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Speak for Success!

"Be a voice not an echo." - Albert Einstein

Can Humility Make You a More Successful Speaker? Believe It!

Black business woman model demonstrating one of the essential qualities of leadership.

How essential is humility as a characteristic of leadership? The truth is, it's an important component of stage presence and charisma.

Is humility an attribute you should cultivate as a public speaker?

You'd better believe it!

Granted, you may find this component of great speaking something of a balancing act. After all, as a leader you need the largest audiences possible to deliver your messages and achieve lasting influence.

Do you know how to speak with maximum impact? Can you combine great material with a dynamic performance every time? Your audiences need much more than the delivery of data if you're going to speak as a leader. Discover the correct ratio of content, practice, and performance. Download my essential cheat sheetGreat Speaking? — It's About Performance Over Content!

Once you've found such an audience, however, you must subordinate yourself to the needs of your listeners. And that means displaying humility and the true desire to serve.

Why Should You Be a Humble Speaker?

Why humility? When you’re recognized as a leader, people will assume that you possess ambition in much greater stores than this personality trait. Even if that’s the case, you must display this dimension of your leadership. To borrow from the title of Roger Ailes’s influential book, you are the message when you speak.

Ultimately, your success as a leader depends upon your ability to deliver what stakeholders seek. But you also must be seen serving something other than your own interests. And that means being humble. It all comes down to professionalism.

As a leader, you need to perform at a level above the ordinary. How can you do that consistently? You can start by learning and practicing the The 5 Essential Speaking Techniques of Leadership.

What I mean by that is, you’re tasked with attaining the delicate balance of power and humility that great leaders must display when they speak. It’s part of the brand of stage presence that leaders need in public speaking.

Stage presence and charisma are necessary qualities of leadership.

What's Your Magic Dust? (Or, the Truth About Stage Presence)

Richard Burton, the stage and film star of the late 20th century, was said to have tons of it. Ian McKellen, a current English actor and one I've seen many times on stage, embodies it. So do musicians like Elton John and Lady Gaga, and so did Bill Clinton as president.

It's stage presence. Possess it, and you’ll reliably engage and even electrify audiences. But what is it? And is it as mysterious as people seem to think?

Stage presence is simply demonstrated competence and confidence. Your confidence is there for all to see; and because of it, your performance seems effortless. The type of performance doesn't matter. A business presentation or a 16-year-old’s debate performance in a high-school forensic tournament can demonstrate stage presence as much as more high-profile appearances. Here are 5 acting techniques for greater stage presence in public speaking.

The truth is, there's no magic dust involved. And specialized training isn't required either. Two factors much more old-fashioned and powerful than those things are needed: simplicity, and absolute focus—the kind of focus that comes from attempting to do something well and nothing else. In terms of public speaking, that means trying your best to get your critical message across, and being humble enough to not give a damn how excellent you sound.

3 Ways to Develop Stage Presence for Leadership

Here are three ways to develop stage presence in your public speaking through humility and genuineness, whomever you speak to and whatever your topic:

  1. Count on yourself and your talent. It’s virtually always true that you’re being asked to speak because you are the perfect person for the task. Your knowledge, experience, abilities and wisdom are the attributes that are called for. Trust in that, and in yourself. Remember that it’s your personality even more than your knowledge that reliably moves listeners. That doesn't come from showing off; instead, it means being humble and true.
  2. Be more human than professional. Public speaking is a form of community, and you’re in the bully pulpit leading the way. Whatever your topic or area of expertise, here's essential advice: you should spend less time gathering your content (which you're already strong in) and more time being comfortable in front of a roomful of people, talking to them. People may remember the facts and figures you present, but they will always recall how you made them feel.
  3. Be fully present. Don’t be like Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” dragging the ball-and-chain of the past on stage with you. Forget about what’s on your mind and the fires you’ll be putting out when you get back to the office. Right now, you have just one job: performing at your very best. Be the most mindful and present speaker you can be. That’s serving others. You’ll also have all the stage presence you need.

Altruism and humility in leaders

A survey by the Catalyst Research Center for Advancing Leader Effectiveness found a 35% variance in feelings of belongingness in U.S. employees due to altruistic leader behavior, including humility. In China, it was nearly 70%. 1

Businessman demonstrating one of the examples of public speaking for leadership. 

Develop a Speaking Version of Yourself

So, if you aspire to leadership, from today on think in terms of the “speaking version” of you: confident, present, serving your listeners, and humble. The combination isn’t always easy—but if you want to reach a truly great level of leadership in public speaking, you must get there.

Find a way to identify with your audience’s values and experiences, then externalize the connection by what you say. Most listeners resist speakers whose background or known views are noticeably different from their own. Wherever you can, show that you and your listeners share common ground. Remember that our experiences, motivations and feelings unite all of us around the world far more than they divide us. Create an atmosphere in your presentations that fosters persuasion and believability.

And remember to be interesting! You can judge this for yourself in your practice sessions. If you’re looking forward to just getting this painful experience over with (without sharing your real feelings with listeners), your audience will want it to be over as quickly as you do. Do you know how to prepare and practice efficiently? Here's how to use videotaping in your rehearsals to transform your public speaking.

Here, you can learn from the actor’s art. The persona you show an audience is the essence of everything you display that goes beyond content. That’s a huge determinant of your success. In the end, it’s the equal to whatever else your audience experiences from you. It’s also a more direct route to the influence you’re trying to achieve.

Are You Speaking for the Greater Good?

A final word about serving others rather than yourself, as a professional and as a leader who speaks. It’s from a Fast Company article by Jeff Kavanaugh, contrasting the type of leadership MBA students think makes them marketable, versus what recruiters believe:

Leadership isn’t a skill to be learned in class; it’s the result of doing other things right.

In professional settings, effective leaders aren’t usually people who’ve spent many hours diligently poring over academic case studies on leadership. Rather, they’re simply people who’ve focused on building their own competence—being really good at whatever it is they do—and subsequently developed leadership skills through that competence. 2

1. Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib, “The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders,” Harvard Business Review, May 12, 2014.

 2. Jeff Kavanaugh, “Why Your Leadership Skills Won’t Get You Hired (But These Four Other Things Might),”, March 6, 2017.

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