What Shakespeare Can Teach Us about Communicating

EPISODE 130 | Guest: Jennifer King, artistic director of Napa Shakespeare, tenured professor of theater at Napa Valley College, freelance theater director and corporate communications coach

When looking for advice on how to improve communications and engagement, you can do a lot worse than looking to the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare, for inspiration. His use of language, his ability to engage different audiences simultaneously and the way he develops story all contain valuable lessons for communicators in the modern world.  

  • Hear how word choice and brevity can elevate communications
  • Learn why understanding your audience is crucial for a successful exchange
  • Understand the use of story and character to engage audiences
  • Explore how deep listening and a curious mindset can build bridges
  • Discover the pros of vocal variety and the cons of filler words

Want communications tips specifically for digital signage software? Download our free guide.


Derek DeWitt: The Bard, the Swan of Avon, the Upstart Crow, the English Virgil, the Man of the Mountain. These are all nicknames for the same guy, William Shakespeare, considered by many to be very possibly the greatest writer in the English language to date. Sorry, people who are big fans of Danielle Steele, but you know, Shakespeare kind of had it going on.

And so, when we’re talking about communications, in any kind of a context, whether it’s organizational or business communications, or just hanging out with your friends, giving an interview, giving a presentation, or anytime you open your mouth to talk when it’s not just to yourself or your cat, you wanna use the language to its fullest capabilities.

And while English is a fairly simple language compared to a lot of others, it actually is a huge language, having more words than any other language on Earth; well over a million at this point, and new ones all the time. Some of which were created by William Shakespeare.

I know some things about this, having taught English as a foreign language for many, many, many years. But I thought it would be better to talk to someone who’s a much better expert than I am. And that is Jennifer King. She is the artistic director of Napa Shakespeare and a freelance theater director. She’s a tenured professor of theater at Napa Valley College and a corporate communications coach. Kind of a perfect storm in one brain.

Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for joining me.

Jennifer King: Thank you. I’m going to use that as a tagline.

Derek DeWitt: Perfect storm in one brain.

Jennifer King: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: It kinda makes it sound like you might be epileptic.

Jennifer King: [laugh]

Derek DeWitt: As always, I’d like to thank Jennifer for talking to me, of course, and everybody out there for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast, you can review us on IMDB, and you can follow along with a transcript on the Visix website. Just go to resources and podcasts, and there we are.

So, right now, the business world, and the podcast world especially, seems flooded with modern day gurus and so-called communications experts and so on who have all kinds of advice. And yet, I can’t help but think that William Shakespeare is still someone who has something valuable to teach us today about communicating. I mean, his stuff still captivates, right?

Jennifer King: Still captivates. And, you know, he’s always, or often, described as timeless. And so his themes, his practices, are still tried and true today. It’s why we still study Shakespeare, it’s why we still go to see Shakespeare, is because of his relevance to our modern world.

Derek DeWitt: I think for a lot of people, when they think Shakespeare, they think, ooh, that’s fancy, highfalutin’, intellectual stuff. But actually he was quite playful. He invented, I don’t remember what the number is, but I mean, he invented a ridiculous number of words, many of which are still used today. Among that list are the words: critic, downstairs, eyeball, gossip, hurry, lonely, manager (especially apropos for this podcast), sanctimonious, traditional, varied, watchdog and zany. We still use these words today, and yet when he invented them, they were brand new.

Jennifer King: Absolutely. And also, there are three phrases that come to mind, two of which come from Hamlet: “Brevity is the soul of wit”, “suit action to the word and the word to the action”, and nothing could be more appropriate than what we are seeing in the business realm when it comes to public speaking or when people present at engagements. So often, some of the challenges we see people face are the ability to be concise or using language to help elevate the discussion. We often hear individuals speaking in monotone.

And then finally, what Shakespeare was a master at is the sense of knowing his audience. And many have described that he was really writing for three audiences. And they ranged as far as what they were eager to see or experience. You know, many know that he, there were the groundlings that sat, or that stood right in front of the stage, who, you know, were uneducated. And there was also the aristocracy that was present. And yet he managed to tell stories that spoke to both classes, spoke to both needs.

And so often when individuals are speaking at an engagement with their teams, the other individuals have different goals. They have different attitudes, they have different needs, and how does one speak to those various needs? And that’s, you know, one of the things that I work with individuals on is how do you speak to multiple needs in the room? And that’s something that Shakespeare was a master with.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s funny when you mention different audiences….Just for the record, what was his third audience? History?

Jennifer King: Most likely!

Derek DeWitt: Or maybe just himself, you know, yeah?

Jennifer King: Well, and also, we can’t say middle class, but more of a middle class.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And it had to be something that, would appeal to everybody. But you know, it’s interesting. So like, when he comes up with, say, a term like “downstairs” or “eyeball”, those are evocative, they’re pretty clear what they are. So, I could see anybody going, oh, okay, yeah, down, stairs. Everybody already has the word “stairs”, he just adds “down” to it and makes it a preposition or a direction. And so that’s quite exciting. “Eyeball”, I get it. I know what an eye looks like, ’cause I slaughter sheep or whatever.

But then words like “sanctimonious” or “gossip”, when he makes these words up, and they’re done at speed during the live performance, it’s kind of amazing to me that the audiences all picked up on it. Because, you know, just because the groundlings were not educated didn’t mean they were stupid.

Jennifer King: The other thing is they sound like what they mean. And I think that that is what is interesting about Shakespeare is that, you know, actors always say that, you know, you really don’t have to act it, because it’s all there. And with all of the word choices, what you’re discussing is that it’s on purpose. And the other thing that you will often hear in a business context is how is something sticky or memorable? And with creating those words, he was creating something sticky for the ear.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm, sure. Not always sticky. He did come up with some phrases and words that we don’t use today. I’m thinking specifically of to bethink, which I quite like, which means to think about something; congreet, which is to exchange greetings, small talk and other pleasantries. So like, hey, how’s it going? Oh, pretty good, how are you? Oh, yeah, boy, it’s gonna rain. Congreet. I like that, “con” – together, “greet” – we know this. To desponge, which is to rain heavily upon. And to infamize, to make somebody go from being famous to not being famous, to being not famous. Almost like a 1600s version of “cancel”, right?

Jennifer King: Well, you know, it’s so interesting though, is this would be familiar to those in his audience, but what I’m also reminded of is, you know, George Bush was, could we say that he was his own Shakespeare by the amount of words that he made up? What’s so interesting is long as you commit to what you are saying, people are gonna believe it.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. And I think anybody who’s traveled knows that with just a couple of words of the language of the country you’re in and being physically there…

Jennifer King: Yes.

Derek DeWitt: …it’s amazing how much you can get across. Like, you know, I know some people get freaked out. They’re like, well, I can’t go to France; nobody speaks English. First off, yeah they do. And second off, so you’ve gone into a bakery, you’re probably not gonna ask about politics, you’re probably not gonna have a conversation about light bulbs, you’re not gonna ask where you might buy some farm equipment.

So, the context is already there. You’re gonna come in, you probably want a baked good. So, we’ve already narrowed the possibilities for what we’re gonna have a conversation about. And then you do your best to try and puzzle out I want that thing, chocolat, that’s right, in French. And you somehow make it work, and then you walk out with your pain au chocolat and your espresso, and you’re very happy.

Jennifer King: Yes. And what I would say, what is underneath it all is a strong intentionality. You wanna go in there to get food, so you’re gonna do whatever you can to communicate that need. And that person on the other side wants to sell you something. So, there’s a shared exchange that happens and language helps it along.

Derek DeWitt: And I think part of that, when I think about speaking a language that isn’t your first language, especially one that you’re not fluent in, you mentioned clarity and brevity. I think it’s even more important there. I mean, it’s really quite amazing that, say someone coming to San Francisco where you are, they don’t have to give a fancy grammatically correct sentence. I know they very often want to because hey, in my country, I am an esteemed economist and people listen to me when I speak, and I’m actually known among my circle for being quite good at speaking my language. But you know, I go to San Francisco and all I can manage to get is “taxi, airport, where?” And yet I managed to communicate with those key words exactly what it is I want.

Jennifer King: And again, you’d said something very clear, “exactly what I want”. And what happens is you’re staying on point. I need this, these are the words I absolutely need to convey what it is that needs to happen for me to get my needs met.

And I think what happens, particularly in a communication setting, when we’re communicating, where that can go awry, is when there are emotions at stake, when one is nervous. You can know exactly what you wanna say, and yet you get into a situation where things feel more high stakes or fraught, and suddenly all of that goes out the window. I mean, how many times, Derek, maybe not for you, but I’ve heard someone go into perhaps an argument or a disagreement, and they walk away saying, oh gosh, if I had only said this.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, we all do this. I think everybody does that. Where you go, dammit, you know, I had a good, I had a good zinger. I wish I’d, I wish I’d said that.

Jennifer King: Exactly. And so, but that goes to really what is the purpose of your conversation? Is it to build a bridge with that person, to find some commonality? Is it to reason things out until we get an answer? Or is it, really, to either punish or is it to seek vengeance? What is it you’re exactly trying to do?

And my belief is that if more people spent time in what is their purpose, they’re gonna have the outcome that they desire. Now, do I hope that people are seeking revenge and punishment for another individual? Absolutely not. But again, that mindfulness of what are you trying to do? If you are focused on how can I get a good zinger? Most likely you’re not going to be building a very good relationship with someone else and moving forward.

Derek DeWitt: That’s true. Insults make poor bridges. This is very true.

Jennifer King: But they can be wonderful and satisfying in the moment.

Derek DeWitt: Yes. Well, that’s always the thing, is you’ve gotta have a little bit of long-term or medium-term thinking and planning there. I mean, no, probably not vengeance in most, say, business situations.

But, you know, I think that the idea of kind of taking a step back and maybe taking your time with things, which is something you and I were talking about before we started recording, this is crucial. Because if you don’t, if you’re just kinda running headlong into the conversation, you’re not really thinking about who you’re talking to, you’re not thinking about what it is you’re trying to accomplish, you’re not listening or doing deep listening to that person to find out what are they trying to accomplish because otherwise you’ll be at odds.

But, you know, then sort of subconscious or unconscious things come forward, which is like, you know, I’m a middle manager and I’m new, or I recently got yelled at by my boss, and so unbeknownst to me, my evil id is trying to assert my authority over this person. Which is actually, if you think about it, counterproductive, and maybe I shouldn’t do that. But I’m not aware that I’m doing that through the language that I’m using, because I’m not thinking before speaking.

Jennifer King: And that speaks to a wonderful quote from a play I directed two years ago, Romeo and Juliet. Friar Lawrence’s comment, “Wisely and slow, they stumble who run fast.” And I think that we just lose sight when we are in emotion. And what’s really terrific about Shakespeare and looking at it, is how much the language is filled with emotion.

And as we’re looking at vocal variety, you know, one of the comments that people say is, oh, I’ve been told that I speak monotone. And one of the antidotes for monotone is vocal variety. And Shakespeare, you know, in practicing Shakespeare, what’s really interesting is that the emotion is in the vowels. And the meaning, the only way you can make meaning, is using the consonants. So not only are the words important, but if you break it down, so are the vowel sounds, so are the consonants. And that is how particular Shakespeare was in his writing. His sonnets are deeply moving because of the use of the vowels, and the way that the consonants frame that meaning. And the sense that he is expressing emotional content in everything that he is writing.

Derek DeWitt: Hmmm, that’s true. Now it’s funny you mentioned Friar Lawrence. You had emailed me when we were kicking around ideas for this talk, and you were talking about how people don’t listen. You know, managers wanna jump in very often into, oh, there’s a problem? Quick fix it! Because the way that we measure success, very often, is if I got something done quickly, it means I’m very good at it. And so therefore, you know, what a good boy am I. And in fact, sometimes that’s counterproductive. Like Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet would’ve benefited from taking a moment and thinking about things.

Jennifer King: I think that there is such a desire to fix something, to let’s move out of conflict and let’s get it cleaned up and move forward without taking the time to look at the entire situation. And we are moving so fast nowadays. There are so many tasks on everybody’s to-do list, so much to accomplish. And basically, you know, it’s echoed in our culture. Move quickly, whether it’s the internet, you know, find the answers.

And so, one of the things that I encourage is that stepping back. You and I were laughingly talking about this, perhaps Romeo and Juliet would still be living today, not today but by the end of the play, had Friar Lawrence just taken the time to not try and solve the problems in such a ridiculous way, but had really sought out communication with the parents, with them about how really to create the peace that he was really looking for.

What I’ve described certainly doesn’t make for great drama. So, let’s keep the drama on the stage and see how we can mitigate that drama in the boardroom, in the office, in one-on-one conversations. And you talked about deep listening, and that is where you’re sitting with someone and allowing them to really talk about what is going on and digging further with curiosity as to what might be causing that. And you might get some answers that will surprise you based on what you see just at the surface.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And so for people who are unaware of the term “deep listening”, deep listening isn’t just listening carefully and onboarding it, it’s literally a technique in which while the other person is speaking, you are consciously trying to allow yourself to have your mind changed by what they’re saying. It’s almost like a chess game. And then you take that mental state and you put it aside, you go back to what your intention is, and then eventually, if you do this enough, the theory is the two of you will find enough commonality that everybody walks away happy.

Jennifer King: So often when we go into a tough conversation, we’ve already decided that someone is the enemy, the problem. And that can be really anxiety producing. So, you’re coming in with a story that you have in your head about the situation, and that will give you a bias. Where if you could come in with a curious mindset and really want to learn from the other person their story, you can find a new bridge that you may not have had before through that curious mindset.

So, it’s, yes, and to what you’re saying, Derek, of literally having to think about what are they saying, what can I use, how can I use that information, which is extremely transactional and appropriate. And at the same time, really allowing your curiosity to be stimulated so that you learn something you may not have known before that creates a bridge between you and that other person of trust, which then becomes transformative.

And going back to Shakespeare, I really think his plays are incredibly transformative to audiences because of their content, because they create those emotional bridges between the audience and the artists on the stage.

Derek DeWitt: And he’s doing it through language. The funny thing is, is that I don’t know that Shakespeare actually has an original plot in his entire body of work. They’re all cribbed from someplace else.

Jennifer King: That’s right.

Derek DeWitt: And they’re familiar to many of the people, and yes, even the groundlings, they just, they heard it, they didn’t read it, but they heard it. Everybody knew these stories. Romeo and Juliet is Pyramus and Thisbe, Troilus and Cressida, there were versions of that around. All of these, except for the histories, but even the histories, people knew that history.

He’s not this super original plot guy, and many of his characters are kind of foolish or almost comical in how they present. And yet, it’s that language that somehow breathes life into it all.

Jennifer King: And I would say it’s also the story. You know, storytelling can be so impactful in terms of making a point, allowing data to come to life. And, you know, there’s nothing like a great arc, a great hero’s journey. In Romeo and Juliet, we do know exactly what happens, and it’s got this great drama that takes us somewhere.

You know, if you think about your own life, Derek, what makes a great story is the challenges you’ve been through and how you’ve overcome them. And I’d say every individual has a story to share, whether it’s a problem they’ve overcome or something they learned that changed them. And that can be really inspiring to those around you. If you can create a way to link that to what you’re doing in your day-to-day life, work-wise. I imagine that, you know, part of the thing that we all have to do when we’re working with the team is solve a problem. And how did we do that? Was it really tough? What did we have to overcome? Instead of just showing slides that say, well, this data shows us we were here and there and did this, is there a story that can be, to allow that data to be brought to life?

And really what Shakespeare was doing was allowing for old stories to have new life and invigorating them for the audience of his day. And as we both know, new plays are being written based on Shakespeare’s work that are becoming very alive for us today.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s very true. And there’s a big, big uptick lately I’ve noticed in rewritings of Greek myths. Lots of people are going in and especially like for say stories of the Trojan War or Odysseus is, they’re like, you know, the women kind of get left out of these stories. So a lot of writers are now starting to go in and go, hey, let’s give the woman’s version of this.

Jennifer King: Absolutely. And you’re saying a key word there is they’re mythic. And what I would challenge individuals, managers, executives to look at is what is their hero’s journey? Whether they’re in manufacturing, whether they’re in tech, what is it they had to overcome, and what was the joy in overcoming that? What were the things they had to go through that made it tough? But at the end of the day, they did something. And what was that, and what did they bring home with that?

Derek DeWitt: It’s almost like provided you’re not making something up. And I know some managers do this, they make up a story, uh, because they think it will inspire their audience, their workers or their employees. And perhaps that’s true, but I think especially today, a lot of people are quite good at sussing out nonsense. And it’s almost like authenticity is a key part of that. You don’t have to tell us about, you know, when your dad left when you were 10 years old. We’re not going that far. It’s not a therapy session. But yeah, share some of yourself in an authentic way to kind of let people know that you’re on the level.

Jennifer King: And it’s gonna go back to the audience. So, if you’re sharing a tragic story, is that for you or is that for the audience? What is it you’re trying to do? What is it you want from them? And if you really took a look at, do you wanna inspire your team, and don’t you have a story, Derek, from something that you overcame, that it can inspire them to tackle this challenge that you’re both working on together? Or maybe they feel like they’re learning on their own or going through on their own?

Something shared can really, again, create that bridge of trust. But it’s crucial that you look at the needs of your audience first before the needs of yourself.

Derek DeWitt: Now, let’s address this thing that you’ve said you’ve started noticing more and more and more, which is, for some reason people are really kind of starting to talk in this, especially in a business context, in this kind of monotone. I don’t know if it’s an attempt to sound formal or if it’s an attempt to show that you’re being dispassionate, or why are people doing this? Or are they just not accustomed to having conversations?

Jennifer King: I imagine that you know people who, when you talk to them at a party, they’re so fascinating to talk to, they’re really interesting. And then they get up in front of an audience and they just become small and flat.

Derek DeWitt: Aaaah, right. Well, ’cause they have stage fright.

Jennifer King: They have stage fright, and everything flattens out. And, you know, I listen to a number of podcasts and interviews, and what I hear is flattened-out-speak. It all sounds the same. It’s as though it-is-like-this. It’s as though as you’re seeing just sort of if you were to look at a computer screen, words coming up. But what we know is that when we’re trying to make a point in the email, we’ll often use bold or italics or underline to make a point.

Well, we need to do that with language when we’re speaking. And that can be done through vocal variety. You know, how can you change your tempo, your pitch, your volume, in order to add, underline, allow something to be bold, to allow something to really be remembered? Just through surprise! You can go along and, you know, say something for a while, but then suddenly you shout and that wakes people up. Or you can get really quiet and allow people to be drawn in.

Again, it goes back to are you looking at the opportunities to engage? And if you’re unconscious about how you speak, and if you’re going into monotone, they’re going to tune out within the first 30 seconds of what you have to say.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Especially if you’re simply turning around and reading, you know, the contents of a PowerPoint slide, which, you know, I can’t, we’ve said this before here, we’ll say it a million times more; don’t do that.

Jennifer King: Yet then that can be our default. You know, not all of us are studying and teaching acting, or practicing directors. You know, folks that are just doing the best we can with what we’ve got. And that’s why it’s so crucial to make an investment to taking a look at how you’re communicating, so that you can be as strategic as you are in whatever you are working on.

And you know, one of the things that I’m noticing, particularly in women, that it’s been a trend for a very long time, is what you were just describing earlier, and that is upspeak. That’s when we allow statements to become questions.

Derek DeWitt: We allow statements to become questions?

Jennifer King: Yes! I’m gonna go to the drugstore? I am going to go and make a presentation? I am going to show people that I really know what I’m talking about? What you’re unconsciously doing is asking for permission.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Because that’s the thing about a question. The rhythm of English is, it’s a bit like music. I always like to, I say it’s akin to, a question mark is a minor chord, and going down at the end of a statement is the resolution.

Jennifer King: As speakers, what we need to do as communicators, is we need to allow the audience to follow your punctuation. So, if you’re constantly speaking in questions, what you are suggesting is that, I really want your permission, I really need validation, rather than really committing to what you are saying.

Derek DeWitt: Well, try and imagine it in your mind, to transfer it to a page. If you wrote an entire, you know, 500-word piece, all questions, it would look comical.

Jennifer King: Absolutely. You’re referring it to music. One of the things that one can do is literally look at whatever they are preparing. If you have a prepared presentation, how can you look at opportunities to treat it as a piece of music where yes, you may go up, you know, in what you are saying; you may wanna look at how you can end things on a downbeat. I don’t wanna get too technical.

But you can allow yourself that practice in order to become clearer in what you are meaning. And you know, we were talking about that we’re using questions? in order to be clearer? and how that can go against what your intention is. The other thing that I’m seeing is a use of filler words. What I’m noticing out there is the use of the word “right?”

Derek DeWitt: Oooh, ho ho! Which is also a question!

Jennifer King: It is also, but Derek, I am going to tell you something about the work that I do, and I think that it’s really meaningful to help people with communication strategies, right? I know I was really terrified the first time I went before an audience and had to persuade them to do something or inspire them. I mean, it’s gets scary, right?

Derek DeWitt: And I think some people, I mean, I do wonder sometimes if some managers or leaders are maybe getting that as advice because it requires that resolution. It’s a minor chord, and now you’re inviting the other person to participate. And the judicious use of this is fine, but not all the time. Just like you were, you were telling me one of your, um, the things you dislike is this “sort of”, “kind of”, “you know”, “like”, “uh”.

Jennifer King: They’re filler words that are diminishing the power of your message. And you’re exactly right. Used strategically, they could be very effective. A “right” with a question mark is inviting agreement. Are people getting your message. But can’t you see it in their faces, in their nods, in their body language? Or are you really looking for something more? So, it’s really taking a deep dive into your own awareness of what are you practicing that might be in service of your message or counter to your message?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And again, I think it’s a matter of, again, taking that time.

Jennifer King: Yes!

Derek DeWitt: I know sometimes you’re thrown into it. Dude, I need you to just go up and here, here’s the script, just go up and, and do it. You know, Fred’s not here, he bailed out or he is sick, or he’s not back from lunch, and we gotta do this. Go! Yes, that does happen sometimes.

But most of the time when we’re, especially when we’re presenting in a business or organizational context, we’ve had time. And you should make the time to, yeah, rehearse it. It doesn’t make you less authentic. In fact, it allows you to use tricks much in the same way that Shakespeare, who was an actor also remember, so he, he knew what he was doing there, tricks to communicate that authenticity without being inauthentic, if that makes sense.

Jennifer King: It speaks to your purpose. You know, there’s a lot of discussion out there about “what the why”, and basically it’s what is your purpose? What is it you are trying to do in that moment? And if you can simultaneously have this conversation and go back and think, what is the purpose of this conversation right now? Am I getting the outcome met? Do I want everybody at the end of my presentation to applaud? I’m gonna look around in the room. Is this landing? I may offer one “right” question mark, but I’m not gonna pepper the entire speech with a need for validation. It’s about staying on purpose, being within your own power, and that’s what’s gonna cultivate presence.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. And it gives you so much more control over what it is you’re saying. And by the way, this all applies not just to presentations. I mean, this applies to, you know, one of your employees comes up to you and says, I have an issue and I will need to discuss it with you. Same sort of thing.

Jennifer King: Let me use a different word: engagement. Every time you engage, whether it’s with an audience or one-on-one, you can still be on purpose.

Derek DeWitt: And another thing you mentioned that Shakespeare was extremely good at was simultaneously, at the same time, with the same text, communicating to three, four different levels of society, three different kinds of attitudes towards what they were seeing, different education levels, different contexts. This idea of being able to speak to this kind of mixed audience, because I think that’s very often, unless it’s one-on-one, that’s almost always the case.

Jennifer King: Absolutely. Variable needs. So, have you taken the time before you go in to that engagement to think about what is on top of mind in my audience? What do they care about? And is what I’m saying speaking to those needs? And that’s how you create that empathy that we’re all looking for.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Though I think some people wouldn’t, I mean, some people might be just like, I don’t care about the empathy part. I just, I need these people to understand this.

Jennifer King: But the question becomes, why do you need them to understand it? And you needing them to understand, is that the most effective leadership? Or is the more effective leadership also taking into account what’s all going on with them and going back and taking a page from Friar Lawrence and acknowledging the problem.

You’re all working really, really hard. You have gone above and beyond over the last year, but there’s something extra that we need to do, and we can talk and think about how we can integrate this directive into our already overwhelming workload. And I think that is where managers, leaders, that’s where they get to create and build relationships built on trust, because they have taken the time to consider the needs in the room.

Derek DeWitt: Or at least take a good stab at it.

Jennifer King: That’s all you can do. You can’t be, what I have found though, is usually your best guess is spot on. You know, one of the things that I know from teaching acting, it comes down to the character and their basic needs. What is it that they want? Why are they doing what they’re doing? Well, they have a basic need that comes down to shelter, protecting your family, those kinds of things. And as individuals, isn’t that what we’re all going for?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And I think in the olden days, the argument from the business side was, yeah, you’re here to earn money, and that’s the end of it. But we now know that that’s actually never been a hundred percent the case. Very few people have ever been in a job just for the money since, I mean, at least since offices really took off, and we moved out of the factories. And, as we say so often here, because it’s true millennials and especially Gen Z, like they’re like money’s way down the list.

Jennifer King: Covid taught us so much about what it is to be home, what it is to be with family, what it is to have some space. The other thing is that there’s more opportunity out there. So, where there used to be much more competition for positions, there’s actually active recruitment to retain the best people. So, in many respects, there are individuals who are in power positions. And how do you, as a leader, continue to keep those that are really valuable in your team engaged?

There’ve been times where I’ve done corporate trainings, and I get individuals come up and they’ve got, you know, an engagement that they’ve prepared and they’re about to present it. And I’ll get another individual and they’ll say, oh, my engagement is only via email. And so we talk about that. And basically all the same principles apply. And that is, out of the gate, are you talking about you and the problem? Are you taking into consideration the other person on the other end of that email?

What, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this Derek, but many of us have, is you send an email that you thought was gentle, kind, but to the point, and it’s received as though you have given a person a death sentence. I am being dramatic, but it creates all kinds of conflict. So, in many respects, what we have to do with the written or digital world is be even more purposeful in how we use language.

So, when you’re thinking about this email that you’re describing, where someone didn’t get it, this is where things can go awry. And that’s where, again, an email, we don’t think about it so much as when we’re in conversation where it becomes essential to stay curious and to find out what was received on the other end of this email, or to really take a look at, does the email communicate clearly what your intended message is?

It again, we keep talking throughout this conversation, the need for preparation. And by taking the time, allowing it to be a practice of mindfulness, to make sure that what you are communicating is purposeful and will get you to the outcome that you’re looking for. That does take time. And, as we both know, that sort of investment in time can lead to better relationships, which in the end is only going to serve something larger and in many respects can be more effective.

Derek DeWitt: Good communication skill involves much more than just having a good vocabulary. You have to think about the purpose behind that communication. And then the next communication may have a completely different purpose. By individuating and individualizing the reasons and understanding the reasons why you are communicating with a particular person or group of people, you build stronger relationships, which means that you become clearer to them.

Using language effectively, and the word here is brevity, so that you don’t waste too much time, is another effective way to keep people engaged and interested in what you’re saying, which hopefully is what you’re going for.

You also have to be very careful about speaking in a kind of a monotone because for whatever reason, you’re nervous or you think that it sounds like you are a professional. You’re not a professional, it’s not interesting and people will tune out. Same goes with upspeak. Don’t make everything into a question, because it seems to be communicating something beyond just the content of your words.

And finally, who are you speaking to, especially in a mixed audience? Don’t just choose the mean and speak to that, but speak to everybody in the audience. And that involves taking some time, thinking about what you’re gonna say, and stepping back while you’re saying it and watching how people are reacting to it, if your stuff is landing or not.

All of these tactics, techniques, and all of this advice all really come from William Shakespeare, the man who is credited with the creation of a number of words in English, many of which we still use today. Analyzing his language, his use of language, the way that he constructs his stories and all the rest, actually really only benefits you.

So go out there and read some Shakespeare, or even better go see a performance because, it was after all not intended to be read, but intended to be performed. And that’s where the magic of Shakespeare really comes through.

It’s been a super interesting conversation with Jennifer King, artistic director of Napa Shakespeare and a freelance theater director, as well as a tenured professor of theater at Napa Valley College and a corporate communications coach. As we have spoken today at the end of 2023 about Shakespeare and how to use language effectively to communicate exactly what you want and not accidentally communicate what you don’t want.

Thanks for talking to me, Jennifer. Super interesting.

Jennifer King: My absolute pleasure, Derek. And if your audience wants to get started today, read some Shakespeare out loud. You wanna expand your vocabulary, your ability to use vowel sounds and consonants, the Bard is your friend. And if you don’t wanna read it out loud, read it along with a book on tape and watch your vocal delivery expand in unexpected ways.

Derek, this has been an incredible discussion with you, as always. If people wanna reach me, they can do so at jenniferkingcoaching.com.

Derek DeWitt: Yes. And you will find links to some of the things we’ve talked about and, of course, to Jennifer’s website in the transcript, which is available on the Visix website. I highly suggest that you go there.

I’d like to thank Jennifer again for talking to me, everybody out there for listening. And, don’t forget, as I always say, you can subscribe. You can. Really. Nothing is stopping you.