One of my favourite TED talks is one called “How to speak so that people want to listen” by Julian Moore. Obviously, people do want to listen to him considering its been watched almost 17 million times! He starts by talking about things which we should always avoid when speaking – things like gossip, negativity and excuses. He lists 7 such things which he terms as the “7 deadly sins of speaking”. Nicely done. But what he does next is even more interesting – to convert these ‘negative’ traits into a framework which allows us to look at this in a positive way. I think there is a learning for all of us in just this reframing – it would help to keep that in mind in all our interactions in order to build better relationships.

So, what does this framework look like? He lists 4 cornerstones which we can stand on which can make our speech more impactful. They spell a word and the word is HAIL. H for Honesty, A for Authenticity, I for Integrity and L for Love. So simple and yet so powerful. To be clear and straight, to be ourselves, to be our word and wishing others well.

I would argue that HAIL goes well beyond speech characteristics and ultimately goes to the core of what leadership and EQ is about. These traits help create trust which in turn builds a culture of empathy with mutual understanding and respect. And if I have to pick one of those four traits, my favourite is Love. People are willing to be led by someone only if they believe their leader is their well-wisher and has their best interest in mind. As Roosevelt once said “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”.  

#FC2E #EQ #EmotionalIntelligence #SumanInsights #Communication

A leader in an autorickshaw!

Early in my career, working as a management trainee with Cadbury’s in Thane, life was good. Although I was in a factory with shifts, I did not mind the shop-floor mainly because it was chocolates that I was supervising! It did get a bit boring and routine at times, which is why any high-profile visitor to the factory was a big thing for us. One such day, we were all turned out nicely waiting to welcome our senior vice president to the factory. His visit was delayed and then we heard the story – the car which was sent to the station could not find him and our SVP took an autorickshaw to make his way to the factory! This story spread like wildfire and before long, everyone in the factory right up to the junior level workers were talking about it. 

What is fascinating is that story spread far and wide, to the Head office and offices globally, even beyond the company and I have heard people talk about it for years afterwards. What intrigues me to this day, is the amazing power of such simple storytelling. What is about such small incidents that go ‘viral’ and do wonders for organizations to convey their culture and unique identity, whereas huge sums of money spent on corporate branding and communicate seldom have that level of impact. 

While storytelling is powerful and there is science behind it, what makes these stories spread so far and wide and that too by word-of-mouth? A recent article on leadership by Harvard Business review namely, “Followers Don’t See Their Leaders as Real People” by Nathan Washburn and Benjamin Galvin, has some a very interesting insight into this. According to them, people in companies view their senior leaders as more of mental images and less as people. While these leaders may be real people to only those they interact with such as their peer group and their secretaries, but to the larger group of people outside their immediate circle, they are more imaginary than real. Employees form a mental picture of their leader based on emails, tweets, videos and town-hall speeches etc. The mental picture gets more solidified with other tidbits received mostly in the form of stories as was the case with this SVP taking an autorickshaw. 

While listening to these stories, people look for moments of honesty and sincerity in them. And because these stories come from informal channels such as friends and colleagues who are perceived to be unbiased, there is a high level of trustworthiness which could be lacking in formal channels. In other words, it is the word-of-mouth transmission itself that gives it credibility. As these stories spread “they take on a life of their own”. 

I would love to hear your views. Kindly post your comments and feel free to write to me at

Speak up for success - Part 2

In my earlier blog on communication, we set out with one simple task of deciphering the conundrum that public speaking is. We established that communication was a skill that not only held great importance in the corporate sphere, but in fact in practically every aspect of life. We left off rather abruptly (if I must say so) with two deceptively simple questions: What causes fear of public communication? And how does one overcome it?

Let's get right to the crux of the issue, shall we?...

So what is the root behind stage fright?

Maybe it's because you're too self-conscious in front of strangers? Or a fear that the audience is judging you? Or because of some past failures you may have encountered? Or the most basic of all: you didn't prepare enough?

Actually, stage fright is caused by everything I've listed above. And more. I'll be honest with you – I can't exactly pin point your reasons for stage fright. I can just give a range of reasons that are cited the most.

Let's peruse what we listed out above:

You're self-conscious in front of groups of strangers: This is probably the most cited cause. And understandably so. Talking to your friends versus talking to a big, intimidating crowd of strangers is a totally different ball game! Well, you overcome this by making it the same. Imagine the big group of strangers you're talking to is just an enlarged group of friends. Make the talk conversational – put in a dash of humour, crack a funny joke, make a lame pun – exactly like how you'd do it with your friends. (Although being too informal can be bad too. Analyse the situation and decide the level of “formality”)

You're afraid that people are judging you: It's obvious to think this. Why wouldn't people judge? It's normal human tendency, isn't it? Is it? Cold hard truth: it isn't. More likely than not, the audience does not care. They want to get some value out of your talk – they want their time to be worth it. So, indirectly, they're rooting for you to do well. They're on your side.

Past failures: Maybe the last time you attempted public speaking, you didn't do that great. That incident set the platform for a vicious cycle of self-doubt. Every time you get up on the stage, you doubt your abilities. You say to yourself “I'm going to fail again.” But there is no reason for the past to repeat itself. If you've dedicatedly prepared, you're going to do well. That brings us to our final point...

Lack of preparation: Nothing much to say here. If you haven't done enough practice before a presentation, you're bound to be fearful which will tell on your confidence. It's as simple as that!

To summarise what I said, here are the four major points you should keep in mind while public speaking:

•        Prepare well, and practice before the big day

•        Understand that the audience is on your side.

•        Try and have a smooth flowing, conversational presentation.

•        Don't dwell too much on the past. The present is all that matters!

Of course, as I said before, this list is not all encompassing. There may be several other causes I may have left out. This is just a list of a few basic principles that you should use as a springboard on the journey to becoming a public speaking professional!

The Magic of Simplicity

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I love simplicity. Einstein said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. If we speak in simple language, chances are more that we would be better understood. If products are simpler to use, it would make our lives easier.

Unfortunately, most often things are complex. Anyone who has gone through a contract written by a lawyer will agree with me. Try figuring out how to record a program in Tata Sky HD (I recently asked my just-turned-teenage daughter to help me record the Oscar’s!). Try calling your phone service provider’s helpdesk to understand what process complexity can be.

I have often wondered – why are things not simpler? I have come to believe the reason is simple – it is because simplicity is hard.

When we were children, our lives were simple. As we grew up, we forgot about the simplicity we grew up with. We started using jargons, big words, acronyms and almost this compulsive desire to overcomplicate things. Maybe it was to sound smart, maybe to look more credible.

Here’s a question – are today’s cars simpler than those of yesteryears? Well, technology is way more – the electronics, the anti-lock braking, active safety systems and the like. However, to a driver, it is simpler to drive a car today - easier steering (power steering), easier reversing (back camera) and no need to change gears (if it’s an automatic transmission car). So the ‘back-end’ is more complicated but the ‘frond-end’ is simpler.

This needs to be the case in organizations as well. We hear about the elevator speech. But try getting a 20 second answer from a business leader as what his company’s purpose is. Or what is he or she doing to stay ahead of competition? Or keeping his people motivated? You will hear a lot of the challenges, issues – essentially the ‘back-end’ stuff, not necessarily the distilled simpler ‘frond-end’ message which can be easily understood.

As leaders, it is our job to craft, articulate and communicate messages in simple language. 

Years ago, they ran a study of the speaking habits of three well known speakers who were all speaking at the same conference at the same time on the same afternoon. They run a survey and found that the one of the speakers, Bill Gates, speaks at a 11th grade level. The second speaker, Michael Dell of Dell computers speaks at a 9th grade level. The third speaker, Steve Jobs of Apple spoke at a 5th grade level!

True leaders understand the power of simplicity. This manifests in not only their communication, but in all facets of their organizations – the products per se, the range of products, the processes, the after-sales, the incentives, the organizational structures, the policies etc. etc. – put simply, simplicity becomes part of the culture of the organization.

I would love to hear your views. Kindly post your comments and feel free to write to me at Simplicity is one of Inroads’ core values.

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You have 15 minutes!

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Once a very senior leader of the company was on a two day visit to our office in Bangalore. One of his agenda items was to have one on one meeting with some of the managers. I was selected by the site leadership team as one of those lucky managers to have a one on one meeting with him. “You have fifteen minutes time with him” I was told.

Honestly speaking, at that point of time the feeling I had was “why me?” He was a very senior leader and four levels above me in the organization. I thought probably my very existence was “too much of details” for him. What was going on in my mind was not “what should I speak to him that would be of mutual value” but “how should I spend those 15 minutes so that at the end of it he did not form any negative impression about me”.

So I went defensive in my preparation. I went in the meeting with a couple of questions that I could ask him, one of which was “what would be your advice to me to successfully implement your vision?” As a great leader, he was excited about his vision and gave me solid coaching on what I should do to implement it. That took care of most of those 15 minutes, the coaching was of great value to me and sure enough I did not give him a chance to form any negative impression about me.

But today as I look back at that meeting, I wonder if I had done justice to the opportunity given to me. Could I have done something different?

My thought process today would be “what discussion could I have with him so that it is of mutual value?” The very reason he wanted to have those one on one meetings probably was to have a feel for what was going on in the organization and I don’t think he got that from me. If I get a similar opportunity today, I will add one more item to the agenda. I would present him my analysis on how his vision is manifesting in the organization and from my point of view what is going well and where we need more focus. I think as an employee I owed that to him.

What did you do when you had such an opportunity or what would you do if you get it in the future? Please share your views.