Are you ready for prime time?
If you're in a leadership role or transitioning to one, you're probably concerned with achieving executive presence. And that means giving a great performance, whatever type of speaking you do. So why not learn from the world of the actor? Below are five performance-based approaches you can follow to raise your performances from acceptable to memorable, and perhaps even extraordinary:
Do you know how to combine your content with a dynamic speaking style? To learn how, read my free Insights article, "Great Speaking? — It's About Performance Over Content!"
1. Embody Your Message. For emerging leaders as well as actors, aiming for excellence in the finished product is always a trap. The actor aims for truth instead. From the performer’s dedication to the truth of every moment in the character’s life, excellence in the performance will emerge.
Emerging leaders must not try to be excellent, but to foster excellence in others and in the organization. That is their role—a fact that should be the bedrock of their public speaking. As an emerging leader, you should be what you want to seem to be. Charisma, executive presence, and influence will then flow naturally from who you are.
Like the central paradox in acting (honesty leads the audience to believe that the actor is someone they know that person is not in real life), you can only reach your goal by not trying to get there directly. Forget yourself in your total commitment to expressing your message, and your audience will discover who you are. Don’t worry about how you’re doing—be totally focused on getting others to understand. Step off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. To discover the spotlight and speak with charisma, see my article "5 Acting Techniques for Greater Stage Presence in Public Speaking."
2. Be Human (Don’t Be Such an Executive!). What I mean by this is, find the emotional truth of what you’re saying. Discover what you feel—for this is what your audience needs to feel as well. It’s through what you feel that your speaking develops a heartbeat, exactly the way an actor’s performance makes a character come to life.
In other words, don’t speak from the neck up. Every speaker runs the risk of focusing on content rather than the purpose of the speech—how it should affect the people in the seats. For leaders especially this can be deadly. Think of the last speech from a leader that moved you. What accomplished that effect: the data points delivered, or the way the speaker made you feel? Let other presentations educate listeners; your job is to inspire them. Yes, Steve Jobs created great products—but he thrilled us by telling us how they would change our lives.
3. Think with Your Body. Your body is wise in a way your mind isn’t because it doesn’t depend on judgments to filter experiences. It feels them and remembers them viscerally not intellectually. It therefore contains enormous power as a communication tool.
Do you find a physical expression for the things you say? Your body exists to support and amplify your message through gestures, movement, facial expressions, and the other nuances of nonverbal communication. Physicality in public speaking isn’t an add-on for emerging leaders but a necessity. To excite, motivate, and activate stakeholders, get your body into the act. At times it will surprise you through the power with which it expresses an idea, even when you didn’t intend for it to. To use body language to speak for leadership, take a look at my blog "Body Language and Power Poses: How to Achieve Amazing Presence."
4. Tell Your Story. Remember the opening scene of the film The Godfather? The camera reveals the face of Bonasera, the undertaker, telling Don Corleone about the assault on his daughter. “She found a boyfriend . . . She went for a drive with him and another boyfriend. They tried to take advantage of her. She resisted . . . she kept her honor. So they beat her like an animal.”
The scene is riveting because this undertaker takes his listener (and us) step by step through his daughter’s awful ordeal because he craves revenge. Few things would have set up so powerfully one of the major themes of The Godfather—the difference between relying on the social structure of America versus the blood ties of one’s family—like this scene.
Personal, real, filled with human detail—this is how stories weave their magic. Every time you speak as a leader, you’re telling a story. I don’t necessarily mean “storytelling.” But there’s a narrative, an arc, and a shape to the particulars you’re describing, or there should be. Find what it is in every particular case. It will give your talk forward momentum and drive—always interesting where the dry recital of facts can be deadening. Here's how to tell great stories as a speaker.
5. Speak with Honesty and Passion. Finally, a reminder that honesty and passion cover a multitude of sins in terms of public speaking for leadership. Like the actor, your honesty opens the door to influence with listeners. The actor concerned with the fineness of his or her portrayal will not reach that goal, since untrue moments cannot add up to a honest performance. Similarly, if your audience believes they are seeing the real you, they’ll relax and open up to your influence. But they’ll spot spin, artifice, and narcissism from a mile away.
And if you believe, be passionate in your delivery. Your voice is easily your subtlest and most flexible tool for expressing all the facets of your important message. If you’re not strong vocally, find a speech coach to get you to the level emerging leaders need to speak at. John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman. Strong vocal performers all, which is part of the reason we know their names.
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