I've just been reading Dan Gershenson's piece in the Personal Branding Blog, "Mastering the Room: Give Great Performances, Beyond Just Presentations." One sentence in particular caught my attention: "It's so very hard to sell an idea being a mediocre presenter."
The blog discusses presentations by people seeking funding from venture capitalists. That's a topic I covered last week in a blog on the art of pitching by entrepreneurs. There's no doubt that seeking VC or angel funding is a high-stakes, high-stress situation. But persuasive speaking skills can be deal-makers or deal-breakers in many other arenas. One of those is personal branding, which is a large part of your professional identity. (To gain skills in speaking dynamically, download our cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
Your Personal Style of Speaking is Part of the Brand
Is there any activity that will increase your visibility and industry leadership more than delivering a powerful and influential speech or presentation? Okay, snagging a Nobel Prize will do it. But if you don't foresee that in your immediate future, your public speaking style is a central part of your brand.
If you doubt it, watch any of the TED Talks of Hans Rosling, a Swedish physician and statistician whose speaking style is equally that of an intellectual and boyish enthusiast.
To put this another way, people whose speaking style is striking, unique, or both will not only be noticed, they'll have a leg up on advancement in their company, profession, or career. The connection between speaking abilities and success is even stronger for entrepreneurs, solo practitioners such as consultants or lawyers, small business owners, and politicians. For these professionals, the brand is the person, and to sell themselves these people must have a marketable speaking style. There are, for example, certain essential speaking techniques for leadership these people can benefit from learning.
Presentations vs. Thinking on Your Feet
Presentations, in which speakers know their reputation is on the line and have time to prepare, are relatively easy tasks where personal branding is concerned. But what about situations where preparation is neither possible nor necessary?
In many professional settings, for example, speaking up, offering an opinion, or asking a thoughtful question often requires thinking on one's feet. In these situations, a speaker must be able to organize his or her thoughts well enough to express ideas clearly and concisely, linking what is being said and the meaning intended.
Sometimes, the two don't mesh at all. Consider this bit of dialogue from the Mad Tea Party in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least—at least I mean what I say—that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "You might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"
"You might just as well say," added the March Hare, "that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!"
"You might just as well say," added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, "that 'I breathe when I sleep' is the same thing as 'I sleep when I breathe'!"
"It is the same thing with you," said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped.
Presentations, on the other hand, more obviously shape your public persona and reputation. In a team presentation, for instance, your co-presenters are counting on you to pull your weight. Of all the types of personal speaking, presentations and speeches offer the greatest opportunities to showcase your expertise and make a memorable impression on your audience. With diligence and practice, you can learn easy ways to become a more charismatic speaker.
How Meetings Display Your Personal Brand
Unlike presentations, meetings offer a subtler display of your personal brand where your speaking style is concerned. People often hold back in meetings, concerned they'll look like a fool or alienate others. You may watch a colleague say what you were thinking, so that the colleague and not you is recognized for energizing or directing the discussion. Or you may speak up without thinking, and so fail to convey your idea clearly or miscommunicate badly.
A client I coached recently had a different problem. He would hesitate to speak up, not because he was concerned with looking foolish but because he thought that what he was going to talk about would be brought up shortly anyway in the course of the discussion. When this failed to occur, he realized too late that the moment had passed. The window of opportunity to speak on that subject had closed, and so had his chance to burnish his personal brand. The fact that his boss was usually present at these meetings with clients was a big reason he was enrolled in coaching at Public Speaking International.
For too many professionals, there's a significant gap between their ability to do their job, and what they convey about themselves through their oral communication and body language: two significant areas of personal branding through public speaking. To not only have a seat at the table but to fill it successfully, any employee's public speaking skills must contribute rather than detract from that individual's personal brand. For instance, there are common body language errors that will sink your presentation.
Otherwise, the person might be perceived as just winging it. And as Dan Gershenson says in his Personal Branding blog, "There's nothing cool about 'winging it'."
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Your speaking style is an important part of your personal brand.
- People whose speaking style is unique have a leg up on advancement.
- For entrepreneurs and consultants, the brand is the person as much as abilities.
- Meetings display your brand as well as more highly visible presentations.
- Your ability to do your job isn't enough: speak well to convey competence.