Strategy & LeadershipThe importance of public speaking

The importance of public speaking

An email from your boss can work, but it’s not nearly as effective as hearing it directly in person. It’s the nuance and passion that’s hard to convey with the written word. This is why we still have conferences despite living in a digital age.

Whether speaking one-to-one or to a larger group, senior leaders need to be able to speak with confidence and authenticity, this comes down to two areas: how comfortable they are in their own skin and how clear (and relevant) their message is. Here are my top ten tips for senior leaders wanting to connect with their stakeholders in the modern, post ‘control and command’, digital world:

  1. Be authentic.

Nobody wants a boss who sounds like a slick salesperson. I love it when someone in a shop says ‘Seriously, you don’t need this.’ I trust them immediately and probably buy something else from them instead! To build authenticity, we want our leaders to believe what they’re saying. This starts with them using their own voice – avoiding the over-projected sound of a stern teacher. They should try to sound like they do when they’re talking to their friends and family. Their voice should ideally come from their lower stomach so that it’s emotionally connected.

  1. Be clear.

Have a clear vision and a clear direction. As we know, post millennials, in particular, demand a clear purpose. Try to avoid chopping and changing direction with endless new strategies.

  1. Be passionate.

It’s not just on a platform that leaders need to be inspiring. It’s amazing what a smile in the lift or a cheerful word by the coffee machine can do for morale. The worst thing leaders can do is look like they don’t care. Remember, a dash of passion and a spark of humanity will go a long way.

  1. Wait two seconds before you start speaking. 

This gives you time to compose yourself and get the audience’s attention when speaking to a larger group. We tend to feel more nervous at the start, so if we begin speaking before we get settled it looks as if we just want the whole thing over with! It is better to get to our position, breathe out, breathe in again, and then start speaking.

  1. Start well.

Here are two of the classic ways to grab an audience’s attention right from the start:

(i) Tell them something personal:

“I never won a prize at school. In fact, I’ve never even won a raffle ticket.”

(ii) Start in the middle of a story:

“Sixteen years ago, on Christmas Eve my phone rang. I wasn’t going to answer it …but after a few rings I did …”

  1. Be encouraging.

Try to find reasons to encourage and accept employees’ ideas, rather than blocking them at every turn. Good leaders roll up their sleeves and say, ‘How can I help?’ Leave negativity to the Risk Department – encourage your leaders to run the ‘Yes We Can Department!’ Making a speech is a great chance to show your encouragement.

  1. Be empowering.

Leaders should remember to put themselves in an employees’ shoes. Listen to them. What are their concerns and worries? Of course, the first step in understanding and empowering people is to value them. Charisma is about making other people feel special. It comes from the Greek meaning ‘favour freely given’ or ‘gift of grace’. So, counter intuitively, charisma is not about a leader bigging themselves up – it’s about making other people feel special.

  1. Be human.

Remember the workplace is not just about work. In a world where electronic communication has almost entirely taken over lives, the most important thing to remember is that whenever leaders communicate, they are speaking with human beings not simply ‘employees’. They have highs and lows, joys and sadness. They will always respond when leaders speak to them in a human way – as they would with a friend.

  1. Be consistent.

The teachers we liked best at school had clear and consistent boundaries. It’s difficult for a child if a teacher is strict one day and lenient the next. As adults too, we like to know where we stand with someone, every day. A boss who blows hot and cold might keep a team on their toes, but it won’t make them feel secure. Keep your messages and your personal style consistent.

  1. End well.

And finally, try coming back to the idea that you started with. It’s what I call the Headline Sandwich. It makes your message appear tighter and makes it more memorable.

Using the examples above you could try:

(i) “So even if you’ve never won anything in your life, it’s no indication of what you can actually achieve!”

(ii) “So if your phone rings on Christmas Eve, you never know who might be at the other end!”

I advise my C-suite clients to be themselves and remember that when they give a speech, it is not about them. It should always be about the audience. They must be relevant, clear and make their audience feel special. If they do that, they will come across as focused, authentic, charismatic, and they’ll connect far better with post millenials as well.

Robin Kermode coaches communication skills to C-suite leaders and their teams

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