How to win and keep your audience’s attention

To celebrate the paperback release of The Virgin Way, I wanted to share a free excerpt to give you a taste of How to Listen, Learn, Laugh and Lead the Virgin Way.

Simplicity in communications is not just a nicety but a necessity – it’s a sure-fire way to win and keep your audience’s attention. Regardless of who you are speaking to, you should always try to keep it simple ‘stupid’ (KISS).

Developing the art of simple clear speech is something that every one of us, and everyone with whom we associate, can only benefit. For some people, the ‘gift of the gab’ comes with an innately intelligent and concise delivery; for others, however, it can be anything but concise and frequently utterly unintelligible.

Image from Virgin Atlantic

One such aggravating example is to be found in BBC Television’s brilliant comedy series, Yes, Prime Minister. I don’t watch much television, but this show has long been a favourite of mine – it was reportedly also one of the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s few ‘must watch’ TV programmes. 

There is one wonderful character in the show, Sir Humphrey, who is the absolute antithesis of everything KISS stands for. Paradoxically, my old English teacher at Stowe School would probably have described Sir Humphrey as ‘the quintessence of verbosity and polysyllabic pomposity’, which we always joked would have been a fair description of that particular teacher as well! In simpler terms, however, Sir Humphrey is a perfect caricature of the kind of person who loves to talk at great length but does so without actually saying anything remotely intelligible. In case you’re not familiar with Yes, Prime Minister, here is a snippet of Sir Humphrey at his best – or perhaps more accurately – at his worst.

‘Questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts with responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy.’

Image from

Whenever I run into a real-life Sir Humphrey, it’s all I can do to prevent myself from grabbing them by the collar and yelling, ‘Life’s too short! Get to the point, will you.’ When the person in question happens to be a revered diplomat or captain of industry such an ‘in your face’ approach isn’t always the smartest way to go. But you can take steps to avoid falling into similar bad habits yourself, and in my own case this has meant trying my best to live by the simple old mantra of, ‘Say what you mean and mean what you say’ – and preferably in as few well-chosen words as possible. 


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