Ask the expert – our conversation with Jo Darby

Image of Jo Darby from Voice in the room

'If you have the words, there's always a chance you'll find the way' - Seamus Healey

Our passion is to partner and collaborate with like-minded folk who have a purpose beyond purely ‘making money’. We want to support a more ‘conscious’ model of capitalism where entrepreneurs and business leaders share a growth mindset, have a true sense of purpose and are passionate about growing their businesses and achieving their vision; whilst harnessing the best out of their people to deliver performance and profits.

This is why we have decided to ‘Ask the expert’ and showcase some of our business partners; exploring what makes them tick and more importantly finding out more about their views on working in partnership and sharing their tips for how to make it work.

This month, we chatted to Jo Darby from Voice in the Room – a North-East based organisation that supports business people with public speaking.  Voice in the Room works with all sectors and provides training for employees at every level. Jo firmly believes that public speaking  should be on the National Curriculum as our bright young people need the right skills in an interview room or to present their ideas. Public speaking is a life skill, that helps people go far in their life.

Through our conversation, this is what we found out…

Tell us about your business – what do you do?

I help people to reach their full potential with public speaking and how they communicate so they can speak with impact when it matters most.

My work is about helping people to find their own authentic style of communicating and get their message across confidently and effectively – whether that’s in an important meeting, for a presentation or pitch or when speaking at a large conference.

This ranges from supporting those who are at the start of their career and need more confidence, through to people who are already leaders but want to have more impact with their presentations, right up to CEOs who need to deliver a keynote speech.

There are two key elements to my work. Firstly, helping support people with the content of what they are saying, as it’s so important to ensure your messages are landing well. One key piece of advice is always that the structure and message should  be as simple as possible. Secondly, creating confident and engaging delivery, which is all about how we use our voice and physical presence to deliver those messages. I’m asked a lot about creating ‘gravitas’. Many of us want more of this quality when we deliver presentations and speaking. It’s one of those things that’s hard to define but we know it when we see it. And it relies a lot on using your voice to its full potential.

Who are your customers?

I work with anybody who wants to get better at presenting and make an impact.  This ranges from FTSE companies to public sector and NHS clients through to SMEs.  Whilst I always tailor my content for specific needs of the client I find that a lot of the same principles apply across the board. I have 3 courses, Communicate with Confidence, Present with Impact and Speak Like a Leader. There’s a new one I’m really excited about for the autumn too called Speak with Stories which is all about how to use stories to bring key messages to life so they will stick in the minds of the audience. 

What is the most rewarding part of running your business?

I just love seeing people flourish and realise their potential. I often see people come into the training room looking apprehensive, but then completely transform over the course of the day. The best part is seeing their colleagues give them encouragement too – I think it means a lot to people and is wonderful for their confidence.

And the most challenging?

Like many other business owners, I can find it quite challenging to work on my business, while working in my business. I spend a lot of my time training people, but also need to factor in time for business admin or strategic planning and that can often be quite a juggle.

What are your top tips for a good working relationship with external partners?

I think it is so important to take time to form good relationships with partners right from the start. This does take time and effort, but it is worth it as people connect with people – business relationships that are purely transactional  don’t always work in the long term. It’s so important to be able to have open and honest communication with others and to feel like you can ask any tricky questions, to ensure long lasting working relationships.

Can you give us an example of when a business partnership worked really well and why?

I worked closely with my web design company when I developed my site, and I think trust has been a really important factor in making that work so well. Thanks to the great communication we had, we could speak openly about the work, I could be honest in my feedback, which meant we were able to positively shape the website together.

What are the benefits of a good business partnership? How does it add strength to your business?

I think that putting time in at the start to really get to know businesses and the people who work there is well worth the time and effort. Not only do you build better, stronger relationships but I often find that clients come back to me in the future. It’s great going back into a business you know well already to support them with new challenges and I enjoy building these relationships in a meaningful way.

Do you have an example of when a partnership went wrong and what you learned from the experience?

I’ve not really had any partnerships that have “gone wrong”, but I have had hiccups in a partnership when previously good lines of communication have become disrupted. I think this can be quite common, perhaps because the point of contact changes or because someone is on holiday so things get missed. I’ve definitely learnt that it’s always best to try where possible to liaise directly with one person and for that person to be directly invested in or impacted by the work I deliver. Checking in regularly is also really helpful.

Who or what inspires you?

Firstly, I would say the North East business community.  When I set up Voice in the Room, I was blown away by how supportive the small businesses network is in our region and I have met many fantastic people and formed lots of great friendships as a result.

Secondly, I would say Penny Tweedie, who would have become my mother-in-law, but sadly passed away. Penny was a renowned, award winning photojournalist who is best known for her work with the Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land. I always love seeing her photographs – she shot the likes of Twiggy, Bob Dylan and John Lennon in the 1960s and covered many conflicts and historic events, including the Gulf War. She was unusual as a female photographer starting out in the 1950s, it wasn’t a conventional career choice back then. I think Penny’s great talent was connecting with people on every level, which was what made her photography so amazing.

What are your plans for the future?

Definitely to keep doing more of what I’m doing! I’m not sure with the past 18 months we’ve had that any of us can be totally clear about future plans so I’m keeping open minded about any opportunities that might come my way whilst also building on recent experiences.  I’ve certainly learnt to never say never. Despite vowing never to take my training online, the pandemic made me test online sessions – the feedback about them has been really positive and it now means I can work with global companies and train clients all over the world much more easily. A significant point of growth from a tough time. Working with lots of different people and making a real difference in how they feel about standing up and speaking is why I do what I do, so that will absolutely continue to be the focus of my work going forwards.