Communication maven heads to Hong Kong to share wisdom

Michelle Tillis Lederman
Michelle Tillis Lederman

SOUTH ORANGE / WEST ORANGE, NJ — South Orange resident and West Orange native Michelle Tillis Lederman’s communications expertise has afforded her the opportunity to speak in front of some of the biggest corporations and institutions in the nation, from Morgan Stanley to Johnson & Johnson and General Electric. But soon Lederman’s ability to help others practice effective communication will take her outside the United States and around the world to Hong Kong, where she will make a presentation at that city’s most prestigious management event.

Lederman will serve as the guru speaker — also referred to as a “keynote speaker” — for the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management’s 35th annual People First Conference on Nov. 24, where she will discuss the “relationship-driven leader.” Specifically, she will teach the hundreds of business and human resource professionals in attendance about how forming relationships with peers and superiors can drive productivity, engagement and loyalty in the workplace.

Though Lederman has given countless lectures in her capacity as the founder of the communications training firm Executive Essentials, she said this is the first time she has ever been asked to speak internationally. And she is looking forward to the experience.

“I was quite honored (when they invited me),” Lederman told the News-Record in a Nov. 10 phone interview, explaining that the institute actually pursued her for two years for the role. “We’re making a family trip out of it. So I’m honored and excited to be their guru speaker.”

Extraordinary setting aside, Lederman said she is grateful for any opportunity to teach communication skills, because communication is the foundation of every type of relationship. And while much goes into effective communication, she said it is most important to simply be empathetic.

“Look at it from the other person’s perspective,” Lederman said. “What’s important to them? What’s in it for them? What do they care about? Then position what you are trying to convince them of in terms of what’s important to them, and you’ll be more successful.”

Lederman also stressed the importance of adapting one’s own communication style to that of the people around them. Everyone has their own way of interacting with others, she explained, which can lead to friction if two people’s styles conflict. To avoid this, she said people should always be flexible when working with others to ensure there are no conflicts.

At the same time, Lederman said being yourself is also vital — especially during job interviews.

“Authenticity is key in an interview,” Lederman said. “If you put on what we call the ‘interview mask’ and you act the way you think they want you to act, and then when you get the job and show up and they get a different person, everybody’s unhappy. So you need to bring your authentic self to the interview, and the other thing is you have to go in with the confidence of knowing and believing that you bring your skills and capabilities to the table and that they are a valuable asset to the firm.”

Clearly Lederman has much advice to give, enough to fill four books, numerous speeches, multiple training and coaching sessions and many appearances in the national media. But even she said it is impossible to be a perfect communicator. In fact, though she has received extensive training en route to becoming a communications expert — in addition to picking up a lot during her years working in finance, when she would often be the only woman trying to communicate with a room full of men — she said that she is always learning new ways to improve her own brand and message.

Still, Lederman said being the best communicator goes a long way in helping a person’s professional and personal lives. Looking back at her own past relationships, she recalled getting into a lot of arguments with her significant others, believing at the time that conflict was good because communication came out of it. Now that she knows what effective communication truly is, she said her marriage is a completely different story.

“I’ve actually never had a fight with my husband, and we’ve been married over 11 years,” Lederman said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t disagree, it just means we know how to talk through it. Even just communicating ‘I’m cranky’ makes a difference.”

Having established herself as a successful communications expert, Lederman now wants to make a difference philanthropically. Her book “Heroes Get Hired,” which explains how soldiers can leverage the skills they learned in the military to find employment after serving, is free to all veterans and their spouses.

Plus, once she gets home from Hong Kong, the six-year South Orange resident said she is planning on offering her services to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, considering that many parents have criticized the board for not being communicative.

Aside from that, Lederman said she hopes to continue giving back to her community moving forward, which she pointed out is an excellent way of becoming a better communicator.

“You’re always networking and you’re always building relationships,” Lederman said. “And for me, there are no stronger relationships than the ones in the community in which you are living and raising your family.”

What made a big difference in Lederman’s life was simply growing up in West Orange. She said she is proud to be a product of the township’s public school system from kindergarten all the way through high school, where she was part of the Class of 1989. It was the education with which she was provided during that time that put her on the path to becoming the person she is today, she said.

“West Orange was a place I thought was supportive,” Lederman said. “It had options. I took a public speaking class in my junior year. I took accounting in my junior and senior years. I was the editor for the literary magazine for the school. So it really gave me opportunities to test out those things that I later applied in life.”

To learn more about Lederman, visit