Communication Skills, Deliver With Impact

HOW Malcolm Turnbull Communicates Is Key To His Success

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You read or hear about it every day. In less than two months, Malcolm Turnbull has changed the ‘atmospherics’ of Canberra, Parliament and the country.

Just yesterday, at the Melbourne Institute, while deftly handling a Q&A session at the Australian Conference 2015 Economic and Social Outlook Conference (no doubt known as ACESOC), he gleefully (but artfully) chided Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, for his somewhat defeatist view on why there is such poor collaboration between universities and business.

Malcolm: “Well that is interesting that you say that. That’s a bit of an outlier of a view. That is a rather defeatist and dispiriting one, too, I must say.

Most people are much more optimistic about Australian business and Australian universities than you appear to be. I wish I hadn’t asked you that question now. This is, by the way, you running against the vibe. You haven’t got the new zeitgeist. The new zeitgeist Glyn is to believe in yourself, is to have a go.”

The words alone point to the new Prime Minister’s perspective and worldview. His vocabulary and employment of zesty terms like ‘vibe’ and ‘zeitgeist’ immediately hook attention and elevate his language above the cautious, bland, marshmallow-like stuff we have become accustomed to from our political leaders of late.

Let’s put the content of his communication to one side for now and look at how he communicates.

Three elements are immediately apparent:


Let’s start with posture. Malcolm has the bearing and deportment of a man in control while also being comfortable and relaxed in his own skin. He stands tall, head up. He does not have that slight pugilistic look of Tony Abbott, who always looked like he was about to get punched. Remember when parents and teachers used to say ‘stand up straight’ or ‘sit up straight’? There is a reason for this.

Then there are his gestures. He is gesturally expressive despite his penchant for holding his reading glasses in his right hand. His hands animate and support his words. When talking about the future he points to the future… helping us ‘see’ this in our mind’s eye. Even when behind the lectern he makes sure his gestures and hands are seen and are in play.

Finally, and this might seem a little unusual, Malcolm understands and knows how to use his face. Facial expression and eye contact count. He looks unflappable and in supreme control. His facial expression also conveys an almost perpetual good humour hovering just below the surface. This is experienced as optimism and confidence rolled into one. One attribute of all good leaders is the quality of eye contact. He pays genuine attention to his audience, whether it’s a group of 1000 people or simply one person. Conscious, attentive eye contact conveys respect, integrity and confidence (again).


This is probably the most significant difference between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott.

Where Abbott spoke in hesitant, staccato, cautious rhythms. Turnbull delivers with effortless fluency and flow. Abbott’s tempo was one paced where Turnbull brings constant shifts in tempo, pitch and tone. Abbott’s vocabulary was limited, predictable and came across as prepared whereas Turnbull has an ability to extemporaneously play with language and ideas with flourish and flow. Abbott sounded cautious and pessimistic Turnbull sounds bountiful and optimistic. Tonally, Malcolm inspires hope and aspiration where Tony conveyed fear and even threat.

The way Malcolm Turnbull speaks makes us want to listen to him. His tone and language make us feel better. It’s the tonality of a leader.


We all have worked with negative people. We know the affect a person who is ‘down’ or ‘flat’ can have on a group or team. Conversely, we have felt energised and uplifted by the inspiration and optimism of others who see light, life and abundance. Energy is that ‘vibe’ thing that Malcolm referred to yesterday.
The energetic signature of Abbott’s time was one of dour diligence in facing difficulty and threat. Doom, darkness and dread were a perpetual undercurrent. Everything seemed laden with difficulty and a soupcon of fear. “We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,”Before the year is out.”

Contrast that with the energy Turnbull brings to the table… lightness, optimism and perspective. This is not some naïve, Pollyanna-like view, all froth and no substance – it’s seeing the reality of Australia through the energetic lens of realistic optimism. How come Australia is routinely in the top five of ‘best countries to live in’ lists, or best cities in the world, or most desired places to live in or visit on the planet? That story has been reawakened. The boats are not leaving Australia. In his interviews and presentations Turnbull brings a consistent energy of optimism, humour and possibility. Historians concur on the optimism of Churchill as being a key ingredient in maintaining the collective spirit of the English in WWII… Energy counts. Malcolm understands this.

Physiology, Voice and Energy are three ‘methods’ of HOW the Prime Minister communicates, reinforcing the truth of the statement “It’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it.”

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their leadership skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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