No matter your spiritual beliefs, there is no denying that great preachers have a large number of followers. I’ve found that the same is true for great leaders. You know, the ones that leave a lasting legacy. They may not enjoy standing in front of an audience or speaking in front of people, but there is no doubt that they influence when they speak.
As a consultant to CEOs and leadership teams, and based on my previous experience coaching professional speakers across the US, I’ve discovered that (nearly) everyone would like to develop their speaking skills. The question then becomes, what makes a communicator popular and influential?
Here are 6 Keys that I’ve distilled from hundreds of lessons gleaned from watching, coaching, and advising others:
- 1. Announce Your Theme: You might begin with something like, "I want to talk to you today about (state your topic).” Another approach is to first ask a question around a defined pain and then announce how you’ll share information to cure it. It might go like this, “How many of you have ever been disappointed by your team? Today, I’ll give you 3 ways to help your team achieve their goals."
- 2. Humor and Deprecation are OK: Although you may think you are hilarious, humor can be risky. It’s best to test your humor one-on-one (or in small groups) before you meet with your important audience. It will give you practice with pausing, pacing, and voice inflection for the most influential approach. Making fun of yourself can be endearing while the risk is to overdo it. A little seasoning makes a good meal but too much ruins the meat.
- 3. Become a Storyteller: No, I don’t mean fib. What I mean is weave your lesson within a story directly related to your theme. These stories don’t have to be long and should include vivid details that paint a clear picture, one that can be imagined in the mind. This becomes an anchor for your key points in the mind of listeners.
- 4. Reverse It: It's not a fancy strategy, but it's easily understood. You'll hear it in many great speeches or presentations. It's just a bit of "it's not a reason not to do this, it's a reason to do it." This is a memorable approach and might sound like, “Once you know you can’t fail, you won't run from businesses challenges, you'll run at them.” Or, “ You won't run away from leadership challenges feeling unqualified, you'll run toward challenges eager to resolve them."
- 5. Practice: Even with experience, it can take you 2-5 times as long to prepare as to deliver your message. That means a minimum of 2-10 hours preparation for one hour of delivery. This does not include the rehearsal. When a leader makes it look easy, you can be sure that they have practiced and rehearsed.
- 6. Use Notes Sparingly: Avoid leaning on your notes yet using them is OK. Place notes discreetly on a table, put short bullets on your slides, offer a brief handout, and forget grammar. The goal is to glance at notes and quickly regain audience eye contact. Key five above (practice) will help, yet there are times when you really need to follow your outline or script. Use a large font (13-16 point) for notes; use bold font, italics, and indents to guide your eyes quickly; and eliminate unnecessary words to make it easy to formulate speaking points (a, an, the, etc.). If you must pick up or hold your notes, move your thumb as marker down the paper to quickly guide your eyes and remember to look, read, and then look up before you speak. This last point allows you to reconnect with your audience before sending the message.
The above six keys will help you inspire your team. Could you next add an inspirational story or video? Sure. But, beware of forcing “inspiration” just because you think that’s what you need. First, make sure the six keys of theme, humor, stories, reverse, practice, and notes are well done. Doing this will help inspire even the demoralized or discouraged, saving communication time and helping you gain a following like a great preacher.
Great communication is not just a time-saving device, it's essential for success as a leader.
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