Kolarele Sonaike is a man who has built a persuasive career. He has been a lawyer – a British lawyer – for twenty-two years and represents individuals and companies in trade disputes.
"We are the ones who wear the wig and the dress and speak poncy somehow."
Kolarele has had a sustainable and successful legal career in every respect. About fifteen years ago, one of his friends came up to him and asked him for help with a company presentation where he was "petrified".
At first, Kolarele thought it didn't go well with his skills and experience as a lawyer. But after reluctantly agreeing to coach his friend, Kolarele quickly realized that he was good at teaching communication skills – and that he liked it too.
"I really enjoyed helping."
A spark had been lit. As someone who likes to write, Kolarele started an essay that developed into a book called How to Make a Great Speech.
"And then I just started getting requests from people. So I thought, okay, yes, I can help you. And I really grew out of it. "
Since then, his business, the Great Speech Consultancy, has expanded not only to individual coaching, but also to group coaching, corporate training and online programs.
Communication is key or why being good at your job is not enough
Kolarele's direct coaching clients are primarily based in the United Kingdom, some in the United States and Nigeria, the country of his heritage. Its online customers come from a larger cross-section of the world, including India, Australia and the United States.
These customers are usually people who work in corporate institutions such as investment banks in middle to higher positions. Typically, they “spent the first part of their career focusing on being really good at the job. And then they come to a point where they realize that only half of it is actually in the job. If I can't communicate effectively with people, I won't get anywhere. "
He also works with many entrepreneurs who are trying to grow their business and profile. "They know that if they can speak and communicate better, they can do that." So he helps them improve their elevator parking spaces.
But it goes deeper. One of the most important ways that Kolarele can help people become better communicators is to overcome the fear of public speaking – something that "pretty much always boils down to trust levels".
Associated with this is the imposter syndrome, which, according to Kolarele, is also common.
"These are people who are worried and ask: Do they deserve to be where they are or when it comes to getting to the next level, do they really have what it takes to get to the next level? "
He has seen how imposter syndrome works in the workplace and prevents people from achieving their goals. "You're giving a presentation and you're worried about how you get over there. You are in negotiations and are not getting the right result. You are in meetings and cannot answer questions effectively because you are so concerned. And you focus on giving the answer instead of giving them confidence in yourself, which are actually two different things. "
He thinks that many people try to sound more confident by imitating a famous speaker like Winston Churchill or Barack Obama. Or they will adopt a rigid and formal type of "corporate speak". But as he says, none of these tactics get to the bottom of the problem – finding the confidence to channel their true voice.
“A big part of it is breaking through and refocusing on who you really are. And once they get there, communication becomes easy. "
Kolarele structures his coaching work to build this inner trust. As he says to potential customers, "Don't come to me if you want to tweak a little here and there. We'll go deep and unlock a few things."
From a blog and email list to TV Star
Word of mouth was the engine that boosted Kolarele's business from the start, and it remains at the center of the flywheel.
But when he started taking his business seriously, he started to make his marketing more conscious. At that moment, he came across Pat Flynn and SPI and was given the instructions he needed to build a website and email list. As someone who likes to write, he maintains an active blog as well as a LinkedIn and Twitter presence on his website. He has his own YouTube channel and has appeared on other channels. In early 2019, he also started the Great Speech Podcast, which is going very well with 25 episodes and counts. In 2019, he even had a small part on an Amazon Reality TV show called The Updaters.
Kolarele counts some of Pat's resources as essential for his business growth, including the guides for email marketing and affiliate marketing as well as Pat's pioneering Will It Fly? Book. He also loves the guide to starting a podcast and has even listed the SPI podcast number one on a list of resources for entrepreneurs on his website.
Missed, passed, misunderstood
On his first day as a lawyer, a senior lawyer moved Kolarele to a conference room in his chambers and asked – seriously – if he could help him buy drugs.
It was a tremendously racist encounter – and hardly the only one of its kind that Kolarele has experienced.
Before COVID, when Kolarele was regularly in court and represented his clients, he got used to being confused with the client rather than the lawyer. "It's embarrassing," he says, that people in his industry generally assume that the white person he represents is the expert, not Kolarele, the accomplished lawyer with more than two decades of experience.
On another occasion, he represented a black woman in a discrimination case where the woman's employers complained that she seemed "always angry". Kolarele pointed out that the stereotype of the angry black woman is one with "real racist, historical foundations". But the judge refused to believe him.
"He yelled at me for saying I'm talking nonsense. And his basis for it was: "I played basketball with some black friends and they never told me that."
Kolarele asked the judge if they could adjourn and then invited him to google "bad black woman". The judge came back nervously a few minutes later. He told Kolarele that his eyes had been opened thanks to an article in the search results above about Michelle Obama and the "angry" label she's been wearing since she became known to the public.
The real problem is the feeling you have, but you cannot necessarily point it out or you cannot challenge it that you are simply excluded from opportunities.
Or take the time at a party when Kolarele got into a conversation about the discrimination he had while trying to call a taxi in London, where taxi drivers often simply refused to stop for him. If he went out with a mixed group of friends, the white friends would call the taxi while the black friends would sit back and jump in as soon as it stopped.
He told the other person, a white woman, that he preferred to use Uber because he didn't have the experience. "I know I'm not going to come over," he said.
The woman was upset and told Kolarele that he was lying.
"I want to:" No, I'm not lying. I'm just saying that that's actually the reality. "
Along with these obvious cases, Kolarele points out how racism affects blacks – and especially entrepreneurs – in a more insidious way.
"The real problem is the feeling you have, but you can't necessarily point it out, or you can't challenge it, that you're only excluded from opportunities that you can show to others with maybe as much or maybe less skill or experience or Offers get the opportunity for. And it kind of pervades it. "
He has observed how often he is overlooked for his communication work despite his immense skills, references and experience.
"I mean, I'm working on it. I study it because I was a lawyer for twenty years. I took it all. I have worked out my approach for this. And yet you will see colleagues or people, friends, whatever, if people want to hire a coach or someone to come in and do something, they will be drawn to these people – even if they put my profile next to them and you say, "Oh yes, we're taking this guy."
"And it's just the feeling of, Ugh, man …"
He has also seen how his wife Eva, who owns a high-end household goods brand called Eva Sonaike that makes furniture from African fabrics, has been left out of contact opportunities offered to white-brand owners with inferior products.
"Your brand is simply incredible – but it has to push and push."
The economic argument for diversity
In addition to the Great Speech Consultancy, Kolarele also advises companies and organizations on issues of diversity and inclusion. When his consulting clients ask him how to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment, he often answers in a surprising way.
"I comment primarily from an almost exclusively economic perspective: Diversity is economically good for you."
In his experience, many companies limit the pool of executives or the number of potential consumers of their products – a blind spot and a missed opportunity. It helps these companies understand that they can unlock latent economic benefits by being more inclusive about who they hire and market. It can be a wise move to make your business more inviting to black consumers by hiring more black employees.
He often says to the leaders of these companies: “Your ability to succeed is directly affected by your own efforts because you miss a large number of people who are just as talented, maybe even more talented, or definitely hungry. and more trainable, more adaptable, because that's the life they had to live. "
"Open yourself up to it because it will help you economically."
Entrepreneurs, want to be anti-racist? Expand your circles
Kolarele believes that not only larger companies and organizations can benefit from a more inclusive approach. It encourages smaller entrepreneurs, especially white entrepreneurs, to seriously consider who is in their "circle" and to consider expanding.
As Kolarele emphasizes, being a thoroughly racist – and luckily the vast majority of people are not – is one thing, but white entrepreneurs don't have to do the job here.
“Nobody generally tries to be racist or to exclude them. But if you find that you generally only speak and deal with a circle, that circle becomes a kind of self-reinforcement. "
He encourages these entrepreneurs to “re-examine every phase of your work pipeline, so to speak. And just say, "Okay, what could we be more open to?"
Whether you're hiring a graphic design contractor or considering the images you use in your marketing materials, "think more about what you're doing at every level."
This issue – expanding your network – was explored by Kolarele in a webinar conversation with the British Small Business Association entitled "Diversity and Inclusion – How Should Small Businesses Respond to the Black Lives Matters Campaign" in July 2020?
He also wants people to see this work as much more than just a trend to stick to. "Really the biggest thing for me is when the cameras are gone, isn't it? When the next big news draws everyone's focus, that's when you need to dig deeper. "
How Lockdown freed things
As COVID prevailed, courts closed, and customers closed their offices, Kolarele saw that his legal work was almost completely dry – a decrease of the order of "90 percent".
Fortunately, this gave him the opportunity to concentrate on the entrepreneurial side of things. While he was initially worried when he saw his legal workload shrinking, this concern was "offset by what it means for the other side of my life".
"COVID and Lockdown gave me the first opportunity to really scale the business and really put everything in it."
Kolarele with his wife Eva and their two children
He has hired more individual coaching customers and has started to set up a group coaching program.
Another advantage was more “thinking time”. He takes more walks that he loves because they are a great source of inspiration. "When I come back, I have a great idea."
He even found the time to write a book.
"It gave me the opportunity to advance an area that is really my passion for working with communication skills, but also more strategic and creative."
Two types of intensity
"I've been in legal play for a good twenty years now, which has given me an excellent foundation for my communication skills business," said Kolarele.
The natural path of his legal career eventually led him to become a Queen’s Counsel (QC) and maybe one day a judge. But Kolarele's heart or ambition doesn't show in this way.
"Everyone says you should do it. And I just decided not to go that route. First and foremost because I enjoy the variety that comes from being both a lawyer and a coach on communication skills. "
He enjoys his legal work, although the intensity can be exhausting. Preparing for a lawsuit is "hours and hours of preparation" that Kolarele often found until two or three in the morning.
"Come on, you can't. It's not sustainable," his wife told him more than once.
The coaching side of things on the other side? "It's a different kind of intensity. Once you've built your system and your approach to it, it's the intensity of the moment of coaching, but beyond that it's less intense."
He would be fine doing a number of important legal cases a year and doing more job coaching with companies "that want to take their employees to the next level in their careers and know that communication skills are required." And although he is an accomplished speaker in the UK, he also wants to be more in demand for his worldwide speaking work.
Not being tied to the region where he works as a lawyer would give Kolarele and his family even more freedom in lifestyle.
"Even if we stay in London (…), I can say yes, we go away for a few weeks or a few months or whatever, because I can work from anywhere."
Kolarele Sonaike is a practicing lawyer and owner of the Great Speech Consultancy. He is also the author of How to Give a Great Speech and the children's book The Bird That Had Vertigo. He has been a mentor, board member and president of 100 Black Men of London and is currently a board member of 100 Black Men of America. He also wrote a screenplay for a film called Wingman – unfortunately never made – that would have been the British swingers. He lives with his wife Eva and their two children in London, Great Britain.