Susie Ashfield is a speech coach, executive coach and voice-over artist, as well as the founder of Speak2Impact, which has worked with brands such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, John Lewis, and more.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I make people look good, sound good and feel good when they’re speaking publicly. My background is in performance, but it was my time working in a financial firm in the city that took me to where I am now.
There were all these brilliant minds around me, but they struggled to vocalise their thoughts in a way that was impactful, especially under pressure. My job is to help clients turn complex content into something their audience will engage with and talk about long after they’ve seen the speech.
When I work with clients who suffer from stage fright, I see my role as holding the mirror. They’re often unnecessarily hard on themselves and fail to see the reality of how they’re performing.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Excitingly, I was recently allowed into a recording studio for a workday that was happening offline. Naturally, the day started with a Covid test (negative), so I headed down to the set. My client had a quick warm-up before jumping straight into the filming.
My role is to stand in the background and ensure that they’re performing at their best without looking too polished or artificial. We’ve been rehearsing for months to get it to look this engaging and authentic.
To quote Dolly Parton, “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap”, and a similar contradiction can be said of public speaking; it takes a huge amount of preparation and background work to look so ‘off the cuff’ in the delivery. Great speakers are made, not born.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
There’s a happy split between my offline and online work. For example, anything with a live audience must be done face to face, but clients who want coaching around performance anxiety are happy to work with me remotely.
Very rarely do I find myself working the nine to five, but I suspect these days that’s true for most professionals. My attitude is that so long as the work gets done and it’s of good quality, then why follow convention?
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
It’s been a trial-and-error process for me, but when I feel blocked, I know that the best thing to do is walk away from it, get outside, and look at the sky. I encourage my clients to do the same when they suddenly find they can no longer see the wood for the trees.
I’ve been known to take clients to the pub too. It’s strange that we associate closing the computer with guilt, when I’ve often found that the best ideas, solutions, and strategies have come from stepping away from the screen.
In short, I follow my gut, and take breaks when I need to, even if that’s just for a couple of minutes. But a break is a break, not a chance to kick yourself for being away from your desk.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Under the first lockdown when boredom was high and motivation was low, a friend of mine challenged me to run 5K, knowing that I have the same penchant for exercise as a narcoleptic sloth.
Strangely though, I took to it, and have since become ‘a runner’. I am not a sophisticated exerciser. I move very slowly around London in a pair of beaten-up trainers and was once overtaken by an octogenarian, but the pay-off is worth the humiliation. It helps me think better and has a huge impact on my mood.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
How about some TED Talks? As you can imagine, I’ve watched more than a few! My all-time favourite is ‘Population growth, box by box’ by Hans Rosling. It’s the best example of making statistics tangible that I can think of.
Next, if you haven’t seen it already, ‘How great leaders inspire action’ by Simon Sinek sparked a revolution in the way companies communicate.
Finally, David Grady on ‘How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings’ is short, funny and poignant. In fact, there should be a law that forces people to watch it before they’re allowed to host or attend a meeting.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I’m somewhat old school and can get through a notebook in a week.
Having said that, my Spotify account gets just as much airtime as my vinyl record collection does, and I think now have a playlist for every possible set of circumstances a human being might find themselves in over the course of a lifetime.
Otter.ai is also an incredibly helpful tool for me to reflect on what a client says over the course of a session and of course LinkedIn is my main tool for finding new business and churning out shameless self-promotion. It’s as embarrassing as it is effective, so I’m happy to take the pay-off.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
My ultimate hero is the bombastic Rik Mayall, who I suspect had absolutely no work-life balance at all. But if you’re giving me the chance to posthumously get some insight with someone, it would be him.
It’s hard to say where the lines were between the characters he played and his own persona, so I wonder what he was like on a day where he just didn’t feel like being ‘The Rik Mayall’? His work is his life and vice versa, so I think that would make a fascinating read.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Don’t get ‘putting in your best effort’ confused with perfectionism. You can perform brilliantly and be full of mistakes at the same time, which is something a lot of my clients struggle to get their heads round.
They tell themselves that if their performance isn’t their best delivery ever then the only other possible outcome is certain failure. There is a grey area between these two states that a lot of people fail to recognise.
I’d rather seen something that shows a speaker is vulnerable and open to failure, than something robotic and artificial. That’s probably why we prefer stand-up comedians to politicians.
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