Leadership and communication in the workplace

This week on the IN YOUR INTEREST! podcast, we welcome Jean-François Langlais, Head of Strategic Communications at iA, who shares practical tips for improving your communications and discusses the future of the profession. He also shares an inspiring reading suggestion about investing your time where it really matters. Don't miss this engaging and informative episode!

Ashleay: Welcome to iA Financial Group’s “In Your Interest!” podcast. My name is Ashleay, and this week we’re talking about the importance of a company’s leadership and communications. As usual, I’m joined by our Chief Strategist, Sébastien Mc Mahon. Today we’re pleased to welcome Jean-François Langlais, Head of Strategic Communications at iA. Hi, Sébastien. Hi, Jean-François.

Sébastien: Hello, Ashleay. Hello, Jean-François.

Jean-François: Hello, all. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Sébastien: Sure, it’s great to have you here. But before we get started, how does one become Head of Strategic Communications?

Jean-François: Well, it depends on each person. In my case, I studied Sociology, so that was my jumping off point. I’m not a classic communications guy. Although, since it’s interested in understanding how people work and behave together, Sociology is very useful for building strong communications.

Sébastien: So you’ve been working in communications most of your life?

Jean-François: Most of my career and for the last three years with iA Financial Group.

Sébastien: Okay. So interesting experience to share, here. It’s going to be interesting.

Ashleay: Yeah, absolutely. So, Jean-François, right off the bat, do you have any practical advice for our listeners on how to improve their communication?

Jean-François: Yes, I have lots. First off, be aware that everyone has biases. When you communicate, the people you’re communicating with are already in a mental space of their own. They have beliefs, they have knowledge on what you’re communicating to them. And all this will influence how they will receive your messages. So, you have to take that into account.

Sébastien: Okay, so knowing your audience is more than just knowing the background of the people in front of you. You need to know that you’re talking to human beings and they have their biases.

Jean-François: Absolutely. And sometimes I suggest that people go one step further and ask their interlocutors what their expectations are. So, go forward before you communicate and ask people what are your preoccupations? What are you thinking about? I’m about to communicate to you about this topic. What are you interested in? And then start off with that.

Sébastien: Yeah, it’s a thing I always do when I speak at conferences, even if the group is pretty large. Véro, my wife, who’s a teacher, will be laughing here because what they tell young teachers is that you need to have a handshake with the group in front of you. So, you have to say: “Today we’ll be covering A, B and C, does that suit your needs? Is there something else that you would like to talk about?” And often no one will say anything. And the fact that they didn’t say anything means they’re up for the plan. They say, “Well, you said A, B, C and didn’t say D, E, F, so here we go,” and they’ll be following you. Stuff like that really helps you get more engagement, no matter the size of the crowd.

Jean-François: Yes, absolutely. And this can be a challenge when you’re speaking to a diverse crowd, because you’re speaking to a group of people that are not all the same. Well, we can address them one by one. For example, you can say, “First off, I’d like to speak to the newcomers in our company,” and “I have these messages for you.” Everyone else would be listening in and understand that it’s not for them, but it’s interesting to them anyway. And afterwards you go to your second group: “And for those that are most experienced among us, I want to tell you this, this, this and this.” That way, it keeps it interesting and relevant for everyone at all times.

Sébastien: Yeah. It’s simple tricks like this that show you that it’s not complicated to communicate, even to the largest group that you can imagine.

Ashleay: Easy for you to say. Here are the two communication pros saying, “It’s not very complicated. Don’t worry.

Sébastien: But you have to work at it. You have to know what you’re doing.

Ashleay: That was the next thing I was going to say; I think we have to find our key messages. Right, Jean-François?

Jean-François: Yeah. People often refer to talent as the driver of good communication, but as Sébastien was saying, it’s work and discipline. You have to build an understanding of what you want to accomplish and then formulate clear messages, for yourself first and then afterwards for the people you will be speaking to. Build a plan, work on it. This is key to having success in communication.

Sébastien: Communication is a craft. It’s not a God-given talent.

Jean-François: Exactly.

Sébastien: It’s something you have to work at. You have to work on your posture, you have to work on the way that you deliver the message. So yeah, anyone can learn it. I mean, if I could learn it—you know, as I mentioned in the past, I even dropped classes in university because I was too shy to talk in front of people. But, you know, in my work I had to do it and learned to do it. The thing is, you have to do things with intention and work with the best, for example, learning from people like you, Jean-François, learning from books, learning from YouTube videos or whatever. I mean, the sky’s the limit now; there’s just so much information out there.

Jean-François: Yeah, everything is out there, and practice makes perfect.

Sébastien: Yeah, exactly.

Ashleay: And, Jean-François, has ChatGPT changed the way you work?

Jean-François: Yes, it already has. Generative intelligence is the next frontier for us communicators, giving us a tool to accelerate what we do: accelerate research, help us write drafts. It’s not quite there yet, meaning it’s far from a perfect tool—you have to rework the output—but if it saves you, let’s say 80% of preparation time on a given communication you’re working on, it’s extraordinarily helpful.

Sébastien: Right, as a brainstorming tool, it’s great.

Jean-François: Exactly.

Ashleay: And if you have like a blank page syndrome, if you will, I find it’s fantastic because you just put in okay I want to say this, this and this and then it’ll start you off and then you can say, oh no, that’s not at all what I wanted or yeah. So you can work with it.

Sébastien: Yeah. And if you tend to write a lot like I do sometimes you say, I want to say this thing in this way, but the words don’t come out. You can just say, well, can you rephrase this thing with this intention? And sometimes it will just unlock the few words and then you can keep on going. So it’s just so helpful for productivity.

Ashleay: Absolutely, absolutely.

Jean-François: Some people come to me, expressing anxiety that their communication job might disappear over time because these tools will replace them. And what I have to say is more of a positive message, which is that we will evolve towards an editing role rather than a writing role. The writing will be done by a tool, just like a calculator does calculations for you, but won’t necessarily know what it is you have to calculate. Well, it’s the same: It’s you who has to know what your message is, you have to have an idea of what it is you want to accomplish. After that, the tool, the ChatGPT or otherwise, can do the work for you. Ashleay Yeah, absolutely. And I assume that communicators will come from different profiles, different specialties?

Jean-François: Of course. And at the same time, they will all come together on the end product of their communication, on what it is that they aim to accomplish, what their goal is. And that’s what’s important.

Ashleay: Absolutely. And what advice would you give to our listeners of a younger generation?

Jean-François: Always try to make yourself clear very early in conversations, be it in presentations, in emails, etc. Make your topic line informative. Make sure that your first paragraph states your key message, what you want people to remember. There’s a cognitive bias called the primacy effect, which suggests that the things you tend to remember more are the first things you hear in a communication. So it’s very important to be upfront and clear.

Sébastien: I had a writing coach at some point who explained this very clearly, saying that you should write like it’s a Columbo movie where you see the crime first and then you see the detective trying to, untie the knot, rather than an Agatha Christie book where you’re going along for the ride because there’s going to be a payoff at the end. You want to give them the message: Here’s the message, and here’s how I came to these conclusions, for example. And then people will be able to follow you and ask smart questions along the way, rather than being puzzled until the end when you finally let off the big fireworks. That’s not how effective communication works.

Jean-François: No, it’s not. And when it comes to working behind the scenes on developing a communication, for the people beginning in this field, I would give this advice: Work with a plan and share your plan early, and go by iterations. I spent so many hours working on a very finely crafted communication, just to understand later on that it was not what was requested but was expected. So now I never, never do that; what I do is build a plan, share it early and people give me feedback on the plan so I don’t waste my time writing something that’s not useful.

Sébastien: Yeah, and keeping it simple.

Jean-François: Yeah.

Sébastien: Ideally three messages; that’s how the brain works.

Jean-François: That’s it.

Ashleay: And I think you had said once that it’s better to be understood than to be precise. I love that. Can you expand a little bit more on that?

Jean-François: Well, lots of people have analytical profiles and different backgrounds. In the financial sector, it’s a given that all the people working in actuarial accounting, IT, etc. are all specialists and they tend to go into details because it’s part of their craft, it’s part of their knowledge, and they want to be truthful and upfront on every detail of what they’re working on. But it’s not necessarily helping. The thing is, people they will be communicating with need more of a general overview, a general idea, and if they have questions on the details, they will ask them later on.

Sébastien: Yeah, and one of the mistakes we see young people making when they start to communicate is that they want impress the audience rather than make sure they’re understood, as you’re saying here. So that’s a common trap to avoid.

Ashleay: Yeah. Very good. And Jean-François, you might know by now that Sébastien and I are bookworms. Do you have any reading suggestions for the audience today?

Jean-François: Yeah, sure. An inspiring read that I read a few months ago is 4,000 Weeks, by Oliver Burkeman, which is about the fact that our life expectancy roughly amounts to 4,000 weeks on Earth and how we have to prioritize what is important to us. So, it’s going against all the writing on productivity that helps us improve what we already do. This book helps us step back a bit and reflect on what’s important, what kinds of things we should devote our time and attention to. I found it very inspiring. And you, Sébastien?

Sébastien: Yeah, sure. So the inspiration was that we recorded an episode a few weeks back on how Steve Jobs and Elon Musk were innovators. And, Steve Jobs, the late Apple founder is often considered one of the greatest communicators, let’s say, of the modern era. Maybe not Barack Obama level, but still. Anyways, there are some books about Steve Jobs’s methods, and there are also lots of videos online. And what you find is that he was truly prepared, everything was refined, he rehearsed for weeks on end to deliver something that looks spontaneous. Which goes to show that there’s a lot of work behind even the best of the best. So, I would strongly encourage you, if you love communication and you love to learn, to go on YouTube and look at a few of the keynote presentations that Steve Jobs gave. You’ll find lots of interesting inspiration there.

Jean-François: And maybe just before we part, I’ll share a few of the key ideas that people should remember. When preparing a communication, to, as you say, make it sound and look easy at the end, first clarify your intention: What is it you want to accomplish? Then ask yourself what your audience’s expectations are and, if necessary, ask them in a conversation and then clarify your key messages. Build a plan, have an idea upfront of what you want to do.

Ashleay: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Jean-François. That concludes today’s episode. Thank you for being with us and for your interesting knowledge. And thank you, Sébastien, as usual, for being with us. And to our listeners, we’ll see you next week.


Sébastien has nearly 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors. In addition to his roles as Chief Strategist and Senior Economist, he is an iAGAM portfolio manager and a member of the firm’s Asset Allocation Committee. All of these roles allow him to put his passion for numbers, words, and communication to good use. Sébastien also acts as iA Financial Group’s spokesperson and guest speaker on economic and financial matters. Before joining iA in 2013, he held various economic roles at the Autorité des marchés financiers, Desjardins, and the Québec ministry of finance. He completed a master’s degree and doctoral studies in economics at Laval University and is a CFA charterholder.

Sébastien Mc Mahon and Jean-François Langlais

This podcast should not be copied or reproduced. Opinions expressed in this podcast are based on actual market conditions and may change without prior warning. The aim is in no way to make investment recommendations. The forecasts given in this podcast do not guarantee returns and imply risks, uncertainty and assumptions. Although we are comfortable with these assumptions, there is no guarantee that they will be confirmed.

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2024-07-24 12:38 EDT
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