Judith Humphrey

Toronto, Ontario

Judith Humphrey resonates with The September for many reasons. Not only is she bright, witty, engaging and stylish, she also founded The Humphrey Group – a trailblazer company that zeroes in on how to communicate clearly – and is a family friend of our own CEO Christine Carlton. Which is why these two dynamos sat down for a chat that’s part business, part personal and all inspirational.

CC - There’s so much to cover with your prodigious career, but let’s start at the beginning. How and why did you start your business?

JH - I launched The Humphrey Group 30 years ago because I saw an opportunity. As a speech writer I knew that top leaders needed to be strong speakers, so I decided to develop a business that would deliver communications training to them. This proved to be a “sweet spot” in the market.

CC - Give us a brief overview of what The Humphrey Group does.

JH - The Humphrey Group delivers communications training for leaders at all levels (not just C-Level executives) and we are truly global – coaching and training clients in the US, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

CC - How have you been able to achieve this growth?

JH - Through amazing partnerships with large companies. One of our biggest partnerships has been with IBM. We developed our women’s program, Taking the Stage, with IBM, and have reached over 500,000 women worldwide. We also have wonderful partnerships with Canada’s major banks, and these have taken us to Europe, the Caribbean, the US and elsewhere. We’ve also been privileged to work with Microsoft, HSBC, Deloitte and Walmart.

CC - In addition to building a successful business, you’ve written three impressive books: Speaking as a Leader (2012), Taking the Stage (2014) and Impromptu: Leading in the Moment (2017). Do you see yourself as a writer?

JH - I see myself as a thought leader and wrote the books to give those who don’t have access to our training an opportunity to build their communication skills. All three books will do that.

CC - I love your book for women, Taking the Stage. Your view on empowering women is comprehensive – you don’t start in the boardroom but on the playground. You say that girls are taught to fit in, not stand out.

JH - Yes, and for that reason, when women are in the boardroom they typically don’t want to call too much attention to themselves. They speak with softer, often tentative voices, they over-apologize and use caveats like “I’m not sure” or “It’s just a thought.” Such patterns encourage others to interrupt us and not take our views as seriously as we’d like.

CC - How can women learn what you call “the power of presence”?

JH - Presence begins with being completely focused on the moment. It also includes having strong body language: standing and sitting tall and using gestures that extend from the shoulder (not from the elbow or wrist). It also involves open arms (not crossed or folded). As well, don’t smile too much. Your face should be expressive and warm but not artificially “happy.”

CC - You taught me so many things and one of my favourites is “the elevator pitch.” Can you share that?

JH - The elevator pitch is a short script that effectively positions you in the eyes of others. It can be a personal elevator script that promotes your “personal brand” or it can be a pitch that tells others who you are professionally. Imagine you’re at a networking event and you introduce yourself. What would you say? This is your pitch. Tips for creating your pitch: use your first and last name; don’t say what your job is, say what your leadership role is; use confident language; and keep it to about 30 seconds.

CC - Having a pitch ready isn’t impromptu, yet you encourage women to lead in the moment – how can we do that?

JH - I say in my book, Impromptu, that you have to prepare to be successfully spontaneous. The more you prepare, the more successful you will be. This includes job interviews, Q+As, meetings, networking events, toasts and corridor and elevator chats. While we want to come across as spontaneous in these situations, we should think ahead whether we have two days, two minutes or two seconds, and ask ourselves how we are going to structure our thinking in the moment.

CC - In Speaking as a Leader you say we can lead whether in a phone call or in a boardroom. What are some of the ways we can do this?

JH - Leadership in every situation requires that we: (1) have the intention to lead; (2) read our audience; (3) have a message in our mind that we want to deliver; and (4) have some supporting arguments for that message.

CC - You taught me so much about fashion and style when I was young. Has that always been a passion of yours?

JH - Yes, I’ve always loved fashion. My mother was my inspiration. She was an amazing seamstress who dressed her five girls in the most elegant clothes. She made us all smocked dresses and we wore matching ballet slippers. In the winter we wore black velvet dresses with white bibs and satin sashes, with shoes to match the sashes. My mom’s dresses were so beautiful they have even been worn at Presidential inaugurations.

CC - You’re obviously passionate about design too. Tell us about your breathtaking home.

JH - I love our home – it reminds me of New England, where I grew up. I was searching for many years for a home like this, and when the realtor told me it was coming on the market, I said, “I’ll buy it.” It’s over 100 years old and has the most wonderful “bones” and amazing gardens.

CC - You are now retired from The Humphrey Group and your son has taken over running it. What do you think he’s learned from you when it comes to business?

JH - He’s learned a lot, particularly about what makes a business valuable and how to protect and build that value. He’s doing a great job with that!

CC - Given the current climate, what do you think the women leaders of tomorrow need to know?

JH - They need to know that a successful career is not an easy ride for women, nor is it for men. But driving yourself to succeed is well worth the effort. And if you project confidence, even if you don’t feel it inside, you will have abundant opportunities to shine and succeed.

If you'd like to read more about Judith, please visit www.judithhumphrey.com.

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