How can one overcome the common dread of public speaking and become a compelling communicator?
Clarity Media Group, a company specializing in communication training, might just have the solution. In an insightful interview with Clarity COO Mariko Takahashi, we delve into the realm of effective communication.
Mariko sheds light on simplifying complex corporate messages, the importance of adapting training to individual needs, and the power of non-verbal cues in making a lasting impression.
As the Chief Operating Officer at Clarity, Mariko is responsible for strategizing and overseeing all global operations of the company. Under Mariko’s leadership, Clarity has seen a business growth of 74% over the past five years. Mariko has taken on many roles since joining Clarity over a decade ago, giving her an acute understanding of the company’s business operations, which she uses to ensure the company is optimizing its talent and maximizing productivity.
DesignRush: Big companies often struggle with communication between departments. How can Clarity assist in addressing this issue, and what are the major challenges companies should work on?
Mariko: Oftentimes in corporate environments, we tend to overcomplicate communication. Keeping your message simple and clear can be underrated. Having a very clear understanding of what you’re trying to convey to another department, and why it matters to them, is critical for internal communication. We work with our clients to refine their messages to be more relatable, memorable, and impactful. Clear communication improves productivity and efficiency.
Can you share how adaptable Clarity's training programs are when handling clients with different needs and target audiences?
No two training sessions are the same.
We tailor all of our sessions based on what is most relevant for the person or group we’re working with. Before meeting with a new client, we learn through an exploratory conversation what the specific goals for the training are, so we can customize the focus.
We ask questions such as:
- Is the purpose of this training for general enrichment, or is there an upcoming opportunity that you are preparing for?
- Are there specific topics or areas of concern you’d like to discuss?
- If there’s one skill you’d like to walk out of the training with, what would it be?
We regularly work with executives and spokespeople in one-on-one settings but have also designed training programs for groups of 500 people. We offer a variety of training services ranging from prepping clients for a quarterly earnings call, a broadcast interview, a presentation at an Annual General Meeting, a product launch, or even an internal meeting.
High-stakes communication comes in many forms and our goal is to customize a training experience that leaves clients feeling confident and more prepared for whatever scenario they face.
Public speaking is a significant source of anxiety for many. How does Clarity help individuals overcome this fear, and could you offer some of the key principles on how to do this effectively?
Jerry Seinfeld once said a great quote: "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death... This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."
Funny, but there’s some truth to it.
Getting nervous ahead of a public speaking opportunity is unavoidable for most people, regardless of their background and experience. We help our clients understand this inevitability and show them how to properly harness adrenaline.
We don’t necessarily think nerves are a bad thing if we have the tools to manage them. One of the biggest ways we can combat nerves is through preparation and practice, which we cover extensively in our sessions.
Body language and non-verbal communication can be extremely effective in public speaking. Can you share some strategies for optimizing them?
Non-verbal communication can be just as important as the words we say.
We help our clients find ways to use non-verbal skills to elevate their communication, and we offer strategies to remove distractions and subconscious nervous habits.
Just the other day, we worked with a client on an acceptance speech she was delivering. There was a part of her speech that touched on a sentimental topic. We worked with the executive on identifying the underlying emotion and mood of what she was saying and helped her reflect that through intonation.
We showed her how varying her vocal pitch and pace can bold and underline her key takeaways, and signal to the audience how they should feel about the topic. We also helped her refine her movement on-stage and at the podium, her eye contact and facial expressions, and her hand gestures – all non-verbal cues that had an undeniable impact on the effectiveness of her speech.
Given many companies’ shifts to online platforms, how has Clarity adapted its training to cater to virtual presentations and webinars?
Our core principles stay true regardless of whether you’re speaking in person or virtually. At the end of the day, good communication is good communication.
That being said, there are a handful of virtual communication skills we cover for these types of scenarios. We cover topics such as how to frame your screen and set your background, audio considerations, and lighting so that you and your presentation look as polished and professional as possible while eliminating any distractions.
We review body language, even if you’re just seated, as even the smallest "ticks" can be distracting when you're tightly framed in a shot. Engaging with a virtual audience can be tricky, so sometimes something as simple as having a few questions submitted from audience members in advance can help bring people into the virtual "room" with you.
Eye contact is also harder to master virtually because to achieve the appearance that you're looking someone in the eye, you have to look into the camera, not at the faces on your screen. A helpful tip is to cover your screen with a piece of paper so you don’t get distracted, or place a photo of someone over your webcam (and poke a hole for the camera) so it feels like you are talking to a person.
Just like our in-person training, we have our clients practice realistic scenarios, and this would be done virtually in these cases.
Virtual presentations are often restricted by physical presence and camera view. What are the key considerations to enhance engagement, compared to public speaking?
The most important component of any presentation is the content itself. Without a strong narrative that captures your audience’s attention, you will rarely leave a lasting impression.
At Clarity, message development is a core part of all our training, and it is a focal point for virtual presentation prep. For virtual presentations, we encourage clients to exercise brevity. What might be the right amount of time for an in-person presentation, might feel too long for a virtual call.
With more distractions at home or on your computer, naturally, audiences drift more easily when attending a presentation virtually. Keeping your messages tight and avoiding long-winded monologues will help hold your audience's attention.
When it comes to crisis communication, be it when engaging with clients or employees, what strategies does Clarity suggest?
Have a well-thought-out game plan of what you’re going to say. Be clear and concise. When it calls for it, accept responsibility.
Always try to tap into empathy for your audience, or those who are affected by the crisis. Positioning your messages through an empathetic lens will always be received better than defensiveness.
Remember that the more emotional we are about something, the less rational we are. If you’re asked a question that comes off snarky or skeptical, try to reposition it in your head as a neutral tone.
With the "noise" in today's media, how does Clarity ensure that its clients' communications stand out and effectively reach their target audiences?
Polished communication is critical to how companies are perceived by their clients, partners, stakeholders, and employees alike. We teach our clients how to influence and persuade an audience, rather than simply regurgitating scripted information.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- What makes your company distinctive?
- Why does it matter to your intended audience?
Crystalizing your message, storytelling, eliminating jargon, exercising brevity, and being authentic are just some of the ways that clients can "cut through the clutter."
Could you delve into Clarity’s approach to media and press training? Additionally, did you apply those same techniques in this interview?
We try to always practice what we preach!
In our media training, we help our clients understand the mindset of the media so they can be more goal-oriented when speaking to the press.
We are a team of seasoned journalists who have a keen understanding of how reporters think. We harness that knowledge to help our clients make the most of every interview opportunity.
What emerging trends do you expect in media communication, and how is Clarity adapting its training methodologies to come on top of these trends?
The introduction of AI has made everything more knowable, and accessible, especially comments made publicly.
It’s more important than ever before to be on message and prepared, especially to speak about different topics in interviews. Not doing so can dramatically impact your bottom line, which has always been the case, but now the potential impact is amplified.
As you can probably imagine, we full-heartedly believe in the value of media training!