Want to make what you say matter? Practice these 12 essential skills to be a leader who moves and inspires audiences!
Leaders speak, and speakers lead.
Whether you’re contributing at a team meeting, presenting in a boardroom, or delivering a conference keynote, if you’re the one speaking, you’re leading.
Or you should be.
The duties of a leader take many forms—but an undeniable one is speaking for leadership. So how do you assume the mantle of leadership as a speaker? What are the attributes that help you stand out from the crowd when you’re literally standing in front of a crowd? How do you broadcast leadership in everything you say and show?
Leadership Is a Performance Skill
You may possess many traits that get you to a position of leadership. But when it comes to public speaking, it’s your skills in performance that equal in importance anything you say.
Audiences pay close attention, and they make important decisions based on what they see and hear. Those perceptions, of course, will continue to influence their thoughts, feelings, and actions long after you’ve finished speaking.
Let’s take a look, then, at a dozen skills of spoken performance that will strengthen your ability to captivate audiences. These performance techniques aren’t related to your content, or even to the years of dedication and hard work that got you to this place. And they’re skills you don’t learn in business school.
Like all the work we do helping to mold speakers for leadership at The Genard Method, these approaches are based in the techniques of the theater. They are actor-based methods that are the world’s best strategies for moving and inspiring audiences. So they’re custom-made for any leader’s toolbox.
12 Ways to Command a Stage in Speaking as a Leader
1. Display a Leader’s Confidence and Control: Confidence in a speaker is self-perpetuating. Listeners will simply be willing to believe what you say (and to buy into your vision) if they perceive you are confident in front of an audience. You will see their belief in your credibility through their body language, which will make you more confident. So even if you’re self-conscious, make an effort to broadcast confidence. You’ve heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy, haven’t you?
2. Launch Strongly and Conclude Powerfully: The most important parts of your talk are your opening and closing. Your speech is like a NASA mission: if it launches successfully, it has a good chance of succeeding. If it doesn’t, the mission ends right there. Use one of these 12 foolproof ways to start a speech, and learn how to conclude a speech vividly and memorably. Your performance will stand out as much as these bookends of your presentation.
3. Give Your Audience a Roadmap of Your Talk: Let the audience know where you’re going together—then take them there. Audiences want to feel that they’re in good hands; and the speaker who lays out a clear plan of action is one who sounds like a leader. As Dale Carnegie said, “Tell ‘em what you’re going to say, say it, then tell ‘em what you’ve said.” Make it all as easy as you can for listeners to follow your argument.
4. Move Fluidly, Powerfully, and with Purpose: Learn this essential lesson if you don’t already know it: what audiences see where you’re concerned is how they’ll judge you. Be the picture of self-assurance. Avoid awkward jerky movements, weak or repetitive gestures, or deer-in-the-headlights lack of movement at a lectern. All of those habits advertise self-doubt. Make your gestures clean, spare, and few in number, i.e., when you use a gesture, make it count.
5. Take Charge of Your Performance Space: Your performance space is yours to command—however large or small that space is. You’re a body moving in space, and your use of a stage is just as important an aspect of body language as gestures. Don’t wander the stage or pace back and forth like a tiger in a cage—instead make your movement purposeful. And that lectern? Leave it behind and stand center-stage if you can. That looks like leadership!
6. Speak with the Voice of a Leader: If your voice isn’t a powerful leadership asset, get help with it. You might be amazed at what a speech coach—especially one trained as an actor—can do to improve your vocal impact. To put it plainly: you should learn how to use your voice to influence others. A theater professor when I was an undergraduate used to say, “If your voice is weak, you’re a weak person.” Not true by a long shot, of course. But it’s the impression you give audiences through your voice that matters; and if that becomes their reality, you’re cooked.
7. Aim for Clarity and Conciseness: Many are the bleached bones of corporate high-flyers that now litter the stages of speaking venues. These are executives who were past masters at understanding their industry, and so didn’t feel the need to prepare for high-profile presentations. “I can talk about this forever,” they told themselves; and it came to feel that way for their audiences. You should know how to be a clear, concise, and compelling speaker. Often, the more you talk, the less your audience will want you to.
8. Tell Stories: Storytelling is your most valuable currency as a leader. Facts and data inform. But you need to get to the emotional heart of your message. Stories are almost the whole game when trying to move an audience emotionally. And remember this: the more important a decision—yes, even business decisions—the more people make it emotionally. You’ll find lots of expert opinion on why storytelling works in public speaking, but the core of it is this: Stories light the fire of people's emotions. If you’re not inspiring followers, why are you speaking?
9. Use the Magic of Language: To take your talks from mundane to magical, discover the power of our language. Lincoln knew how to speak simply and plainly; so did Steve Jobs, and in just the same way. To understand how it’s done, learn the Winston Churchill method for becoming an exciting speaker. Especially, use comparisons, metaphors, visual imagery, and similes, all of which can make your message come vibrantly alive. Go back to the previous paragraphs of this article and you’ll see some examples sprinkled throughout (that’s one too!).
10. Show Your Passion: Few things compel the attention of listeners more than a speaker’s passion. Whether we agree or disagree, we can hardly resist considering an argument if the speaker displays his or her beliefs heart and soul. Passion also allows an audience to forgive a multitude of sins in a speaker’s platform skills. Play it safe as most presenters do, and your talk may disappear without a trace. But be passionate, and I’ll not only listen, but remember.
11. Be Conversational: The Age of Oration sickened and died sometime between JFK’s inauguration and Bill Clinton’s presidency. And George W. Bush laid the headstone. Audiences today don’t want formal speeches; and videos have trained all of us to receive information quickly and entertainingly. So just talk to audiences if you want to establish rapport. Find this difficult with a large group? It’s a skill worth attaining for the cost-to-benefit ratio. Remember: each member of that audience is the same individual you talk to one-on-one in other settings.
12. Create a Physical Expression of Your Message: Think of this as your culminating skill, the capstone to your speech or presentation. Have you embodied your speech, rather than just delivering data? When you speak as a leader, it’s your persona customers are buying more than anything else. So learn the 5 key body language skills of speaking for leadership. When you think about it, physical expression is what public speaking performance is all about. Sending an email or a report is one thing. But a speech or presentation? . . . Ah, now you’re talking!
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