I’m privileged to observe an intelligent, capable leader develop even greater impact through learning more effective delivery as a speaker.
I can’t remember who said it to give proper credit, but someone once said that if you can give an effective speech and you can run a meeting, you can rule the world. Intentional overstatement though it might be, it gets at how important communication skills are. I’m seeing that in action.
I have been working with a C-level executive (whose privacy I will respect–let’s just call him Mr. Fearless Leader) for a few months. I’ve known him for years, and know his qualities as a leader. He wasn’t ineffective as a speaker, but he recognized he could increase his effectiveness with some coaching.
Effective speaking requires competence in three areas: content, organization, and delivery. Mr. Leader had solid content that needed some adapting for “out loud” rather than written reports. Likewise, he had a solid sense of organization that needed some adapting for “out loud.” Most of his opportunity for growth lay in delivery.
When I worked in corporate advertising, I learned that a good product needs a good package. If you have a dynamite package for a good product, people will buy it once, but not again, leading to eventual poor sales. If you have a dynamite product with a poor package, you may wind up with hardly any sales, or slowly growing sales, since people don’t give themselves to opportunity to discover the product–they’re not moved to pick it up in the first place.
That’s why delivery matters.
Part of Mr. Leader’s strength as a leader lies in how quickly he learns, and as I think about the differences I see in him in recent weeks, I can list some universals that anyone can apply to increase speaking effectiveness.
- Truly, delivery matters. Mr. Leader has had a consistently strong message. His growing delivery skills enable that message to connect more effectively with the audience. Delivery is the only factor differentiating speaking from writing. A written piece requires good content that is well organized. So does a speech, but a speech also requires effective delivery. That’s what really gives speech its emotional and context-setting power–the reason people want to hear him speak rather than just get a letter or a handout from him.
- Keep movement focused. Mr. Leader had a habit of pacing in a set pattern. Coupled with his tendency to look at the floor instead of the audience (see the next item), it made him look distracted and lacking in confidence. He has since learned to move with purpose. Standing still-but-relaxed makes you look confident, and enables you to move on purpose when you want to signal a shift in topic to your audience or otherwise use movement to make a point.
- Eye contact means CONTACT. I saw Mr. Leader speak to a community group recently. At some point, someone “helpfully” turned off the overhead lights so we could see the PowerPoint slides more clearly. Generally, I would recommend against that–the speaker is more important. But Mr. Leader made the right choice in not interrupting the flow. Though the lights were low, Mr. Leader still looked at the audience. When the lights were up at the beginning and end of the speech, Mr. Leader made solid eye contact. He wasn’t just looking toward the audience (which still is better than looking at the floor), but rather connected with individuals. That helped his words make an impact.
- Speak slowly, warmly, and steadily. Mr. Leader took questions throughout the presentation, and especially during a segment set aside for them. (He also wisely planned a conclusion to follow the Q&A to ensure a strong finish.) When he received a question, he paused for just a second or two to collect his thoughts, and then without hesitation addressed it. This had less to do with avoiding ums and uhs (although he did that well also), but rather avoiding choppiness. That is both a function of speaking slowly enough to keep pace with his own thoughts, and being able to think far enough ahead of his response to not have to stop.
There is more, but this will give you the idea. Effective delivery helped the audience to access the content and follow the organization.