Ces Says... Lessons on communication from the late Celia Lashlie

On August 2nd as I sat in my seat at Wellington’s Embassy Theatre, I was terrified. I had surrendered the biggest project of my life to the world and I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Eleven weeks later, CELIA has finished her debut tour with the New Zealand International Film Festival’s 2018 season to sold-out theatres, extra screenings and the biggest box office success for the festival this year.

Images by Victoria Vincent, New Zealand International Film Festival

I never doubted the pull and power of social advocate, author and close friend, Celia Lashlie and her messages, especially profound in her last days. However, the novice feature-film maker in me was coy, tentative and certainly didn’t want to get ahead of myself in terms of whether it was going to cut it up there on the Big Screen.

It occurred to me during the screenings that while sadly we don’t have Celia Lashlie here anymore, we can still celebrate her incisive wisdom and straight-up communication. No one can rival her.

In my work as a trainer, people often ask me, who do I admire as a public speaker or communicator in this country? For so long, I’ve struggled to identify who that person is.

And then it hit me. How did I not know this after sitting and working with her interview for three years and creating more than 46 different versions of the 100 minute documentary? It was right in front of me.

There are too few leaders and advocates who truly give truth to power.
— Amanda Millar

Celia Lashlie was no fan of delivering 10 second sound bites. She was the consummate storyteller. She was authentic before the word became the buzzword of the corporate world.

I’m constantly advising people who I work with to own your own story, your language and your actions when you’re communicating. Being you is the most powerful person you can be. No one else can be you. The reality is, many of us try to be someone else when all eyes are on us.

Jargon and blah-speak like ‘functionality, outcomes, frameworks and moving forwards’ would have made Celia’s toes curl. They’re meaningless.

The aim of good communication is to connect and engage. You must always be building a relationship with your audience so that you’re reaching them and making your content relevant.

Ces always knew her audience. I, along with tens of thousands of New Zealanders miss her forthright and very often, brutal eloquence. Her choice of ‘f-words’ were there for a reason where others would only ever use them for affect.

While her stories were about the vulnerable and the marginalised, they touched all of us. She was the maestro of making it relevant and real.

There are too few leaders and advocates who truly give truth to power. We look to those people whose vision isn’t some template or abstract concept. If we’re to change, we need inspirational communicators who truly lead us. Who hear us. Who get us. Who speak to us.

In Celia’s words in her final interview, the one thing she asked of all of us to do once she’d gone was, “Listen. It’s easy, easy, easy.” We nod. “Yeah easy as”, you say. No. We might hear but we don’t listen.

I urge you to try sitting alongside your colleague, your employee, your client, your son or your partner and focus. Don’t say anything. Listen for several minutes and see how the relationship changes.

Too many of us, including agencies, not only tell you what to do, we tell you how to do it.
— Celia Lashlie

Since the film’s release I’ve watched CELIA again and again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it since I began editing 18 months ago yet I never ever tire of her words… so what’s that if it’s not a compelling communicator?

I’ve realised Celia’s gift in that final interview has provided lessons for all of us, whether we’re corporate leaders or prison inmates.

Over the next few months, I will run a blog series that will provide individual “Ces Says” lessons.

These will focus on:

  1. The power of expressing vulnerability.

  2. Why ask why?

  3. Listening – We never pay attention/how to be less judgmental.

  4. Learn to shut up. The dangers of having the last say and recognising your way isn’t necessarily the best way.

  5. The power of story-telling. How to connect through metaphors, examples and personal insights.

  6. Lead by example. People are watching. What is your behaviour telling them?

  7. Taking care of ourselves – as Ces says: “The yearning of our spirit”

In summary, as Ces says, “Too many of us, including agencies, not only tell you what to do, we tell you how to do it.”

Give the power back. It’s nothing complicated. It doesn’t cost money but it could solve so many problems and reduce ugly statistics while building independence, productivity and self-worth that will validate the lives of so many who don’t believe they're being listened to.

Amanda produced and directed CELIA. Due to demand, the film will be back in movie theatres throughout New Zealand early in 2019.