Leaders get things done through their personality—the way they communicate their strategy, caring and sense of purpose.
“The ability to speak convincingly to others – to compel them – has to rank as one of the most important skills in business and in life,” notes Canadian presentation—skills consultant Jim Gray in his 2010 book, How Leaders Speak. Yet it’s one skill that few people consciously develop—even though it can make or break your business or career.
Gray’s book is intended to help all leaders become more convincing communicators. The good news: “Great speakers are made, not born,” he says.
Gray builds his book around the “five keys to speaking like a leader”: Preparation, certainty, passion, engagement and commitment.
Here’s what he means by each “key.”
Preparation: The best speakers are rigorous and disciplined about being prepared for their communication opportunities, says Gray. They take time to think about who their audience is, and what the listeners need to know to respond positively to the message to be delivered. “Winging it” is for losers. According to Gray, “Audiences can tell, astonishingly quickly, whether speakers have taken the time to learn anything about them or not.”
Gray’s secret: as part of your prep, prepare a “nugget” in your message – valuable information that your audience likely doesn’t know. If you can’t find the nugget, create it – by talking to industry insiders or conducting your own survey (formal or otherwise) to develop new knowledge with which to intrigue your listeners.
Certainty: “Certainty in your presentation means confidence in yourself, in your story, and in your ability to take on any situation,” says Gray. Make sure your audience is ready to hear you (don’t start if they’re still fiddling with their BlackBerrys). Speak with confidence, and offer a personal anecdote early on that demonstrates your personality and builds your credibility.
Gray’s tip for developing certainty: speak slowly. Many speakers rush through their presentations, because they have so much fabulous material; by taking it slow, you’re emphasizing your key points and your unshakeable confidence.
Passion: Your words may be pretty, inspiring or challenging, but it’s your passion that will build the relationship with your audience. Don’t let your voice falter or go faint; use a wireless microphone so you are free to move about the platform; and be enthusiastic about every point you make (if there are topics you’re not passionate about, consider leaving them out).
In the middle of a presentation, never ask yourself how you’re doing; ask yourself how your audience is feeling. Build to a strong close, with strong ideas and strong words. Give ’em something to remember you by!
Engagement: Find ways to connect with your audience. Make sure you understand their hopes, their fears. Know who their heroes are; if any are in the audience, take time to salute them. Make eye contact with your audience; overuse the word “You”; use repetition to clarify and reinforce key messages.
If your presentation has been recorded, review it as soon as you can. Note especially where you engaged the audience, and where you think you started to lose them. If they’re not engaged, you haven’t done your job.
Commitment: Speaking like a leader isn’t just for the podium: “It demands that you communicate with excellence in every situation imaginable, whether the audience consists of one or one thousand.” Be definitive, says Gray; think solutions; and stay optimistic. Pessimists don’t inspire anyone.