the student to initially feel a sense of relief as they focus on calming their breath, only to then be hit by an enormous wave of anxiety as they become red in the face whilst their body desperately tries to regulate its delicate O2 & CO2 balance. The added screaming, crying or convulsing only heightens the emotions, making the anxiety all the more real.

The Guru, then seeing their student at the very pinnacle of their pain steps in to calm their breathing – all whilst congratulating them on “expelling their toxins / negative energies / realigning their chakra’s” etc…

In many students, they feel as if they’ve achieved something, when in reality they’ve simply whipped themselves into a furore and then brought themselves back to sanity.

The Guru on the other hand, has established themselves as a highly profitable Emotional Release Salesperson. It was the Guru’s ‘teaching’ which made the student feel calm during a moment of anguish.

Imagine then if this happens amongst your peers and you succumb to groupthink. Here’s a documentary on that very scenario, with tens of people screaming, convulsing and crying in union. It’s spiritual hypnotism bundled with anxiety causing techniques.

What’s Really Happening?

The reality is, the teacher of Breathwork is doing nothing more than placing the student in a state where they are likely to accept coercion:

It’s dangerous and it’s nonsense.

Despite what these Guru’s advise, it’s never a good idea to make yourself feel lightheaded through oxygen starvation to induce an artificial high.

Likewise, expelling all the air in your lungs for long-periods of time to ‘cleanse yourself’ of CO2 is similar nonsense: our bodies need both oxygen and carbon dioxide to regulate the delicate PH levels of the fluids surrounding our cells. If unbalanced, our cells rupture and die. Here’s an expert clinical study on the topic which explicitly states how Breathwork “may (also) exacerbate the symptoms of certain mental and/or physical health conditions”.

But none of this matters to the student, because most are unaware.

They are unaware of how a cunning Guru could use a painful moment as the perfect opportunity to suggest something they would normally never accept.

They are unaware of how this moment is being used as a sales pitch which suggests removing ‘negative energies’ or ‘toxins’ can only be ‘cleansed from the body’ by following the Guru’s profitable, yet benefit lacking breathing technique – which also usually comes bundled with the repetition of some trite tagline, copywritten mantra or a memorable phrase.

They are unaware that they are being driven on an emotional rollercoaster which first reminds them of their struggles, throws them over the edge of a fearful precipice and then gently glides them back to a state of calm.

This wild ride does only one thing: it makes many believe the Guru has some special insight into their suffering. If the student is also the victim of ‘toxic positivity’ thinking (the nonsense that negative thinking is the cause of all one’s problems), they are all the more susceptible to see their newfound Guru as a saviour of their sins and is far more liable to become an avid follower, promoter, or better yet, a purchaser of their next lesson.

The Business of Breathing

For this luxury, some coaches charge hundreds per hour or thousands per course, only to watch you breathe and then tell you how you’re either holding back some deep trauma, or perhaps a great breather.

Other coaches have branded apps. For only £1.99 you can buy one of a plethora of apps on Breathwork which will be a little more expensive than the typical cost of breathing, but you also get to hear the New Age ringing of crystal bowls, low frequency shamanistic droning and the irregular clangs of a Yak bell – along with someone breathing in your ears – if you enjoy that.

Have a Gentle Flow

Breathwork draws upon meditative techniques which all seem to aim at the same idea of letting go, but that’s about as little in common it shares with those ancient arts.

In 2014 as a Japanese Language and East Asian Philosophy student of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, I was lucky enough to speak to a fifty year Yoga practitioner and so-called Guru named Radhanath Swami on the topic of how to best breathe whilst meditating.

His softly spoken advice was simple: “Keep a gentle flow and let go“.

That same advice would later be added to my book on building vocal strength which would emphasise the dangers of inducing hyper and hypoventilation. It’s the same advice I give to any of my voice coaching students.

Yet, unlike Radhanath, the online Guru of today doesn’t usually build hospitals, advise Obama or inspire the creation of a foundation which distributes over a million free meals a day.

Instead, the new-age Guru markets their new-age spiritualism via social media, using professional looking videos which promise an alternative cure for all that ails you. Their methods usually include a panoply of pseudoscience: Reiki, Touch Healing, Quantum Sound, Crystal Therapy, Tarot and Homeopathy are all available.

Like all these pseudoscience’s, they only really invite you to let go of your money.

Now Relax

I want to make it clear that not all Breathwork coaches are charlatans, but the growing number of them taking to social media showing their clients screaming in oxygen-starved agony isn’t a good look for their industry.

As many find themselves choking in the unregulated world of Spiritual Healing, it’s not surprising some will be taken in by those who want to take advantage of them; after all, who needs a license to teach you how to breathe?

If you’re looking for a breathing coach, remember this: if they suggest you practice rapid breathing, demand to know why. If they talk of ‘negative energies’, ‘removing toxins’ or similar spiritual woo-woo, refuse and run. If on the other hand they explain the neurology behind the process and the training of the mind to manage induced stress, consider practicing in private.

Understanding the difference between legitimate breathing coaching, which aims to improve vocal abilities through healthy techniques and the dangerous practices like Breathwork which can have detrimental effects on one’s physical and mental well-being will save you hours of anguish. Furthermore, always be cautious and sceptical when encountering self-proclaimed ‘Gurus’ promoting alternative healing methods.

To avoid falling prey to such scams, be diligent in researching alternative claims, prioritise critical thinking and ask yourself: if this person is claiming to be a Guru, is it really true?

The voice and speech coaching industry, like all others, has its share of myths surrounding the voice and how to improve it.

Here are some common misconceptions and the facts behind each myth:

Myth: Certain foods, drinks or pastilles can ‘heal’, ‘improve’ or ‘protect’ the vocal cords.

Fact: While maintaining good overall health and hydration is essential for lubricating the vocal cords, there are no specific foods, drinks or pastilles which can heal, protect or radically improve your vocal cords. If any food or drink touched your vocal cords you would choke as it would be entering your lungs!

Myth: There is only one ‘correct’ way to speak.

Fact: Everyone’s voice is unique and different styles and techniques can work for different people. Some people speak with a natural gravelly sound to their voice, whereas others have a striking nasal sound. Some speak with small movements to their lips, whereas others over articulate. Although clear, rich, smoother sounds are usually more preferred, there is no ‘correct’ way to speak.

Myth: The diaphragm and lungs are the only muscles used when speaking.

Fact: The diaphragm and lungs play crucial roles in controlling the airflow for speaking, but they are not the only muscles involved. The vocal cords, larynx and many other various muscles throughout the chest, neck and face also contribute towards creating speech. Gently pressing on both sides of your neck when speaking will demonstrate how even tiny muscle movements can dramatically change your voice.

Myth: Homeopathic remedies or alternative medicines can improve your voice.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence to support any homeopathic remedies or alternative therapies which aim to improve the sound of your voice. The only way to improve your vocal technique is through improving the flow of air past your vocal cords via guidance from a voice coach or a diagnosis from a medically certified speech therapist if an injury or obstruction is at play.

Myth: You can become mute for life by overusing your voice.

Fact: While you can strain or damage your voice by using poor vocal technique by shouting or screaming, this will not leave you mute for life. Like most injuries, with rest, these issues can easily become resolved. The exception to this are medical issues such as cancer, extreme acid reflux or smoking which can consistently damage the vocal cords and prevent recovery.

Myth: Vocal damage is completely irreversible.

Fact: While some vocal damage such as severe vocal fold tears caused by trauma or laryngeal cancer can be permanent, a vast majority of vocal issues can be resolved with proper rest, vocal therapy and improved vocal technique. If you have any painful speech difficulties, you should always consult first with a medically certified speech language pathologist rather than a vocal coach.

Myth: Certain vocal exercises can extend your vocal range significantly.

Fact: While proper vocal technique and exercises can help you reach your full potential, they cannot drastically change your natural vocal range. Genetics, such as the size of your nose, diameter of your windpipe and length of your vocal cords play a significant role in determining your vocal range making it essential to work within the limits of your natural voice.

Myth: If you can’t speak in a pleasant manner, you never will.

Fact: Although genetics play a role in your vocal ability, your voice can be improved to a noticeable degree by training both your hearing skills and speaking technique. With earnest efforts, most can improve their vocal ability to cultivate a pleasant sound, learn how to reduce or mimic accents or even learn how to sing.

Myth: Vibrato is unnatural and should be avoided.

Fact: Vibrato is a natural oscillation in the pitch of the voice that occurs when the vocal cords vibrate freely. It is not harmful and if often a desirable quality when singing. It can also help add emotion to your storytelling by adding an element of emphasis or gravitas to your speech.

Myth: Whispering is better for your voice than speaking normally when you have a sore throat or vocal strain.

Fact: Whispering can actually be more stressful on the vocal cords than speaking normally, because less air is forced through the vocal cords, causing them to be overworked. If you are experiencing vocal strain or soreness, it is best to rest your voice entirely or speak at a comfortable volume until recovered.

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve your voice, speech or communication skills you can contact me today or read one of my best-selling books.

Imagine for a moment you had a grand piano in your living room.

Looking upon it you see your smiling face reflected in its deep black lacquer and finest French polish. The keys are porcelain white and its castors are rolled with gold. It sits there as the centrepiece of your room.

Approaching it, you lay your fingers upon the keys and listen as a handful of pleasant notes escape from inside and ring deep within its frame, but as you fumble over them to play a tune, you quickly find that without the pianist’s skill, the noise you are making is more akin to the piano falling down a flight of stairs than being played on stage.

Clearly, a certain skill is missing.

That’s what I’d like to share with you today; having a piano but being unable to play it is like having a golden voice without the ability to say the right thing. Your audience might appreciate how you sound in their ears for a moment, but your words are not liable to resonate within their minds for an evening.

That’s one reason why you might not want a stereotypical ‘radio voice’; a pleasant voice might be complimental, but without the right words behind it, it’s rarely influential.

Why people want a ‘radio voice’

In the early days of the wireless radio, the announcers we heard needed to have what was affectionately called a ‘radio voice’.

The radio voice began as an almost shrill, high pitched tone which could cut through the hiss and crackle of early microphones. It’s the voice affected by the old-fashioned BBC announcer which would later evolve into the smooth, honeyed tone which oozed confidence and charisma we hear today.

The ‘radio voice’ was a way of speaking which aimed to set you at ease after learning of some great tragedy or gave you a Bing Crosby-esque Christmas blessing as you kissed a loved one under the mistletoe. It was a voice, usually owned by some senior reporter, which had been heard across the waves for a generation. It was a voice which let you know that: This Is 10 O’clock News.

There’s no denying it, a radio voice can be pleasant to listen to and that’s perhaps why many people contact me seeking to cultivate a voice with similar golden tones. Yet, many often mistakenly believe that having a great voice will suddenly make them a great speaker. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, because much like owning ten fingers won’t make you a great pianist, a golden voice won’t grant you a lucid command over your language.

Instead, those radio voices we love to hear are usually owned by speakers who have developed expert communication skills spent from years of reading, writing, reporting and speaking – often into a dictaphone with consummate microphone technique – meaning they’ve cultivated not only the ability to speak well on a wide variety of topics, but also have the storytelling skills and emotional delivery necessary for reporting on the topic of the day.

Why you might not want a ‘radio voice’

As someone with a ‘radio voice’, let me be open and admit it’s both a blessing and a curse.

When out shopping or speaking with friends, I’m occasionally met with compliments from people who say they had been listening in to our conversations. Sometimes, I’m even recognised from some of the audiobooks I’ve recorded, the elevator commands I’ve announced or the documentaries I’ve narrated. It’s always amusing to see someone quizzically try to remember where they’ve heard me, especially as they won’t recognise my face.

However, the detriment to having a ‘radio voice’ is that people can be sceptical that I’m faking my voice. Some are less insulting, but passionately tell me to ‘get on the radio’, despite having no connections to the industry (despite my lack of interest in doing so). On rare occasions, some even become so mesmerised by the sound of what I’m saying to the extent that they tend not to listen to the words I’m conveying.

The compliments are always lovely, but the imitators who mimic a mock radio voice to insult me do become quite wearisome after a while.

What to develop instead

Despite this, it’s undeniable that having a great voice is an asset. Studies have repeatedly found that men who have deep, rich voices are often believed to be more confident, whereas women who are more slowly spoken are seen to have leadership capabilities. Of course, these are not definite truths, but overall they are both assets. However, it’s far better to have great communication skills on a linguistic level; Bob Dylan was once described to have a voice as raw as sandpaper and yet his mastery over the English language earned him accolades from around the world.

When perusing verbal development, aim then to cultivate both a great voice and similarly strong communication skills by first focusing on developing your speech to allow you to eloquently express yourself in a personal, unique style. I regularly teach CEO’s and Executives how to improve their speaking skills with my Rhetorical Alchemy method.

Once you have improved your speaking skills, focus then on developing your voice to sound as pleasant as it naturally can, rather than affecting the stereotypical resonant tones produced by old-time broadcast announcers. You can achieve this by following the simple exercises found in my book ‘Speak and Be Heard‘ or by booking a private, one-to-one course on vocal development.

A closing thought

Let me end with a question: if you had an audience mesmerised by your words, would you rather they end by saying “Wow, they had a great voice!” or “Wow, we should really do what they said”?


If you’re interested in a bespoke course covering this topic or any other areas of communication skills development you can contact me via my contact page.

Telling a story is far easier than most people realise, because a story is nothing more than a retelling of something which made you feel an emotion with plenty of adjectives added in to help describe the scene, events and characters.

However, most people struggle to tell stories because they often tend to give a logical, chronological retelling of the events that occurred, rather than describing the emotions they felt throughout the entire experience, meaning their audience is left uninspired, unconnected and placed into a content coma.

Therefore, if you want to be a storyteller who can hold your audience spellbound, you need to be able to describe not only the logical sequence of events, but also how you felt, how the story unfolded and vividly describe what you experienced with a rich use of adjectives, similes and metaphors.

Step One – Make a Story Collection:

It’s very hard to make up a story on the spot, but it’s much easier to remember something which has happened to you and then turn it into a story, because stories are nothing more than a memory or retelling of an emotional event.

Try to recall a moment you went through some:

Step Two – Summarise the Story:

When a suitable story idea or memory comes to mind, summarise it by following this basic structure:

  1. Character(s)
  2. Time
  3. Place
  4. Senses or emotions stimulated
  5. Events high and low
  6. Lasting impact (optional)
  7. Moral of the story (optional)
  8. Story summary in one sentence
  9. Reason for sharing
  10. Ideal audience to share with

You’ll notice that on the last point, you should aim to identify who your ideal audience is when sharing this story. Doing this will help you save time, because although some of your stories may be entertaining to you, they may not be relevant to anyone else!

Step Three – Use Adjectives:

The most common struggles my clients face is painting a picture in the imagination of their audience, but a story without adjectives is like a painting without colour.

To keep your audience interested your tale, you need to stimulate their senses with rich adjective use. You can improve your story by describing the senses stimulated and then the emotions you felt throughout.

We have five primary senses:

And these combined create varying emotions.

Therefore, if you saw a panicking crowd, describe how they were shouting, screaming and hollering as they scrambled for support. You likely didn’t feel safe or secure during that time, so outline how your emotions were running wild, with your heart pounding and your mind being left in a state of dread.

If you were describing a story with a particular scent, you could talk about how walking into an abandoned archive had you met with the scent of musty, old books, rife with mould and a pungent smell of rotting paper hanging in the air.

If you’re describing a particular sound, such as a deafening silence use metaphors or similes to describe how the listeners fell silent as the grave, leaving the room dead as a night on the black sea, leaving all who heard the terrible comment with resounding silence with all jaws agape.

If your talk describes a special meal, talk about how it was was mouth watering, because it was spiced with pepper, topped with fragrant jasmine rice and rich with an oily beef broth.

Perhaps you’re describing the first time you felt a luxury product and how this led to you creating your own brand. Begin by describe the texture and feel of the object(s) with words such as plush, soft carpets, varnished and sleek tables or supple leather.

When it comes to emotions, you may struggle to share them, especially If you’re from a more reserved culture because we are taught to keep our thoughts private. However, by not sharing this personal insight, your audience won’t be able to empathise with you or feel how you felt, making your story far less relatable and that personal connection less likely.

As mentioned, this is a particularly challenging exercise for most. If you find it difficult to use adjectives in your storytelling contact me today to arrange a bespoke, one-hour lesson.


Private Coaching:

Unless you’re an expert raconteur like Peter Ustinov, you likely won’t be able to improvise a story without making lots of painful and costly errors. But if you’d like to learn how to become a confident impromptu speaker who can tell spellbinding stories with ease, contact me today and I’d be happy to provide you with a truly bespoke learning experience.

You Might Not Care About Your IQ, But What About Your VQ?

As a Senior Executive or CEO, you understand the significance of having strong intellectual abilities; however, have you ever considered the impact of your Verbal Quotient (VQ)?

Improving Your VQ by Recognizing ‘Verbal Blind Spots’:

Your VQ is defined by your ability to articulately use and string together words, phrases and other rhetorical devices to speak both lucidly and without effort. You’ve likely experienced this when in a state of ‘flow’ where you are speaking from experience – the words seemed to flow effortlessly whilst your listeners were swept along with you.

In comparison, Verbal Blind Spots are words or phrases which you have come across multiple times but are unable to either use or define accurately. It doesn’t mean you don’t use those words, instead you often misuse them or can’t explain what they mean to someone else.

These blind spots can hinder your ability to comprehend new information, disrupting both your learning and your wider communication skills. Improving your VQ is therefore vital for overcoming these challenges.

An Example of a Verbal Blind Spot:

In one of my books I wrote:

“You should always avoid engaging in duportism when speaking. Should you duport at any time during your speech, you will make a fool of yourself. However, as this is quite obvious I shall make no further mention of the act.”

Reading that above statement probably made you feel some kind of emotion, but didn’t truly make sense.

You might have had an inkling of what I was saying. You may have furrowed your brow in annoyance, or perhaps your mind began to wander elsewhere mid-sentence. You might have even re-read those lines a few times trying to decipher it. But if you still don’t understand what I was advising, don’t worry; both ‘duport’ and ‘duportism’ are not real words, they were nonsensical terms and mock verbal blind spots which I created to prove a point – that much as you’d struggle to paint by numbers without the numbers, you’d struggle to make sense of a sentence if you didn’t truly understand they key words.

You may think you rarely lack knowledge of key words, especially if you’re a native speaker of the language you’re using. But how often do you find yourself having to re-read a sentence despite ‘knowing’ all the words? According to my clients, it’s extremely common.

When we have to re-read a sentence, it usually happens because of one of two things: it could be that the meaning behind the sentence you read caused your mind to recollect a story, imagine something new or put the pieces together on a problem you’ve been working on.

In these moments, those verbal blind spots hinder your subconscious from quickly internalizing new information, interrupting that enjoyable state of flow and learning.

If reading was like your subconscious trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle by putting the words in the right order to make a bigger picture, then verbal blind spots are like finding there’s a decorated piece missing.

If I Know the Word, Why do I Have a Verbal Blind Spot?

At first you may think it’s curious that you know a word but can’t define it, but then again how often are you asked to define the words you use?

People can suffer from verbal blind spots and a low VQ for a multitude of reasons.

If you’ve failed to create a personal definition of terminology during your adult life, you’ll have filled in the missing words with gut feelings – which are usually incorrect when examined a little deeper.

On the other hand, if an offending word causes you to feel a strong emotion it could potentially undermine your desire to understand it. We see this when devout Marxists read or hear the word Capitalism and fly into seeing hatred, because their personal definition of the word is one clouded with emotion which essentially equals ‘exploitation’, rather than a well-defined economic model.

Many often recognise this problem when looking at buzzwords in their workplace, but are still embarrassed to ask for a definition it. Why this is the case I’m unsure. Maybe it’s the fear of being seen as inadequate, but without asking you’ll never learn what the phrase means. If this is the cause, I’d strongly recommend you seek clarification on any words you’re unsure about, because it’s often better to know what to do, than to be told off for doing the wrong thing.

How Does Having a Low VQ Hinder Me?

My clients have shown me that how individuals of all ages who are often unable to translate verbal blind spots into their own words are effectively stunted in their potential. Unable to speak for themselves, someone else usually speaks for them and that person usually doesn’t have their charge’s best interests in mind. This handing over of the reigns to an authority figure also has the effect of making the non-speaker feel as if they are in some way an intellectual failure, because they falsely believe they misunderstand entire ideas – when in fact they merely fail to understand a handful of words crucial to understanding the bigger picture.

The reality is they are not an intellectual failure at all, because being unable to define a word does not define their potential or worth to the world!

How to Identify Verbal Blind Spots and Increase Your VQ:

The solution to eliminating verbal blind spots and increasing your VQ is simple: identify the word or phrase your mind is struggling with and give it a definition.

For example, if an instruction had been issued by your employer outlining their new corporate strategy which demanded you “practice synergy with everything you did” it’d be simple to follow – if you knew the true definition of ‘synergy’. If you misinterpreted ‘practice synergy to ‘working independently’, you’d quickly get into trouble given that ‘synergy’ essentially means ‘to work as a team.

Therefore, to improve your VQ you should first identify whatever word you cannot define in a sentence and then look up the dictionary definition. You can then create your own definition in terms you’re familiar with if the dictionary still proves to be too obtuse. Following that, try to paint a visual picture or micro-story of the concept as in the example below:

  • Synergy = (Dictionary definition) The combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.
  • Synergy = (My definition) The power of teamwork.
  • Synergy = (Micro-story) Synergy is akin to the switch from doing your absolute best on a project by yourself and achieving mediocre results, to working alongside experts who could help you finish a project which is better than anything you could create when working alone.

By following this simple structure, you give yourself three ways to better understand your language.

The micro-story will often usually appeal to you on a more emotional and subconscious level, making it even more memorable.

How to Strengthen Your Word Definition Skills:

You can strengthen your word defining skills by abiding by these simple rules.

  • Your definition can articulate the essential attributes of whatever is at hand.
  • Your definition does not name the thing or concept being defined. For example: saying ‘a circle is circular’ adds nothing of clarity. It would be better to say ‘a circle is an infinitely looping object lacking straight lines’.
  • Your definition is neither too wide or narrow in its scope.
  • Your definition does not fall afoul of bias by using language such as: ‘the immoral are those who are not moral’.

Can I Test my VQ like my IQ?

No. I’ve not developed a test for Verbal Quotient mainly because many of the similar tests around linguistic fluency place a heavy reliance upon knowing obscure words, rather than testing your knowledge of common words and jargon. It’d also be impossible to check your personal definition, because they are personal to you.

Your IQ also doesn’t mean much in reality. IQ tests are often skewed in favour of those talented at mathematics and logic puzzles at the expense of those talented in other areas such as the arts. You could have an incredibly talented painter who scores terribly on an IQ test, but that doesn’t really mean much towards their potential.

I also don’t feel it’s truly possible to create an all-encompassing VQ test. You would have to contend with the issue of those who command larger vocabularies compared to those occasional reading-illiterate rustics who can hold us spellbound by their mastery over the use of the common word. One may know a wealth of words, but the other can use few far more effectively – in that case who has the larger VQ?

If you Can’t Test Someone’s VQ, How do You Know if it’s High or Low?

One of the best ways of testing your VQ is simply to try and define all the buzzwords and jargon you use in your career. If you can’t put give them a personal definition and micro-story then that’s a weakness. If you can easily define each term, then well done, you’ve a strong grasp of your common terminology and the words you frequently use!

Despite the lack of an official test, if you practice identifying and defining your verbal blind spots regularly, it will not only help improve your VQ, improve your ability to respond quickly but also improve your confidence when speaking, reading and writing more widely allowing you to speak, read and write for yourself.

I’m Still Struggling:

If you’re still finding work to be challenging due to buzzwords or simply struggling to find the right word, I’d be happy to help. Contact me today to schedule a bespoke session.

In the wrong hands, rhetorical language can be more dangerous than any weapon

In the wrong hands, political rhetoric becomes a weapon, a tool of oppression and a divisive wedge wielded with merciless precision. We must always be vigilant to recognise the insidious tactics employed by those who would use our language to deceive and manipulate ourselves and others.

Here then are twelve ways to identify dangerous political rhetoric which can be used to divide, deride and destroy human rights:

  1. Be wary of language which pits one group against another. “Hardworking taxpayers versus lazy benefit claimants” creates an ‘us versus them’ mentality. It aims to portray one group as superior or inferior to the other, when in reality, they are equal human beings.
  2. Listen for language that dehumanizes groups by referring to them as animals. You may hear words such as “vermin,” “cockroaches,” or “billions of invaders” used to describe immigrants and aims to both instil fear and portray the suffering as something less than human which needs to be “eradicated”.
  3. Listen for language which delegitimizes the knowledge of experts while legitimizing the pseudo-knowledge of politicians. Conservative MP Michael Gove once claimed “people in this country have had enough of experts”. Not so, instead these sweeping statements aim to oppress opinions counter to those held by the ruling powers.
  4. Listen for language which creates scapegoats. The ammunition of a culture war is often aimed at the easiest target and weakest minority. Politicians and media outlets may blame LGBT+ people, immigrants or the poor for all your problems but never their policies.
  5. Listen for language which talks of “disease”. We are deeply scared of illness because it makes us weak. Therefore, some may claim that a particular group are “bringing diseases into our country”. This suggests that even the mere presence of this group is dangerous to you, when in reality they are of no threat whatsoever.
  6. Listen for the language of violence and war. Again often used against immigrants, you may hear words such as “killers”, “gangs”, or statements such as “we need to win the war against (group)” which all suggest that the innocent are armed, dangerous and intending to harm you.
  7. Listen for language which suggests a conspiracy. Phrases such as “the mainstream media is hiding the truth” or “the experts are working against us” or a more recent American-centric introduction “the liberal elite” create a sense of distrust and paranoia. Making you question everything is the first way to have you trust nothing.
  8. Listen for the language of authoritarianism. Politicians often use euphemisms to soften their language and make their ideas more palatable. “Strong and stable government” may sound sensible, but it could also mean authoritarian and unaccountable.
  9. Listen for language which plays on emotions rather than logic. Politicians often say “we need to do x for the sake of our children” because it’s emotionally compelling and hard to argue against, but that doesn’t always mean what they are proposing is either a logical or correct solution to a complex problem.
  10. Listen for language which belittles alternative opinions and attacks the other side. Quips such as “Fake News” or names such as “Remoaners” are used to discredit legitimate criticism and create a false sense of consensus. If someone is attacking the group, it’s often because they can’t debate their ideas.
  11. Listen for language which portrays legitimate criticism of an idea or person as an attack on the country or democracy. You may hear phrases such as “this investigation (against our idea or actions) is an attack on democracy” which aims to portray critics as enemies.
  12. Lastly, examine the slogans; “Stop the Boats” is a complex problem trying to be summarized into a three-word solution. You cannot summarize a life event into a tricolon of three words without first removing all the important details.

This is not a comprehensive list and there are many more examples of language such as this. But as alarmist as this may sound, knowing how to identify the language of authoritarianism is often one of the first steps towards preventing the goose-stepping which can later follow.

As written by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me.

One of the most common issues clients bring to me is speaking with a lisp. Here are a few suggestions on how to first identify why you lisp and then how to stop doing it.

Types of lisp:

A lisp is often caused by incorrect tongue placement. Clients with a lisp usually place their tongue behind the bottom front teeth, when it should be placed on the gum-line behind the top front teeth (the alveolar ridge).

Interestingly, the avolear ridge isn’t just used for the ‘S‘ sound, it’s also used for ‘Z’, ‘L’, ‘T’, ‘D’ & ‘N’ sounds! Therefore, if you struggle to place your tongue in the right position for an ‘S’ sound, try it on one of these sounds.

Sometimes however, a lisp may be caused by allowing the tongue to protrude past the teeth when speaking which then creates a ‘th‘ sound.

A lisp can also manifest in old age due to a fattening of the tongue thanks to a lack of communication and general muscle degradation. This is more recently becoming an issue for those isolated due to Covid-19.

How to stop lisping:

Training yourself out of a lisp can be difficult, as you are constantly reinforcing yourself to place the tongue in a new position when speaking. It is normal to become frustrated when working on removing a lisp, as you’re attempting to train yourself out of a life-long habit. Thankfully, it can be done!

To alleviate a lisp, you first need to determine where you place your tongue when making an ‘S‘ sound. If your tongue is placed behind the bottom teeth, it needs to be arched upwards with the tip placed on gum-line behind the top front teeth (the alveolar ridge).

Try to avoid splaying the air out from either side of the top teeth, as this turns a crisp sound into lateralized lisp as shown below. You also want to avoid placing too much pressure on the gum line with the tip of your tongue, as that will create the same lateralized lisp. One student tried to imagine they were gently rolling an air bubble between their tongue and alveolar ridge which produced an immediate improvement.

What is a lateral lisp?
Source: Smart Talkers

If however your lisp is due to letting your tongue escape through the front teeth, the tongue must be pulled back into the mouth and then placed on the alveolar ridge.

Exercises to help:

One of the hardest parts to correcting a lisp is establishing new muscle memory. One simple exercise to build muscle memory is to spend a minute or two saying: ‘L, L, L,‘ by tapping the tip of your tongue on the alveolar ridge. Try not to say ‘El‘ though!

You could also try rolling the tongue in your mouth, forming different shapes and performing tongue stretches as outlined in previous posts. Thankfully, most of these exercises can be conducted in public with a closed mouth for an extended period of time! You could imagine rolling a small boiled sweet inside your mouth or attempting to tie a knot in a piece of string using your tongue. For open mouth exercises, sticking the tongue out to the far left, far right or flapping it back and forth works well, in private company!

Tools to stop a lisp:

One tool I’ve found especially useful to build muscle strength in the tongue is a Morrison Bone Prop. The shape of it also means it may help you place your tongue in the correct position, as trying to place your tongue at the incorrect position will cause the tip of your tongue to touch the device; something which you want to avoid.

If you want to try a more specialist mechanical aid, the company Speech Buddy offer a set of training devices specifically designed to help you overcome mechanical issues – advanced warning though, they are very expensive!

My Buddy and Me: A Review of Speech Buddies | Speech therapy tools, Speech  articulation, Speech therapy
Source: Speech Buddy

There are many more of these lessons, along with a comprehensive diction improvement guide available in: Speak and Be Heard – 101 Vocal Exercises for Voice Actors, Public Speakers and Professionals. Richard Di Britannia also offers private coaching on building vocal strength and confidence via his contact form.

A few minutes of listening can generate thousands of hours of results.

When passengers first took to travelling by rail, many felt uncomfortable being unable to speak directly to the driver who used to sit atop their previous mode of transportation – the Stagecoach. Some even refused to ride entirely and this was costing future-thinking railroad executives both their dreams and their investors fortunes.

In the old days the Stagecoach Driver was often a highly dangerous occupation. The term “your money or your life” may have been directed at the passengers of the frontier plains aimed down the barrel of a shotgun, but the driver wasn’t immune from such threats. In the old days, passengers looked to the Stagecoach Driver for reassurance, leadership and safety.

Knowing this, to alleviate this anxiety a handful of railway companies took staff members, dressed them as old-time stagecoach drivers and sat them exposed to the elements to help their customers feel more comfortable with their spitting, smoking and spluttering horseless carriage. Combined with a literal stagecoach mounted atop a railway axel it looked silly, it was a tad uncomfortable for the acting driver (who was liable to have their clothes set aflame by the embers of the engine), but this reassuring figure from the past helped increase revenue for the rail companies and brought dividends to happy investors.

Understandably though, the idea of employing a staff member to sit and do nothing but act as a reassuring symbol of the old days wasn’t easily accepted. There were bitter arguments against them. Model drivers added to the weight of the carriage inflating coal costs; they needed to be paid for their time and many rail executives saw them as an unnecessary expense given they did nothing but look pretty – when not on fire. “Damn the cowards, they can ride with us or sit behind a horse for hours on end” was the view by some.

When looking at the vision the railway executives had it’s obvious they saw the big picture – hundreds of thousands of people one day travelling by train across the country at the speed of a hundred horses. But for the people on the front line, the Ticketmaster’s and Porters who saw the present reality, they realised there were hundreds if not thousands of potential clientele too scared to realise this grand vision. The change necessary was massive to be sure, but the fears from customers were also magnified beyond reality. It was only when railway executives accepted they needed to amend their grand strategy, that it allowed for the populace to ride their marvelous chariots of travel en-masse.

Strong Leaders build a business, Visionary Leaders improve their industry:

How then does this tale apply to modern leadership? Well, when you look at modern business leaders there are usually three common themes: they are often experts in their field, their leadership is bolstered by the language they use and they know how to delegate well.

However, not all leaders are made equally. Some only look to the past and drag others reluctantly along with them like the leaders who demanded customers continue to travel by horse and buggy. Others focus on the present and get bogged down in the current problems of the day, like those who refused to change their railway plans. Whereas strong leaders look to the future to give instructions on how to achieve their aims, but fail to yield to the advice of others experts causing them costly mistakes. Not all of these leaders can achieve their goal, and too many often focus only on improving their business, rather than improving their industry.

That’s the difference. The leader who improves their industry, who thinks far beyond their stagecoach door, is what I call a Visionary Leader.

A Visionary Leader is one who listens to anyone respective of position or prestige and then amends their vision based upon what others share with them. A Visionary Leader is like the railway executive who despite seeing hundreds of benefits from using their railway, accepts others are like old stagecoach horses, blinkered and unwilling to change their route.

Modern Day problems sometimes require old-timey solutions:

Which of these three styles of leadership have you experienced?

Weak Leadership – Looking to the past: “Our product is struggling due to last quarter’s performance”.

Although this is a statement of fact, it offers no action statement, solution or explanation for the poor performance. There’s no future thinking here, only past reflection.

Average Leadership – Looking at the present: “We need to grow our product performance or else we will have another failure next quarter. Does anyone have any ideas?”.

This is once again a statement of fact, but despite it offering an action statement it offers no future goal, it also fails to outline what caused the failure. The lack of direction is disappointing, because although asking for advice is beneficial, a leader shouldn’t be asking others where they are going.

Strong Leadership – Setting a plan to follow and explaining the benefits of doing so: “We’ve learned from our past experiences. We are going change our marketing strategy to focus on Instagram, because our Twitter campaign taught us static images are no longer popular. With Instagram we’ll use ten-second videos, which will allow us monitor customer retention. This ensures our marketing department will be able to change our videos quickly, rather than waiting for the results of a static image campaign at the end of each week. Doing this will also allow us to quickly learn which products we need to focus on and which need to be further developed, saving large amounts of money marketing anything which isn’t popular. We can reinvest the funds from those dead marketing campaigns into product development to be finished by the end of our next quarter.”

This statement offers an action statement, a clear instruction and knowledge on how the campaign can be improved. It also shows they have a vision for future development, product investing and how they have considered various scenarios which rely upon the support of others. Still, there’s no request for input from others who may have excellent advice to share. Their plan could be destroyed by a single bad investment.

A Visionary Leader listens to the people on the front lines:

A Visionary Leader is liable to give similar instructions to that of the Strong Leader, but they will always ask for input from others whilst doing so, because a Visionary Leader knows their plan isn’t perfect. They know others know more than them. They know a grand vision can only be realised through the experience, input and power of those who see the finer details.

A Visionary Leader knows that leadership isn’t simply demanding others follow them or customers act as intended, instead it involves charming others to want to achieve a common goal through appealing to their values, their needs and delegating responsibilities to the right people to give customers what they want. It also involves being humble and willing to learn, to have empathy with people far below their industry status and the knowledge that great plans need great ideas – which can often come from people without great paychecks.

A Visionary Leader is the Railway Executive who happily approaches the young, fresh-faced Porter and asks to know his customers concerns. They are the leader who shakes hands with the coal-covered driver, foreman and boiler worker, who each dripping with sweat explain customers are shouting at them during the journey – and then rewards these staff handsomely for sharing so.

A Visionary Leader is the person who looks at their grand strategy and occasionally amends it to take a step back in time to add an old-fashioned, expensive, model driver to a driverless carriage to allay the fears of his customers – all with the knowledge that it’ll one day be phased out and pay out when their vision steams on by.

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