Storytelling and Building Rapport

www.ted.comIf you’re not familiar with, get in there now – but be careful! These up-to-20-minute presentations are highly engaging and addictive. They’re stories told by people with a passion and often a profession in the field of medicine, environmental science, the arts and business.

Ted Talks have become very useful not only as a source of entertainment but also as a learning tool. The Ted style of storytelling is effective yet highly diverse in style, so, you might ask yourself, how could I ever learn to communicate like that?

I speak to a lot of people – managers and students – about corporate-level English and one of the main communication skills needing change is the increase the confidence levels towards being able to more effectively building rapport with clients and colleagues.

I remember what this was like. I lived in France for a number of years and my French was good but, even when it was at its best, I still felt that there was part of my personality missing in French. There was still part of me that I couldn’t easily communicate to those around me. This not only knocked my confidence but also knocked my ability to have that easy, casual conversation that usually leads to making others feel at ease, which leads into building rapport and then trust and later friends.

Don’t worry, I did eventually make some friends but it took much more effort in French than it normally does in English.

I am convinced that one way to put others at ease and build rapport, whether in a personal or a business situation, is to have a handle on a couple of personal stories that you can pull out in different situations.

Start looking around you at people who handle social situations well and see what stories they tell about themselves. It can be tricky finding the right story for the right situation but start by observing and then give it a shot.

Ted Talks are fabulous for this. The speakers often integrate personal experience and story into their talks. Take a look at these ones and let me know if you find any others that you think use this theory too.

Elif Shafak – The politics of fiction

Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability

Andrew Stanton – The clues to a great story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story


The Elephant in the Room

131209 elephant-in-the-room imageIf English is your second language it can be common to be nervous in client meetings. It is also common that your client might be a little nervous too.

The possibility of not being understood or not understanding what someone else says often creates tensions on both sides of the conversation.

A good way to diffuse all this discomfort, is to acknowledge the elephant in the room, which will hopefully put both parties more at ease to getting down to business, building rapport and focusing on what is important. You might say something like,

“As you might be able to guess, English is not my first language so I want you to feel comfortable to ask for clarification if you don’t understand anything I say and, similarly, I will ask you any questions if there is something I am unsure about.”

If your client feels confident that you will go away making sure you understand the situation fully and that they are free to ask questions for clarification, you will both have greater confidence in each other and your professionalism will shine.


Fluency Over Accuracy

I often ask new clients what they do if they recognise that they’ve made a mistake when speaking. There tends to be a pretty even balance between two answers: I go back and correct it; or, I keep going in the hope that no one noticed.

My advice on this one would be the latter – fluency over accuracy – keep going at the risk of making the odd mistake.

While accuracy is important – and there’s always room for improvement – the right amount of confidence plays a huge role in building relationships and getting the job done effectively.

If your listener has understood the gist of what you said – keep going. If you are unsure whether they have understood you or not, you would be better to check their understanding later in the conversation by asking for any questions or recapping the main points of what you spoke about.

Especially if you tend to be on the shy side, try soldiering through the some of the mistakes and concentrate on the content.

And remember – fake it ’til you make it!

The path to better Business English

Sometimes it can seem overwhelming and impossible, the thought of one day speaking perfect Business English. Of course, there are oceans of resources online but it might feel like you’re taking a scattered approach and never really achieving anything.

One step at a time

Why not tackle one thing at a time? Try choosing one to three issues that you think you could improve on, write them down on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor. If you’re not sure what to choose, find someone you trust to help you identify issues they’ve noticed.

Think about each of these things when re-reading or editing your emails or when reflecting on a meeting or telephone conversation.

Good things take time

Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Stick with these three points for three weeks and add to your list if you feel you’re getting a handle on them. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and your Business English skills won’t be either.


A good grammar revision book is English Grammar in Use (with Supplementary Exercises and Answers) by Louise Hashemi and Raymond Murphy (published by Cambridge).

A good Business English text is Business English Handbook –Advanced by Paul Emmerson (published by Macmillan).

You can pick up a copy in Sydney at Abbey’s Language Book Centre or in Melbourne at Bookery Education.

Bamboo Ceiling – Share your experiences

diversity council austDiversity Council Australia is conducting a national survey called Cracking the Cultural Ceiling. The survey calls for leaders and future leaders from an Asian cultural background to share their views and experiences of the Australian workplace. The objective is to investigate and better understand if the Australian workforce is successfully attracting and promoting Asian leaders.

Studies and observations like this have most notably been conducted in the USA, which resulted in a book by Jane Hyun called Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians.

If you’d like to participate in this 10-minute survey please click here.

Vocab Tips

New vocabulary acquisition is a pain and chore.

You wish there was that magic button you could press to allow your English to become instantaneously sophisticated. You wish people would hang off your every word as you fascinate them with fancy linguistics.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started…

  1. Listen for the words that you understand but don’t necessarily actively use.
  2. Gain new vocabulary by reading articles from The Monthly magazine – or any other good writing (hard to find).
  3. Set aside 10 minutes of every day to revise your new vocab list.
  4. Search for spelling mistakes in the MX paper on the way home.
  5. Come to the next E4B Conversation Meet-Up on 25 November at York Lane.

First Meet-Up

york lane
It was a dark and stormy night…

…but a few of us still got down to the funky York Lane in Sydney for the inaugural E4B Meet-Up.

It was good to see some familiar E4Ber faces again as well as a few of our trainers who shared a Moscow Mule or two.

Hope to see you at the next one on 25 November at the same place (