To be a leader in a community, business, not for profit or corporation, strong verbal communication skills are essential.
Moving from management to leadership takes many different traits and soft skills. Multiple bodies of research have shown that as we move from manager level to leadership, our reliance on technical skills and use of them decreases and soft skills increases. The most important is communication and even more specifically verbal communication. This is because leaders speak to multiple people or groups everyday, adjusting their style and content accordingly. From one-on-one meetings and phone calls all the way to large industry conferences. If a person is known as a good speaker, they are likely to be asked to present at company functions, industry events and hence gain visibility and credibility.
At the height of leadership speaking are those who inspire and motivate. Very rarely have people been inspired by a letter or an email. What truly inspires people is the way a person speaks, connects and gains the audience’s trust. Hence Inspirational or Motivational speakers are some of the highest paid in the world such as Tony Robbins, Brian Tracey, numerous sporting legends and of course the gorgeous Jess Quinn!
Multiple surveys pre-and-post Covid have confirmed that confident communication skills are essential to leadership. They support communicating company vision, persuading and influencing, proposing strategic thinking and pitching new ideas. Larger businesses usually ensure managers are ‘put on a course,’ but if you are a small business owner or owner/operator, you may overlook it.
Figure out what you need to work on. Here are a few aspects that are guidelines for what you may need to develop.
Some Characteristics of a Speaker who Leads
- Motivates and leads teams with encouraging language
- Can present to a large group or on stage
- Can tell meaningful stories
- Has impactful memorable messages
- Uses Sticky messages when needed
- Can deal with interruptions, questions or disagreements
- Listens to feedback and to others
First, develop your confidence to speak up in common situations that arise. Venus Businesswomen is great for this because every fortnight you have a safe and supportive environment to do this. But put the extra effort in and actually have a pre-written, well practised opening and closing to your one minute promo. Then work on your delivery. There’s a well-used phrase in public speaking: There is no such thing as a boring topic only a boring delivery.
A confident speaker could make preparing breakfast sound exciting and fun. While an inexperienced speaker can make six minutes feel like a lifetime.
So practice and rehearse your one minute promo delivery and don’t forget to prepare the classic elevator pitch. You will never be considered a leader in your field or industry if you cannot speak confidently about yourself and what you do.
Your use of pauses, varying pace and changes in tonality (usually just called vocal variety) are essential for an interesting and engaging delivery. Do you speak in a monotone, do you lack energy or do you speak at one very fast pace to get it over and done with? Then make vocal variety your priority.
Confident body language and facial expressions that are appropriate are also part of ensuring the delivery looks confident, is engaging and interesting.
Longer speeches and presentations
People often find that a short speech is harder to deliver than a longer one. 10 minutes of verbal brain dump (or conversation) is natural, as opposed to a carefully planned well-structured five minute presentation. Editing and cutting extra padding out can be one of the hardest skills to master. If PowerPoint or a slide deck is used then “Death by PowerPoint” is a no-no as it will instantly devalue your content and reputation. Make sure that you follow the current trends of a few words in a very large font, high quality pictures, icons and simplistic graphics that make up a cohesive slide deck.
Try to have a basic understanding of the DISC profiling system or an equivalent. These help you learn and spot different personality styles and the way they prefer to be communicated with. This helps you know whether you should be directed and to the point or focus on a more social approach or maybe explain things in detail and allow time for responses.
Find an option that suits your needs, location and budget. Toastmasters International is the most recognised and well known worldwide club system. While there are 100s in New Zealand, so there is likely to be one near you, it is very much a case of ‘buyer beware’. The quality of Clubs varies, depending on the Club members and current leaders. And remember, both good and bad techniques and habits can be passed on.
Books – As the Author of Anyone Can Speak Confidently, it will sound strange that I say you will get very limited improvement from reading a book. But the truth is you have to get out there and speak. Hence Toastmasters does work. But there is also a range of books and many won’t be applicable because you actually don’t aim to “Present like Steve Jobs”. As one client said to me “I just don’t want to make a dick of myself”.
There are also women’s speaking clubs or courses, such as Speaker Sisterhood or She Says So, these have a familiar female vibe, where you can feel more comfortable to reveal personal content that makes fantastic speeches. Many community or interest groups will allow you a chance to speak, as does Venus Businesswomen with the 6-minute Spotlight for members, these are great practice grounds.
Workshops are very popular. Make sure they help you build your confidence, require you to speak multiple times and deliver speeches.
Speaking well is an essential business skill but an even more essential leadership skill. There is no better time to make it your priority than now. Commit to small steps and then schedule a course or workshop to accelerate your public speaking skills and confidence. I know through my own experience and from helping 100s of others that Anyone Can Speak Confidently.
Diana Thomson is an international speaker, author and speaking coach. You can read more about her at www.speech marks.co.nz and find out about the ‘She Says So’ speaking club here: https://www.speechmarks.co.nz/she-says-so-public-speaking-membership-program