Does your leadership team use public speaking as a strategic tool? Here's how to consistently reach your goals with key stakeholders.
When it comes to reaching and influencing stakeholders, your leadership team owns a powerful tool. Your organization may already be aware of this instrument, though chances are you’re not using it to its full potential.
The tool is public speaking—and the impetus behind it shouldn’t be information delivery but an unwavering focus on influence.
Your leadership team should be using its communication to stakeholders, from in-house meetings all the way up to board presentations, as a device calibrated for strategy. Every time your leaders speak, they should not only be serving that meeting’s immediate needs, but also furthering your company’s long-term goals.
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Let’s look at an approach I call 3 Tools of Influence that can help jump start your team’s ability to achieve that type of influence in speeches, meetings, and presentations.
How to Analyze an Audience and Determine Its Needs
Leadership teams, like many speakers, often answer the call of duty concerning a presentation by asking the question, “What should I talk about?” But there’s a more important first question to ask oneself, and it starts not with “What,” but “Who?”
Wherever your expertise and experience lies—CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, and so on—you will only achieve the impact you're looking for when you understand as clearly as possible who you’re talking to. The requirements of key audiences can indeed be sliced thinly in terms of what you need to say to them and how you want them to respond.
A well-considered audience analysis would provide the guidelines you need in this regard. Here's how to conduct an audience analysis so you understand the nature and the needs of the key stakeholders you're trying to influence.
Factors such as demographics, education level, and cultural considerations are low-hanging fruit. But what about expectations and preferences as to how these listeners like to receive information? High-level audiences such as committees and boards are certainly not looking for the same level of detail, for instance, as operational personnel. How much information do these listeners already have that you therefore won’t need to spend time on?
Is there an emotional context to this meeting that should inform your approach? What are the likely challenges and objections that exist with this audience? Finally, consider the actionable benefit you want to occur to your having spoken. Spending time on the above considerations will make you far more attuned to listeners’ needs than sallying forth armed only with information that isn’t shaped for this specific audience.
Deciding on a Specific Purpose Is a Key Element of Effective Presentations
Leadership teams get as cozy as any of us inside the comfort zone of information and data. Changing stakeholders’ hearts and minds, however, is a messy affair—and the clearer your team is on how to manage it, the more likely its success will be in using that information.
The way to achieve that goal is to create a specific purpose for your talk. This is a direct process that can nevertheless be eye opening in steering you toward the outcome you want to occur. If you're wondering whether you're getting through to listeners the way you intend to, here are seven specific ways to measure success in your speeches and presentations .
To generate your specific purpose, come up with an infinitive verb concerning what you’re trying to achieve—and make it strong and active. “To educate my audience,” is one thing, for instance; “to inspire them,” is another. What do you really want to do with this audience? Is it challenge, activate, excite, win over, revitalize, or admonish them? Creating a specific purpose will help you go far beyond simply speaking about your topic, so that your speech is purpose-driven and action-oriented.
This element of my 3 Tools of Influence is often a revelation to the leadership teams I work with. Suddenly, both the deeper and long-term goals they’re trying to effect with, say, a board of directors comes clearly into view. Presentations then take their place (in the team’s own minds) as a strategic element of ongoing goals the team and the organization and striving to achieve.
Engage Listeners To Be Sure They Hear Your Compelling Message
The third tool of influence is more tactical than strategic, and is firmly rooted in the performance of the team: creating engagement in listeners. Here's more on why your public speaking success depends as much upon your performance as it does upon your content.
That is, your audience analysis has allowed you to understand your listeners’ needs and expectations. Given that information, you’ve thought carefully about the specific purpose you’re trying to achieve with them. Now you need to engage them sufficiently so they’re interested, attentive, and open to influence—and will stay that way through your full presentation.
Engagement, in other words, is essential if your team is truly going to change the thoughts, feelings, and actions of stakeholders. The ways you can do this depend upon a number of factors including your team’s strengths and styles of speaking, the makeup of your audience, the timing and conditions of the meeting or other event, the nature of your industry, the immediacy of the action required, and so on. Your tools include visuals, demonstrations, evidence in the form of reports or findings, videos, case histories, guest speakers, and other elements you may find provocative or indisputable.
And don’t forget a humble but always powerful tool of influence: the questions you ask. These are questions that you may provide answers for, or simply allow to emerge, not to be ignored. In this way, you'll be bringing your audience into the action. Now that you're fully aware of the destination you're aiming for and the nature of the people you're taking there, it’s simply a way for you and them to go there enjoyably together.
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