Looking for ways to speak for leadership? You need to embody some essential attributes. Here are the 7 leadership qualities of great speakers.
If you want to speak as a leader, you should stop trying to look and sound like one.
It's more important that you embody certain key attributes of leaders who speak. And that means refining some of the qualities you equate with leadership.
Learn the secrets of speaking with absolute confidence and focus whoever your audience is. For insights on commnicating to lead, download my free e-book High-Impact Speaking: A Leader's Guide to Presenting with Integrity and Influence.
To Speak to Lead, Serve Your Audience
Speaking as a leader means you must share some destinations with other forms of leadership, while taking a different road toward others. You need to be visible, self-assured, a good communicator, sometimes bold, and highly focused on the task at hand. You may even benefit by taking chances. But here's a key difference: while leaders understand the need to serve to some extent, as a speaker that characteristic must take precedence over all others.
Who are the great speakers from history that you admire? Lincoln? JFK? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Susan B. Anthony? Jackie Kennedy in her televised tour of the White House?
Every one of these speakers didn't visibly care about achieving excellence. They did care about sharing with their audience the values, ideas, and vision in which they and their listeners had a mutual interest.
Effective Communication Skills Transcend Industries
Change the context from politics to business, nonprofit service, science, or any other field and the reality is the same: to inspire audiences, you must give of yourself over and over again. After all, it is called "giving" a speech! Trying to make audiences respond more to you than to what you're saying is a common mistake that will keep you from true influence.
So, aside from the expected qualities of vision, experience, credibility, and eloquence, what are the "gifts" leaders give their audiences when they speak?
The 7 Attributes You Need to Speak as a Leader
Listeners who don't trust a speaker will never truly open up to that person's influence. Honesty is a key component here of course. But for speeches and presentations to rise above the ordinary, the level of honesty must achieve actual integrity. Audiences will be willing to change only for a speaker who shows that he or she walks the walk. Models: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Dalai Lama, Rosa Parks.
Speeches should be conversational, but they're also performances. Physically and vocally, great speakers take hold of listeners' imagination and say, "Wait until you hear this!" The speech that isn't vital in terms of an energized performative will stay firmly glued to the earth. As an actor, I strove for that level of intensity in every performance, and I still do as a speaker. Here are six rules of effective public speaking that will get you off to a great start. Models: Theodore Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary Roach, Winston Churchill, George S. Patton.
One of the shortcomings of our culture is speakers who are more concerned with their Twitter followers or book sales than the needs of their listeners. "Goodwill," on the other hand, means benevolence or concern with the audience's interests. How many high-powered speakers demonstrate that attribute? Not many, perhaps, but great speakers have always done so. Models: George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mahatma Gandhi.
Surprised at this one? Along with integrity, audiences look for some level of vulnerability in a speaker. No one wants a presenter suited up in medieval armor, because we can't get through to such a person (which is the whole idea of the armor!). Self-consciousness and anxiety may make you want to hide while speaking in public; but the reality is that you shouldn't try. Models: Lou Gehrig, Chief Joseph ("I will fight no more forever"), Helen Keller.
We sometimes think of great speakers as larger than life, but they seldom are. Yes, they project power as they try to lead us to greater things; but they can only do so if they understand our fears, hopes, and desires. For great speakers, "I feel your pain" isn't a vote-getting ploy but a credo to live, and speak, by. Models: Patrick Henry, Maya Angelou.
Ever heard that you should start a speech with a joke? If so, throw that advice out with the other suggestions on how to be excellent. Jokes are zero-sum games in which you either win big or go down in flames. Humor, on the other hand, is easy to find and tie into your topic. The best speakers look for the universal that all audience members can relate to—and it's frequently humorous. Here are Mark Twain's best quotes and how to use them in public speaking. Models: Mark Twain, Ronald Reagan, Will Rogers, Jay Leno.
You'll probably find this attribute something of a balancing act. Leaders often need the largest audiences possible for their messages. Once they've found such an audience, however, they must subordinate themselves to the needs of those listeners. It all has to do with serving the audience, as stated above. Models: Mother Teresa, Hubert Humphrey.
So remember, whatever your topic is, every audience wants to see attributes in you that go far beyond content, and even charisma. Display the seven gifts named here, and you'll be giving listeners not only something, but someone of value.
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