Leading By Example: Orlaith Carmody On Life, Loss, Learning and Leadership – An Interview
Orlaith Carmody is a journalist and broadcaster turned entrepreneur with a mission to improve the way people communicate in business and leadership. She runs mediatraining.ie with her husband, Gavin Duffy (Dragons’ Den). Orlaith commentates regularly on radio and TV about business- and media-related issues; she chairs conferences and events; and also delivers keynotes. In her life, Orlaith has experienced heartbreak and happiness, setbacks and success; but is always vivacious, positive and enthusiastic.
Orlaith, your book Perform As A Leader is captivating from the outset – opening with details of how your first husband was diagnosed with a fatal disease. Why did you start your book with such a personal story?
In all the training and coaching work that I do with business leaders and teams on communicating effectively, I put being true to yourself at the heart of it, and allowing your audience to really see who you are. I believe that you have to let me know you – to an extent – before I will listen to you, believe in you, follow you, buy from you, invest in you or any other objective you might have in mind when I am your audience.
So practicing what I preach, I felt I had to share my personal experience – the loss I suffered at a very early stage in my career – because of how formative it was; because it was the the single experience that has shaped my thinking more than any other, and still to this day impacts on everything I do.
Why did you choose leadership as the theme of your book?
I realised that the communications skills which I help people to develop are the core of good leadership. Think of the leaders you admire personally and you will realise that your judgement is formed by how they show up and deliver at the front line: how they speak in public, chair a meeting, conduct a negotiation, make a sale, pitch an idea, tell the organisation story on the media and so on. These are the places where anyone who wants to progress in business or in public life has to perform in a way that shouts out competence, vision, integrity, mindfulness, humanity – the ingredients of good leadership.
Using my own experience, and that of the many leaders I have worked with, I came up with an easy, readable way to bring great content to a wider audience. I can’t physically stand at the top of every training room, or work with everyone who wants to develop their skills! So I thought I would capture it in a book – and in an online learning programme coming soon – to allow people to work on developing their skills at their own pace.
You worked as a journalist with RTE and Century Radio, as a producer with LMFM, and you spent five years on the board of RTE. Now you train people in how to effectively handle media interviews. Being interviewed, especially live on air, can be nerve-racking. What are your top three tips?
Yes, I suppose it is a bit like a poacher turning game-keeper, or something like that! I moved from behind the microphone around to the far side to work with people on preparing for interview, and at a strategic level with organisations on crisis management. The main piece of advice I would give to someone going on a prime time show is to get some media training in advance. You wouldn’t get into a merger or acquisition without calling in the lawyers and accountants. So don’t ever ‘wing it’ if you are asked to do a major interview. But where there isn’t time, or where it is a less important media outing, I would suggest you keep it simple, try not to sound pompous, and give examples of what you are talking about.
You work very closely with the businesses that Gavin invests in on Dragons’ Den. What common mistakes do start-ups make and what advice do you have for people who are setting up their own business?
We have seen every kind of business imaginable come through the doors of the Den and we have met some very good people along the way. But I would say the biggest mistake people make is being unrealistic about what they can actually achieve. You will often hear people say with great conviction: “The market is worth €10 million in Europe and we are going to gain 10% of that in the first year, so our turnover will be €1 million.” They have worked out the maths and the opportunity, but have absolutely no idea of how to get there, or no strategy in place. They think the investor is magically going to make it all happen for them. I would advise anyone starting out to be prepared for ridiculously long hours and lots of ups and downs, so buckle up well before the ride.
Why is it important to have excellent communication skills in life and in business?
How many disasters large and small are caused by a breakdown in communications? Everything from family rows and divorce to business conflict and major wars. None of us gets it right all the time, and even the most experienced among us can make mistakes when there is emotion involved or high stakes, or when people feel they are being attacked personally.
For example, I was working with a group of politicians recently when one told the group about a rival politician who was giving her a hard time publicly. She was stressing over what was behind this, and whether she should send off a legal letter. I asked her had she considered picking up the phone to the other politician? Maybe a simple telephone conversation or a face-to-face meeting would defuse the situation? One thing was sure, she was never going to know unless she tried. I’m waiting to hear how she got on!
You run Mediatraining.ie, a leading communication skills training consultancy, with Gavin. What are the challenges of working with one’s spouse?
Ha! How long have you got? But seriously, I think we were fortunate that we started working together before we ever became romantically involved, so our first relationship was a working one, and that has always been the pattern.
Gavin had just set up the radio station LMFM, and was going through all the teething problems of managing a start-up when I arrived and started producing his talk show. I think I am probably the only person on the planet who could have produced him! He still runs everything past me first, and vice versa, but we also give each other plenty of space to work on individual projects.
You’re a founder member and former President of the Irish chapter of EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organisation). What is EO and how has it impacted on your career?
EO is a worldwide learning and development organisation for entrepreneurs with over 11,000 members. Although it has been running for twenty-five years, it only came into Ireland three years ago when Gavin and I were among a group of people who identified the value of EO and brought it into the country. We have been growing steadily ever since and many of the Irish members have participated in fantastic events around the globe. The central plank of participation in EO is membership of a monthly Forum: a group of your peers with whom you share your experience and from whom you can learn so much.
You’re an experienced keynote speaker, who has done two TEDx Talks. Was this a dream fulfilled for you?
Yes absolutely! Doing a TED talk is one of those bucket list things that every professional speaker wants to tick off. It is a great experience, and well worth pushing yourself to achieve.
Orlaith Carmody can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
Images “Author’s Own“
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Fiona Ashe is an award-winning Film Director, Screenwriter, Script Editor/Reader, Video Trainer, Social Media Trainer, Copywriter, & Keynote Speaker. She also has experience as a Broadcast Journalist and PR Officer. Her specialist skills include directing, filming, editing, writing, interviewing and keynote speaking.Read Full Bio