You are standing at the front of the room, perhaps on a makeshift stage. Gathered around you is your work team, some standing, some sitting, all waiting to hear what you are going to say. WHAT will you say? HOW will you say it? These questions plague many leaders who believe they are not good “public” speakers. While you may not be a professional speaker, you can learn from people who are.
What You Say:
I’m sure this goes without saying, but the best place to start is to get clear on your content, especially your key messages. A good question to ask is “what do I want my audience to think or do when I’ve finished?” Is my message directive, eg “We need to achieve our sales targets this quarter and this is how we are going to do it.” Or is your speech designed to motivate a team around a new company initiative? Answer this question first before you do anything else.
Dale Carnegie is attributed with the admonition to “tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said” when delivering a key message. While a speech or informal talk could get rather pedantic if you follow this advice literally, the general idea can be very helpful.
Tell them what you are going to tell them. In other words, what is the benefit of your message to your audience? You might relate this in a story format (more on this tactic later). You could outline the actions that people should be able to take following your message. The point of this step is to help your audience to understand why your comments matter to them.
Tell them. Here is where you include the core of your message: what, when, why and how.
Tell them what you told them. At this point, you should reiterate why your message matters to them, remind them of the critical elements of your message and ultimately leave them with a call to action.
As a way to develop your message, you may want to talk it through, rather than write it down. Just last week I learned a cool way to develop and ultimately remember your speech from speaking coach, Alex Ramsey. At a North Texas Speaker’s Association Learning Lab, she described the strong link between learning and movement and recommended that speakers develop their content and commit it to memory while moving. So, as you are formulating your comments, take a walk or, as I have done, you could create and practice it while driving. This approach will embed your message and help you fend off the blank brain that nerves can bring.
Another tip that has worked for me is to not get too hung up on the exact words I plan to use. Instead, focus on the ideas and concepts you want to share and not so much on the words and content. This technique will allow you more freedom to speak in the moment and respond to the mood of the audience, while not missing your key messages.
How You Say It:
What you say is critical, whether you are leading a team meeting, speaking to the entire company or even coaching a key team member. How you say it will ensure that your message is heard, remembered and acted upon.
Your energy is critical to your message. First, you will want to find the right vocal pace and volume, as well as the right body language to support your message. A conversation about potential reorganization requires a stately but not deadly energy. An inspirational message may call for subdued, but intense energy with an emotional call to action. Alternatively, an awards ceremony may call for some humor, along with heartfelt recognition. The mood you create with your energy and your words should be enhanced with your body language. Hand gestures should emphasize points. Purposeful movement elevates the energy; but repetitive pacing or other movements can distract.
Speaking of humor, remember that humor connects us. Incorporating humor or at least a lightening of the mood helps vary your pace and aid the audience in remembering your point. Use of storytelling can also help with your pacing and in creating memorable moments. Tell stories others have written or personal stories to underline a point you wish to make. Personal stories have the added benefit of creating a connection with your audience. For instance, when I speak about change, I often share my own experience with job loss and my process for gaining a positive perspective in the midst of it. As a leader speaking to her team, using your own experiences can add humanity, humor and drive home your point (or lighten the moment).
To improve your own speaking ability, watch people that you admire when they speak. To practice and develop your speaking ability, I highly recommend Toastmasters International, which provides a safe, supportive environment for learning the art of speaking.
Leaders need to communicate every day. Sometimes that communication is one-on-one, sometimes to a small group and other times to the entire company or association. To improve your ability as a leader to deliver a message with impact, remember: Plan what you’ll say and how you’ll say it.