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Leadership Communication and Presentation Impact

Don Featherstone

Case Study: Don Featherstone, Managing Director of the London office of Alix Partners

What prompted you to undertake personal development via executive coaching?
I had advanced through the corporation pretty quickly and my skills had served me well, but now I was at a level which was a new journey and so the skills Mary-Louise worked on with me were the ones I wanted to improve on and would help to carry me forward.

What were your main objectives at the beginning of the coaching?
To become more comfortable in speaking environments, for example speaking in a crowd. Also, in articulating credentials in sales situations.

What were your expectations, if any, of what it would be like?
I did not have any huge expectations of the coaching as it was not something I had done before. However, like anything, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become and anything involving articulating would certainly be valuable.

How did you find the executive coaching experience with Mary-Louise?
I really enjoyed the coaching – Mary-Louise does a good job. She is very encouraging but also good at “tough love”, i.e. telling you when things are not working in a constructive way which is very important and very helpful.

You have obviously achieved your objectives, and others have noticed positive changes in terms of your positive impact and communication style. How did you ensure you were getting the most from the experience?
I have achieved this by putting myself in as many types of situations that I could which I felt uncomfortable and to keep doing it, for example crowd speaking as much as possible. This has now built my confidence in these areas.

How and where have you applied your learning and insights and what have you noticed about outcomes you get, based on any changes you have made to your communication style, approach, and/or methods?
I have applied my learning in a variety of situations. In my everyday work I am more conscious of how other people communicate and I pay attention where I did not before. I also spend much more time on preparation, for example for meetings.

How has the development affected your planning, and your management and leadership approach?
I spend more time on those topics than I did before. I did not pay attention to what my approach was but now I do and I am more deliberate in the way I communicate because I go in with a plan.

What have you achieved and/or gained as a result of this experience?
The number one thing has to be confidence in speaking situations and as a result I have developed more of a reputation within our industry. Since the coaching I have carried out speaking at industry conferences and also joined the board of a trade organisation, so it has helped me both internally and externally.

Mary-Louise has been known to say that communication skills are not “soft”, in fact, that they are essential business skills. What is your opinion on this?
That is right, particularly the higher you go in an organisation. The skills are “soft” when you begin your career but definitely “hard” in your mid-career and beyond that.
Would you consider further executive coaching sessions in future, and if so, what would you expect to gain from this?
Yes, at some point a follow-up session would be valuable. It is good to let training bed in and get some practical exposure and after that come back to it.

You have said you would not hesitate to recommend executive coaching with Rapporta to other professionals – what would you tell them?
Mary-Louise is very good at the practical aspects of communicating and delivering constructive criticism. She is also good at helping you prepare for situations whether it is sales or public speaking and it is something we don’t do much of here.
I definitely benefited from the coaching and enjoyed working with Mary-Louise very much. I have nothing but positive feedback to give from my experience.

What section of the coaching do you feel was of particular use to you, why and have you seen benefits from this?
The section on preparation was particularly helpful. Rapporta presented a framework for how to prepare for business meetings, sales situations, and speaking engagements that focuses on the verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication. This has been particularly useful in structuring the key and delivering them in a style that is appropriate for a variety of audiences.

What, in particular, did you find useful about the discussions on body language?
Body language is not something that I paid any particular attention to in the past. However, it can have an influence on how one is perceived and add gravity and impact to what is being communicated verbally. The most important take-away from my session was a greater awareness of body language, both in myself and in others, and how it can impact business communication. I now have a short but powerful mental checklist of body language items that I run through before important meetings to make sure that what I am communicating verbally is consistent with the more subtle messages of my body language.
How useful were the questioning techniques and how have they helped you to improve your personal impact?
Using good questioning technique is one of the most important aspects of being effective in sales situations. By thinking about the questions I want to ask and how I want to ask them, I have developed a short list of “open questions” that have helped me better identify our clients’ needs and position our services in an impactful way to meet those needs.

Did you find the building rapport section of the training useful and if so why?
The rapport section of the training was useful. Rapport building is something with which I was comfortable but there is a transition from rapport building to understanding a clients needs that is important and needs to be handled deftly. Understanding how to make this transition through motivating questions was particularly helpful.
Were there any areas of training that you did not find beneficial and if so why?
I can’t say that there was anything that was not helpful. The video tapping was painful but in the end very valuable.

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