Key to leadership skills is knowing how to inspire and activate listeners. Here are 6 exciting performance-based ways to persuade any audience.
Scratch any leader and you’ll find someone who knows how to persuade and activate followers. “Leaders speak and speakers lead,” is as true today as it’s ever been.
In today’s digital, Zoom-based world, your messages can be disseminated with dizzying speed and reach. Of course, that also means your skills in speaking for leadership will be on display to a worldwide audience.
Here are six strategies for reliably moving and inspiring audiences. Speaking successfully is no more a hit-or-miss affair than is leadership itself. So use these practices to increase your chances of persuading and activating listeners every time.
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1. Up For Giving a Performance? — You'd Better Be!
There’s a difference of an order of magnitude between a run-of-the-mill speaker delivering information and one who understands speaking performance. I’m constantly amazed at the before-and-after effect of my clients’ speeches once they learn and implement this key element of speaking with presence and charisma.
Does giving an exciting performance seem like too high a hurdle? Your goal is actually easily within your reach once you adopt the right mindset. When you have a firm grasp of a) your specific purpose, and b) the content you’ll use to achieve that purpose, you'll automatically be thinking in terms of engagement and entertainment.
To engage, speak in terms that resonate with these particular listeners . . . and no others. And think of energizing your presentation to bring it up to the level of a performance. Whether you’re speaking in person or virtually, you’ll tap into the larger-than-life element of the theatrical that every leader needs to captivate audiences.
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2. The Magic of Storytelling in Public Speaking
There’s a striking difference between speakers who talk in bullet points and those who tell a story. At a surprisingly early point in any speech, the minds of audience members subjected to wave after wave of content begin to feel saturated and turn off the information intake valve. A story, on the other hand, is a single strand that listeners easily follow as it leads them straight to their destination.
That means your audience will more reliably comprehend and retain everything you're telling them. And that almost certainly means they’ll be more activated by your talk. Add to this the dramatic human elements of a story, with its quests, challenges, and triumphs, and you’ll seem like a leader who really knows how to inspire followers.
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3. Use Evidence as Your Knockout Punch
Your opinion on any topic may be interesting and even fascinating. But your argument only becomes compelling when you back up what you’re saying with evidence.
Consider (as evidence for this claim) my client who touted his company's new product in a sales pitch in a recent practice session. The list of benefits of the product was truly impressive as he explained the firm’s groundbreaking approach.
But somehow, the presentation seemed to sit there, lacking a knockout punch. “Can you give us a case history of a client whose business was transformed by this product?” I asked. And that became the clincher. That evidence pointed up the product's innovation for me; and my client and I agreed it would undoubtedly do so for prospective customers as well.
4. Are You 'Living in the World of Your Audience'?
This aspect of persuading audiences can truly be liberating. Most of us deliver speeches and presentations that are speaker-centered. After all, we are the ones talking; and the content, organization, and delivery of the speech is our affair.
Yet the reason we’re presenting at all is for the audience’s benefit! So the more we live in our listeners' world as we speak, the more likely we will light a fire under them and make something exciting happen in the room.
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You can do this in two ways. First, as you tell your story, change every “I” and “me” to “you” and “we.” “I’d like to discuss what I think are three key ways to improve the team’s performance,” sounds very different from, “So, how can we work more efficiently as a team to show the company what we’re capable of?” The same three key points you intend to make will follow. Second, ask questions (rhetorical or those to be answered) at every opportunity. You’ll be reminding listeners that you’re there for their benefit, not the other way around.
5. It's Simple: Speak Emotionally to Elicit Emotions
Every speech is an emotional transaction between a leader and his or her listeners. There’s no way to avoid it: no matter how esoteric your material, interested audiences will have an emotional stake in the information they'll receive and how it will affect their lives.
Reaching people emotionally in public speaking means using emotional language—and it’s striking how often we simply don’t do so. Consider these famous examples of speakers who knew how to tap into this essential speech component:
- Martin Luther King: “I have a dream.” (Not, “I have a plan.”)
- JFK’s Inaugural: “Now the trumpet summons us again.” (Isn’t that stirring?)
- Winston Churchill: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." (Not, “I promise to work extraordinarily hard and do my best!”)
- Maya Angelou: “Lift up your hearts/Each new hour holds new chances.” (And your listeners will be ready to follow those opportunities.)
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6. Find the Physical Expression of What You’re Saying
Finally, your stirring speech or dynamic presentation will be “but a walking shadow”* of itself without physical expressiveness. When you speak, you are a body in space; and your audiences are certainly watching the performance and making judgments about you and your leadership.
As I tell my clients: Whoever you are, the chances are good that as a speaker, you need to get out of your head and into your body. Words are merely symbols that listeners decode as you speak. Your voice and the way you bring your body into the act are what give your words life and meaning. Or in a word: excitement.
So ask yourself once you know what you’re going to say: “How can I give physical expression to these ideas?” Watch dramatic performances on TV with the sound turned off; or simply find speakers on TED or in person that get physical. Then watch, enjoying the thrill that comes from an energized and inspired performer. Believe me, your audiences will feel the same way.
This article was first published in 2015. It is updated here.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2021 for the eighth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His latest book is The Online Meetings Handbook, now available at The Genard Method and at Amazon. To know more about TGM's services, Contact Gary here.