Speech Breakdown: Frances Frei’s “How to Build (and Rebuild) Trust” TED Talk

Leaders are learners.

There are opportunities to learn and grow all around you. One of my favorite sources is TED talks.

Communication, public speaking, storytelling…clearly my jam.

When you can combine valuable leadership lessons and insights with a deep dive into the example of masterful speaking found at TED, it’s a win-win!

It’s that double win for leadership and communication excellence that’s behind the speech breakdown series here at SpeakHer Coach.

This month, we’re focusing on a talk I learned of through a friend who’s an incredible leader and diligent learner. Isn’t it a gift to have learning friends who share amazing resources when they find them? And to be that friend to the amazing women in your circle??

Truly, I’m over the moon for Frances Frei’s “How to Build (and Rebuild) Trust” 2018 TED Talk. So much so that it’s hard to narrow the leadership and communication takeaways worth highlighting.

Bottom line: If you haven’t seen it for yourself, watch it here. Then watch it again. It’s seriously that good.

Dr. Frances Frei is a professor of technology and operations management at Harvard Business School. She worked with Uber for a time and learned the insights she’s sharing through her experience helping to rebuild trust in an organization where astronomical growth and company missteps had eroded it.

In the talk, we learn a simple yet powerful model for trust. A 3-legged stool of authenticity, logic and empathy Frei demonstrates with a simple triangle. Not only do leaders need all 3 to build trust, leaders also need to communicate all 3 to build trust.

Not always an easy task, right? Thankfully, Frei shares both powerful reframes to challenge the way we think about the elements of trust as well as practical tactics to plug gaps and rebuild trust in meaningful ways.

Key Leadership Takeaways

The biggest enemy of empathy? Distraction.

Most people, certainly most leaders, truly care about their teams and the others around them.

But with each of Frei’s ingredients—authenticity, logic and empathy—it’s not enough to just have it. You have to communicate it.

The biggest barrier to communicating empathy is distraction. The simple solution Frei shares: When it comes to technology, “off and away”. Put your phone down and engage with the people in front of you.

Holding back on who we are erodes trust.

Authenticity helps all of us. Each one of us deserves to be seen, accepted and welcomed as our true selves.

But for leaders, the bar is higher. We need leaders to create cultures where differences are not just tolerated but welcomed. It’s easy to accept someone who looks like us and says what we’re thinking. The true need is for leaders to seek out different perspectives to create richer conversations and outcomes.

As a leader, the greatest thing you can do to build trust and foster authenticity on your team is to show up as authentically as possible as often as possible yourself. When you are able to be your true self, you give everyone around you permission to be themselves as well.

The challenge with logic isn’t having it. It’s communicating it.

The 3rd piece of the trust triangle is logic. When trust is an issue, often the logic used to drive leadership, strategy and development isn’t being communicated well. This is a challenge Frei saw at Uber as the turbo-paced growth brought unprepared people into leadership roles.

Frei’s solution: Start with the point.

**Don’t miss this part**

At 9 minutes in, Frei points out that many of us—especially women—take a long, meandering, fun-filled path to get to the point. The problem comes when you get interrupted or cut short. You miss sharing your brilliance. And you give someone else the opportunity to swoop in and grab your idea.

Instead, start with a clear, concise sharing of your point. THEN, share your supporting information.

So much goodness! Amiright??

Now, let’s look at what we can learn from Frei’s communication style.

Key Communication Takeaways

The speaker brings the energy. Even when isn’t obvious.

The speaker sets the temperature. As Grant Baldwin says, Speakers are thermostats, not thermometers.

Your audience can’t care more about your topic than you do. And we’d all rather hear about a topic from someone who is clearly lit up by it.

Often, we expect that to mean high energy. Frei provides a magnetic example that earnest passion can be as powerful as over-the-top excitement.

Frameworks are powerful. Both for teaching and for your personal brand.

Frameworks help your audience understand, process and use what you’ve shared. Our brains have two jobs: to conserve energy and to keep us alive. The harder your audience has to work to understand, the less likely they will.

When you can break your concept down into a framework and then visualize it, you “put the cookies on the bottom shelf”. You make it easy for your audience to understand, remember and apply what you’ve shared.

And that’s the point, right?

Stories for the win.

Stories are the most compelling communication vehicle you have in your leadership toolbox.

Want to teach a concept? Tell a story.
Want to illustrate a point? Tell a story.
Want to connect emotionally? Tell a story.

Frei does a fabulous job of incorporating stories from her time at Uber to help us understand the concepts she’s sharing as well as clearly see their context in a real-world example.

Trust is a lynchpin for leaders. Lean into the principles of authenticity, empathy and communicating logic to build (and rebuild) trust in your team or organization. Why?

“If we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress.”

Dr. Frances Frei

Want to see our prior speech breakdowns? Head over here to see the amazing talks we’ve broken down so far!

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