‘People are hungry for human connection and communication’

23 May 2018

Thaler Pekar. Image: Thaler Pekar & Partners

An entrepreneur and expert on the art of storytelling, Thaler Pekar is heading to Inspirefest next month to share some nuggets of wisdom.

Thaler Pekar is founder and CEO at Thaler Pekar & Partners, a communications firm working around the world and across sectors to advise people on how best to be heard, understood and influential.

She has been recognised by both the BBC and the Smithsonian Institution as one of the world’s leading experts on organisational storytelling. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has institutionalised the use of her award-winning video on LGBTQ refugees in South Africa.

Next month, Pekar will take to the stage at Inspirefest 2018 to impart some wisdom on leadership and the art of storytelling.

Describe your role and what you do.

I advise savvy people who deserve to be heard and whose solutions demand to be better understood. So, I’m a story evangelist. I lead a firm known for our deep expertise in eliciting, analysing and amplifying stories. We go beyond storytelling for merely imparting lessons or providing accounts. We direct organisations in hearing stories amidst a mess of data and information. Then, we synthesise the insights that emerge, and advise our clients in applying this wisdom throughout their activities. We give people the skills, tools, capacity and confidence to hear and be heard.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Client needs come first. Luckily, serving my clients also means serving society. Despite loving people and their stories, I also need lots of time alone to read and ruminate. Mostly, the Things 3 app – fun and flexible to-do lists are my backbone!

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

New research shows that “the percentage of US managers who say they don’t like talking with employees mirrors the 67pc of US workers who say they’re not engaged at work”.

Increasingly, our work with organisations is focused on helping everyone to be heard and understood, and to have the people themselves make sense of what they are hearing. We are embracing our role as facilitators and synthesisers, guiding people in sharing stories, making sense of them and then applying the wisdom they themselves glean. By analysing and making sense of the stories they share, people eventually define a path to the creation of a new and bigger story.

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

Now is the time to understand more. As business and technology accelerate, and the media landscape morphs, I’m finding that even the smartest leaders are awash in data and information, and facing increasing ambiguity and uncertainty. So, our work is increasingly focused on guiding leaders to move listeners up the ladder of communication, from data to information to knowledge to understanding, and ultimately to evangelism.

People are hungry for connection and human-centred approaches to communication. We are also finding more curiosity about – and courage to play with – story in different forms.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

13 years ago, I left a consulting firm because I wanted to work to higher-quality and ethical standards. When I told a client I was leaving and didn’t know what I was going to do, she said: “You’re really good at what you do. Start your own firm, and I will be your first client.” (By the way, when I told my mother I was starting my own business, she said: “I always knew you would.” Well, she could have told me that earlier!)

‘As leaders and communicators, we must refrain from making assumptions and taking the perspective of others. Instead, we must ask for perspective’

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

In my 20s, I formed a community group that grew quite powerful. Yet I failed to develop a pipeline of leadership and, when I professionalised my community work, that organisation closed down. That experience always informs my work with leaders: how are you connecting the past, present and future?

How do you get the best out of your team?

Trust them. Ask them what they need. Communicate with clarity and humanity, recognising their multitudes of both developed and undeveloped skills and interests. 

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

In part, this is what my talk at Inspirefest is about. As leaders and communicators, we must refrain from making assumptions and taking the perspective of others. Instead, we must ask for perspective. Collaborations featuring diverse perspectives are more likely to result in breakthroughs and innovation. In this way, we build trust, collaborate better and change systems faster.

Who is your role model and why?

Michelle Obama. She seems to have perfectly combined a love of people and of developing their potential, family, community, learning – and herself – with tremendous poise.

There’s an adage in speech coaching: act as if. Meaning, to deliver your speech, pretend you are someone else. And even the best of coaches get anxious. Three years ago, when I officiated the wedding of my oldest friend, I was so scared I would break down – so I pretended I was Michelle Obama!

What books have you read that you would recommend?

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. Here’s an excerpt:

“Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must be really hard – it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.”

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Helping someone. Whether it is coaching someone to a standing ovation, or facilitating the emergence of a transformative narrative, or just helping someone to have an honest, meaningful conversation, I thrive on contributing to fostering connection and spreading solutions.

Our clients. I love all our clients. My business team. My husband and my friends. Things 3. Rosé wine.

Thaler Pekar will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Get your tickets now to join us in Dublin on 21 and 22 June 2018.

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