When his university friends were transitioning to a master’s degree in computer science, Sankar was asking himself: ‘What is it I can do differently to make me stand out at the end of my studies?’ Opting to enrol on an MBA gave him the ability to bridge between technical and business functions and he’s been in demand by employers ever since.
Moving to London
Sankar joined EY’s offshore operating centre in his Southern Indian hometown. He did well and was then invited to apply for a position in London. EY has some great career development programmes in place that give colleagues access to global opportunities, but this wasn’t one of them.
“I was delighted with the offer, but at the same time nervous, as it was a big step both professionally and personally.” Sankar moved to London to work with the organisation’s executive leadership and almost immediately started running into some unexpected challenges.
Learning to speak English confidently
Sankar needed to be able to communicate in a concise and authoritative manner. But, working in his second language and feeling the pressure because he was talking to senior executives, he was struggling to do that and was quickly losing confidence in himself.
Sankar had worked with people in English before but his preference had always been to have a slide to talk to - to help reinforce his message. His leadership audience were, however, often on the move and Sankar was finding it difficult to do that too.
“I’d be on a conference call and would need to convey something, but I would choke or my words would simply fail me,” Sankar explains. “It was impacting my ability to be heard.” Then, one of Sankar’s senior stakeholders told him, ‘they couldn’t buy into what he was saying because he didn’t think he had any confidence in himself’.
That’s when Sankar took another step back, to ask himself what he needed to do differently to succeed. He approached his boss, Ray Schneider. With a degree in psychology, Ray understood the value of coaching, so he introduced Sankar to his first coach, Susan.
Susan was selected because of her leadership experience and her ability to blend executive coaching with voice coaching – which includes the teaching of practical tools and exercises.
A tailored approach
“The very first thing she did when we met was to say a couple of words in Malayalam, my mother tongue. Before we’d even met, she’d looked up my native language and established the impact it had on my English accent. I thought this is just what I need, someone who can tailor their approach to help with my specific challenges.”
The duo had eight practical sessions – focusing on voice and confidence. They covered the inner critic, breath control, pronunciation, inflection, projection and message efficiency.
“In a virtual world you can’t always see people face-to-face, your voice is your face, your body, your everything, so I needed to master that,” says Sankar.
They also addressed some cultural differences - like Sankar’s nervousness about being assertive – even when one of the team hadn’t delivered on something.
“As an Indian there are different cultural priorities - you have considerations like hierarchy. I’d always associated assertiveness with arrogance, so I’d shied away from it. There were instances though when I needed to be assertive, so I wanted to find a way to adapt in my professional life, without losing the essence of who I am. Susan really helped me with that.”
Sankar Hariharan, EY
Continuous, noticeable improvement
“Susan is very understanding and patient, she passionately tries to help you - she’s not in a hurry. I quickly realised that this was going to be a journey not a one-day mega event. I’m still using the tools that Susan gave me every day, and every day I make an improvement.”
Colleagues have fed back they’ve seen a noticeable difference in how Sankar runs the show and articulates his message.
“The difference is I’m now able to table the important points with confidence. I’m not worrying all the time that I might be saying or doing something wrong. I simply accept that I’m human, sometimes I’ll get it wrong but if I make a mistake, I can just learn from it and continue to correct it. At the end of the day everything is a learning, and everything can be changed – I’m proof of that.”
"Susan’s impressive. I thought ‘this is just what I need, someone who can tailor their approach to help with my specific challenges’. She’s patient, prepared and the tools she provides are practical. She’s really helped me reframe how I think about things but most importantly she’s helped me be more confident when I speak – and it has had a major positive impact."
Sankar Hariharan, EY
Want to communicate with greater confidence, authority and presence?
I offer five online business voice coaching solutions to suit different needs and budgets. All are designed to give you tailored advice and support. Whether you’re preparing an important interview, pitch, appraisal, meeting, conversation, project or presentation, or just want an objective opinion on how you come across, I’ll give you perspective, feedback and practical things you can do straightaway.