When Emma Serlin founded the London Speech Workshop, she came at the science of effective communication from two perspectives: her professsional background in the theatre as an actor and director, and her academic background in psychology.
The result is a powerful theory and practice of communication – The Communication Equation. At its simplest it’s an equation:
Authenticity + Connection = Engagement
In this episode we explore how understanding the principles of both performance and psychology can help you communicate more effectively, with important lessons for writers as well as speakers, and how bringing together diverse perspectives and experiences can generate creative insights for your business and your book.
There’s also some practical advice on adapting face-to-face exercises for a book and the power of stories. And, as you’d expect, Emma has a really, really nice voice.
London Speech Workshop: https://londonspeechworkshop.com
London Speech Workshop on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SpeechWorkshop
Alison Jones: Hello and welcome to The Extraordinary Business Book Club! Today I’m here with Emma Serlin, who is the founder of the London Speech Workshop. Now Emma is a trained actor and a theatre director. She also has an MSC in psychology and what’s interesting about her work is that she brings together those two worlds and we’re going to explore that in this conversation.
Her forthcoming book, which is really excellent, is called The Communication Equation. Welcome to the show, Emma.
Emma Serlin: Thank you very much.
Alison Jones: Really good to have you here. Let’s start with “The Communication Equation”. Just tell us what prompted you to write that book.
Emma Serlin: I’ve heard people say that some people feel that there’s a book inside of them, or more than one and I’m definitely one of those people. I think there was always going to be some books and it was which one was first and this come came first because of my work through my company, London Speech Workshop and it’s work that I’m so passionate about. There’s so much depth and there was so much discovery about the nuances of powerful communication through our work with clients that there was a real drive to articulate it in detail, in a sort of pithy work and to dive into it. That was why it was like, “This has to be the first book.”
When I began it, it began as accent softening which we also have a method for and yet, I couldn’t because I really needed to write this stuff which is about powerful communication, we’ll talk about it more, but about so many aspects of communication so-
Alison Jones: That’s really interesting because it is a tactical book in some ways. It’s got lots of practical exercises and so on, but there’s almost like a manifesto underneath it, as well isn’t it? Your method is based on really quite core values.
Emma Serlin: Fascinating! I haven’t thought of it as a manifesto, or had it called that, but I love that!
Alison Jones: You can have that.
Emma Serlin: Yeah. I’ll keep that. I think … Yeah. I mean in a sense the clue to the manifesto is in the title which is obviously, The Communication Equation which is ‘A’ plus ‘C’ equals ‘E’ and it’s silly really, but that’s ‘authenticity’ plus ‘connection’ equals ‘engagement’ and that’s the manifesto. Each one of those … Just take the first two: ‘authenticity’ plus ‘connexion’. That idea is that if you are authentic, if you care about what you’re saying and if you care about your audience, or the people that you’re speaking to, or communicating with and you connect with them, then you have ‘engagement’, or powerful communication. That really is the manifesto right there and those two things also equal some kind of love. Like love for yourself and love for the people you’re speaking to, or you know. There’s something really beautiful there so, yes I would say that is at it’s core.
Alison Jones: Wow. You took me even deeper. That’s brilliant. “At the end, it’s all about love.” Love it.
Obviously, you’ve got that acting background and you got the … And the theatre background and the director stuff, as well and you’ve got also, a kind of deep study in psychology. You’ve got an MSC, haven’t you? In psychology. You’ve created that methodology around it and I love that you framed it as an equation. That’s brilliant. It’s very Einstein.
What really struck me and I’ve seen this quite often with people on the show is that you bring two different worlds together. They overlap in that space and suddenly there’s some real created energy. You know, you get something new by bringing together insights from two different fields. Was that your experience?
Emma Serlin: Absolutely. I don’t know … I didn’t consciously plan it. I guess it was … when I was working as a theatre director, I would go at the whole process from quite a psychological perspective. Then I obviously did a degree in psychology and I also trained as a coach, as well. I think because I followed my interests and they all infused the work, or the method essentially and as a result you get this kind of fusion that gives so much to the client.
I was thinking about this question and had, I think some examples for you. This idea of, for example, when you say something to yourself in your head, it goes through a different part of your brain than if you say it out loud. If you say it out loud, you hear it through the listening part of your brain and so you can receive the information in a different way-
Alison Jones: Huh. Which is why affirmations and mantras work so well.
Emma Serlin: Exactly. Exactly. There are things like that, where you can fuse together essentially, bits of performance and bits of psychology. In a way, theatre is the experiential knowledge of the power of communicating and adding psychology to it is understanding ‘why it works the way it works’.
When you give … With clients, for example. You would give the experiential knowledge by filming them and then they’ll see themselves on film and they’ll get that powerful, “Oh my God! I look amazing! I did x, y, z. I look amazing.” Then the psychology-
Alison Jones: You hope…
Emma Serlin: We always film both: the before and the after, the two.-
Alison Jones: Yes.-
Emma Serlin: They’ll get to see both and they’ll get to see the difference which is another powerful learning tool. They go, “Oh, wow! I look so much better than I did before”, but yes. We hope.
Then also, we’ll tell them why it worked so they’ll have that psychological understanding and that-
Alison Jones: Great.-
Emma Serlin: It allows a kind of a buy-in and it goes deeper. It sort of … It hits and it resonates both, instinctively and intellectually.
Alison Jones: That’s so interesting. It’s like, you know when you’re reading a really good book and it’s a non-fiction and it’s making a point and it makes the point with a story and it’s almost like … It’s a pincer movement, isn’t it? You’re getting the heart engagement with the story and you’re getting intellectual engagement through the rational point that they’re making. Together those two are really powerful.
Emma Serlin: It’s exactly that. The power of storytelling, there’s actually a bit in the book about it. I’m very specifically for using in presentations, but the power of storytelling is phenomenal in terms of pulling at heartstrings and getting people’s engagement and actually and it’s on everybody’s mind at the moment. How we’ve got Trump in the White House, but if anyone was watching and listening to the speeches that got him in and meant that Clinton wasn’t elected, he told stories. Like everything was in sensational story headlines for him and stories.
Hilary Clinton tried to do that a few times, but just didn’t have it. She just didn’t have the story and I think that was a big part of what made people feel something when he spoke and therefore sadly, vote him in.
Alison Jones: Stories, use with care.
Emma Serlin: Yeah. Exactly.
Alison Jones: I love it; what you said before about following your interests, as well. About bringing psychology into the theatre and this theatre into the psychology. I got a sort of thesis bubbling, something about … You know how fiction writers have a muse? I think non-fiction writers have curiosity and that’s a sort of the same thing. You follow that and you won’t go wrong.
Emma Serlin: Absolutely. I mean I think that’s a really good piece of wisdom for everyone and certainly people who lost their way, or people out of University going, “I don’t know what to do.” I’d say, “Follow where you’re curious.”-
Alison Jones: Yeah.-
Emma Serlin: It’s such a gift and when I have looked at the tapestry of my life so far and how I ended up creating a methodology in communication, it wasn’t through design at all. It was very much through doing all these. I mean I worked in TV in storyline, as well; on TV dramas.
When I moved to psychology, I thought it was a total departure. I also, worked with ex-offenders and in helping them get employment; that all of that came into the work that I do now in a surprising way. In fact it’s like that Steve Jobs’ … Was it the Harvard speech?
Alison Jones: Yes. The commencement speech.
Emma Serlin: Yes! The commencement speech. There’s something wonderful about following your nose in life and it gets much juicier if you allow yourself to do that in my experience.
Alison Jones: Yeah and it’s a better experience for you, but also I think in terms of creating original ideas, as well. That’s where you get it, isn’t it? Such friction from different parts of your life. You’re bringing them together and you see a new way of looking at it.
Emma Serlin: Exactly and that’s beautifully put and I love the word ‘friction’ there and I think the friction comes from your own reverberation with these different influences and that’s where your creative magic comes from. It’s muscular and inside you and it’s those “Aha” moments that comes from rubbing things together-
Alison Jones: Yes. Rubbing unlike things together and creating something of it-
Emma Serlin: Yeah.-
Alison Jones: Yeah. I love that. Obviously, the method that you create, the ‘Serlin Method’ in fact. You’ve named it. You’ve trademarked it. I love the fact that you created this way of looking at the world, but you didn’t just leave it as a sort of series of fake ideas. You really formalised it and create a formula. Tell me about that. What was your thinking behind that process and how is it working for the business and how does it play out in the book?
Emma Serlin: Lovely. Lovely question. I think in realising that I was coming up with things that were not just sort of quite new and hadn’t been done before, or hadn’t been seen it and then because I felt and I’m going to steal your phrase of ‘friction’. It’s so lovely, but because I felt that wonderful creative friction of something new is bubbling here and it’s working. That was the second thing … Because it worked and I would hear that. I’d have my experience with clients, but then I would train coaches and they would use these concepts and it was nothing to do with me now and they would use them with their clients and come back with these wonderful stories of success and epiphanies for clients. I was like, “Wow! This is worth” … It’s like you’ve created a baby and-
Alison Jones: Yes. This is something that exists apart from you now.
Emma Serlin: Exactly! Which is very, very beautiful and any creative person knows that feeling. It’s really special and then, there’s something about protecting it in some way, or honouring it by letting it be its own thing; rather than just a sort of creative mess. It’s like once you put a label on something, once you give it almost like an intellectual home, then it’s kind of, yet it is honoured. I think that’s was mostly… It sort of becomes its own thing in its own right and people can interact with it in a way that’s more solid than if it was just a bundle of hodgepodge ideas.
Alison Jones: People can recognise it, as well and they can recognise it as yours which is important and very much part of what a book does, isn’t it?
Emma Serlin: Yeah, exactly. I think the process of writing a book is … It’s that creative mark on the world. It’s a statement. It’s sort of a bit of you that you can put out into … It’s sort of the intellectual sphere of our species and say, “Here. I’ve made my mark. I had some thoughts. I want to share them. I hope they’re of value to someone, anyone.”
Alison Jones: Yes.
Emma Serlin: That’s sort of the humble thing we do as human beings where we try and give ourselves some kind of longevity.
Alison Jones: The book as existential quest.
Emma Serlin: Yeah.
Alison Jones: I love it.
When people are reading your book, you’ve got a lot of practical exercises in there; as I said before. You’ve also … You’ve suggested that people keep a journal and giving them kind of prompts for what to put in that. It struck me really good. It was almost like a sort of self-study course as much as a book. Was that deliberate?
Emma Serlin: I think so. I was about to say ‘absolutely’ and then I was like…
Alison Jones: Absolutely, maybe.
Emma Serlin: Absolutely, I’m not sure.
It was absolutely deliberate to put exercises in that meant people could interact with the book and actually get something out of it; rather than just read it and go, “Oh! Interesting idea.”-
Alison Jones: Yes.-
Emma Serlin: That was the point of … That with the powerful responses we have with clients, that gift that our coaches and the method gives to them. That was the thing that in writing a book I was like, well I said, “I want to get this further.” If this can make a difference to people, as we’ve seen in our smaller sphere and our London workshops face-to-face which is obviously, … It’s just as many people as our coaches can meet. Then it would be really special to actually be able to impact people and support and make a difference and help people connect with their authentic communicators on a larger sphere; if that’s possible. It wouldn’t be possible without the exercises.-
Alison Jones: Right. A book is almost infinitely scalable, isn’t? Well, it is. It’s infinitely scalable, but-
Emma Serlin: Yeah.-
Alison Jones: How do you make that step because what you do face-to-face, you know when you’re working with people, you’ve met them beforehand, you go through the techniques and the tools with them, how does that translate into exercises because I know a lot of my clients, … You know we talk about this a lot and struggle with it. I’d love to hear you did it.
Emma Serlin: The exercises came because I would think … I would have the method and then almost feel my way through a process with a client, sometimes with a client, but sometimes just in my imagination. Energetically, like what will work to get this point into their muscle memory, into their gut almost. I guess through the years as well, that I had some shortcut devices that I’d use, but I think there’s ways in which you want to get people to be hit with the impact of it and in fact, that was something I did as a theatre director.
As a theatre director, you have a reading of let’s say a few lines in a play that a character says and you read it and you go, “Wow! This could be so powerful. This is saying x, y, z in the subtext.” Now to get that to the actor, you could say it intellectually, but it will get into their brain and you want to get it into their very being so that they can then transmit it to the audience and make the audience weep, or whatever it is.
It’s about coming up with ways that you can go. Almost like get round the brain process and get into the body and I would do that as a theatre director. I’ll give you an example to make it more real, if that’s helpful.
Alison Jones: Go ahead.
Emma Serlin: There was one … I think the first play I directed I had … The character was in love with this beautiful lady who was sort of probably socially superior to him and also, very delicate and very wonderful. The idea was that he would feel that she was almost. He couldn’t quite reach her, but he so wanted to because he had strong feelings for her and in these lines rather than saying that to him, I tied him to a pillar with toilet paper. I said, “Now you’ve got to reach her without breaking the toilet paper.” It gave him this physical sense of straining towards her whilst having to be incredibly delicate so, I gave him that physical sense of conflict.
It’s quite a long-winded way to say that I’ll come up with exercises to try and get it into the body, or to try and impact the client in a deeper way. Some of the exercises from the book, it works. We do that. That’s just one of the ways into an exercise, but yeah. That’s …
Alison Jones: I love the physicality of that.
I remember when I used to lecture… I was a Residential School tutor with The Open University on the creativity and innovation module – just brilliant – in the business school and we did some stuff I’d never done before. It’s incredibly freeing – things like using whole body sculptures to work through business problems which sounds ridiculous, but of course the physicality of it and having somebody direct it and move people around just gave you completely new insights and it also gave the people who were being moved around, who were taking the different roles, insights into the nature of the problem from that perspective. I mean it was absolutely incredible so, I’m a big fan of that kind of physicality and using different modes of thinking when you’re coming at something.
Emma Serlin: Brilliant. Yeah. That sounds amazing and it’s so powerful when you bring the physical in and also, … Another thing that we do, as well is before and after. For example, we’ll get someone to read something without the tool, or the skill, or in their ordinary way, or sometimes really badly and that takes all the pressure off. Then we’ll teach them the tool, or the skill and then get them to do it again. Then they watch back. That’s usually on film so then they get to see the before and after. That’s a really good way to really land that learning.
Alison Jones: You see. This is what I mean. I can see that would work beautifully face-to-face. You know when you’re one-on-one with a client, but how do you translate that kind of intensity and that feedback into the book because you seem to do it really well, but I’m really interested in the thought process behind it. You know how you went about translating stuff that you knew you could implement really well when you’re there in the room to stuff that you could trust to the reader on their own without supervision.
Emma Serlin: Yeah. No. Good question.
I think … Well, I hope it works because it does … It requires a stepping-in from the reader and obviously, some will read it and not do the exercises and some will read it and think, “Actually, I’m going to try this.” They would need to … You know, they need to engage with it. It requires that skin in the game, but I think the way I did it in the book and obviously books are a touch-and-go; whether they can motivate on this, but it was through breaking down with some very simple questions.
If you teach these core ideas, like “The Communication Equation” that’s very simple idea, then you get people to record themselves before, use the tool, learn the exercise, record themselves again, listen back to themselves and then rather than, “Oh, it’s rocket science. You need someone there who’s going to be seeing everything.” It’s like, “Actually, you can do this at home. Just ask yourself these questions.” Because everyone … Good communication is not some shrouded in mystery thing, it’s something we all instinctively know and feel on every level. What we don’t know is ‘why’.
The opening chapter of the book is exactly that. This, you instinctively have a feeling about this person in this photograph. Now I’m going to break it down for you and we’re going to look at ‘why’ so that you can learn that skill, but actually it’s meant to encourage. It’s saying and the same with our clients, as well. It’s bit … All of this stuff is yours. You have it within you and all we’re doing is articulating it and bringing it to the light.
Alison Jones: Brilliant and that’s such, such a great mantra for a business, but writer, isn’t it? You know, it’s that empowering rather than lecturing your reader.
Emma Serlin: Exactly. Exactly.
Alison Jones: I love that.
Listening to this will be a lot of people who are writing their first business book at the moment and currently hating you because you’ve written yours and you know, well done you. What would you say to them? What’s the one bit of advice that you would give to them, or a bit of encouragement perhaps, that you might give to them?
Emma Serlin: It’s tough writing a book, as they know and as I know. It took me quite a long time, but the thing that finally worked for me to really get it finished was booking three weeks in a villa in Ibiza and going away and saying, “I’m going to have a book when I’m done.” I had already done quite a lot so, had I have not done quite a lot, I might’ve booked slightly longer, but I think … I had tried that going away to a place in the country and there’s something quite dramatic about changing to a whole different country that … From one state to another. It puts the pressure on and pressure is great. Yeah. I would advise to do that. Three weeks in Ibiza, or somewhere.
Alison Jones: I’m not sure how my husband would take that. “I’m off for three weeks, love…”.
Emma Serlin: Yeah.-
Alison Jones: I did take a weekend, not last weekend, but the weekend before, in the country and it was a revelation. Yes. I know it. Having been very much one of those people that said, “Oh, no. You can fit it in. You know, just a few minutes a day.” Well, you can. You can do a lot, but actually I think you need… to get the deep focus and to finish the damn thing, you probably need to get yourself out of the house, don’t you, and ideally out of the country, as you say.
Emma Serlin: Exactly. Exactly.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. That’s brilliant. Thank you and if people want to find out more about you, more about the London Speech Workshop, more about the book, where can they go?
Emma Serlin: They could go to my website and that’s londonspeechworkshop.com…
Alison Jones: I’ll put that link up in the show notes…
Emma Serlin: That would be great. I think there’s a download of few chapters there and then they could also, buy the book on Amazon because it’s now for sale on Amazon.
Alison Jones: You’ve got your official launch coming soon, haven’t you?
Emma Serlin: We do. We have our official launch coming at the end of Feb, early March.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. Which is, I think you’ll be going out before that so, we can still say, “I hope it goes really well and congratulations and I hope it’s a huge success.” It is … I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so, yes. It’s a great book. Thank you.
Emma Serlin: Aww-
Alison Jones: Thanks very much for your time today and fascinating, fascinating stuff about communication generally which has got a particular resonance, I think for people who’re writing a book, but actually for anybody in a business. Just really, really interesting stuff.
Emma Serlin: Great. I agree. Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Alison Jones: Goodbye.