Sarah is an accredited Executive Leadership Coach, Team Facilitator and Key Note Speaker. One of her coaching programmes is called Women on a Mission which focuses on helping women entrepreneurs to build confidence and vision to overcome barriers.    I hope to find out a little more about Sarah, her career and her focus on celebrating and supporting women leaders. This felt like a fitting topic to explore around International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is Each for Equal. 

This is part one of our interview.

How is preparing for a business presentation like an actor preparing for a performance? 

M: Sarah, I wanted to talk to you about your work and also get to know a bit about you.  

S: Many of my clients are female entrepreneurs and female leaders.  I look at how to create high performing teams through the lens of making the team inclusive and ‘resilience friendly’. I am quite an unusual coach because my passion is to look at kindness and inclusive behaviours and how we can listen to each other and make human conversations. Actually I talk a lot about happiness. There are a lot of executive coaches that focus on the numbers.  I believe that is important but if you haven’t got a foundation where everyone trusts each other, where they are really listening and everyone feels included the performance won’t sustain. We are humans first and foremost and we need a great environment and strong connections with each other, in order to be at our best. 

M:  Happiness is underrated and actually it’s a massive thing to be happy. You get more out people when they are happy.  

S: It’s one of the things about me that makes me different in that I used to be a professional actor. Actors know this. If you see a professional actor and they are about to go on stage and perform they will be doing things that put their brains in a positive mindset. They will be ‘warming up’, playing, laughing and singing for example. Having quite a lot of fun. Actors know that in order to perform at your best you have to optimise your cognitive function. Having all the learning centres in your brain switched on.  Actually happiness, positive mindset, positive energy, positive thinking are vital  to great performance. I guess that’s one of the things I bring from my background as an actor. 

M: That sort of preparation and understanding of looking after yourself is really important.  

S: What you do physically is so influential. If you sit hunched over a laptop perfecting your Powerpoint slides and then expect to walk into a room of 10 senior leaders, and wow them with your charisma and energy, that’s the most impossible task. You are going from zero to 100! Whereas if you perfect your slides, know what you are doing, and then spend 20 mins doing something that gets you present positive and grounded then the results will be incredible. I would suggest such things as, rolling your shoulders, smiling, singing, playing a game, going outside to look at the trees, think of three things you are grateful for. You will walk into the room with completely different energy, so much more confident. That is something that actors know through their training. When I show the results to people in business it’s very eye-opening for them  

M: I imagine there is a lot of pressure to create the right content but that is only part of it. When you spoke about the example of a speaker, if you are not an influential speaker then you are not going to get heard. The speaking is not just about what you have written down because you could read it. In order to engage with the content I need to buy into the person saying it.  

S:  97% of how much I buy into someone is non-verbal according to the Mehrabian Model. That’s how much I like a person, trust them, feel rapport with them, want to work with them, want to go on a second date with them. The content is really important, but we all know that if we don’t believe in someone, it doesn’t matter what they say because all the content is getting filtered through “hmmmm, not sure”. Whereas if we’ve got others’ ‘buy-in’ then the content will land. So of course, the content is important, thinking about language and rhetoric if you read some of the greatest speeches written down, often there’s a poetry about them there’s a lot of repetition, rhetorical questions, visioning. That is super important but actually it’s the human connection that is the foundation for our attention.