A dozen ways to improve your speaking

For years I have enjoyed listening to speakers of all kinds, trying to identify what makes them successful. Many preachers have developed their skills to the level of fine arts, like Charles Swindoll or Joyce Meyers. With rare exceptions like President Barack Obama or, depending on the event, Sarah Palin, civic and political leaders often lag far behind religious leaders in polish and presentation. Whoever they are, leaders would do well to always work on improving their communication skills.

Here are some handy nuts and bolts:

Talk. The first law of communication is to communicate, so if you want people to get the message, share the message. And you should speak in as simple a vocabulary as possible, and in a way that others can understand. Don’t do what some teachers try to do, impress the audience with multi-syllable words. It doesn’t work. When the crowd goes home, all they remember is your arrogance. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), there is nothing simpler than that.

Don’t apologize for talking. It’s one thing to hear an infrequent speaker offer a nervous apology on the church platform; it is quite another to hear this from a leader. If talking makes you nervous, get over it or find another job. Your apology for being uncomfortable makes everyone else uncomfortable. The more comfortable you are “in your own skin”, the more comfortable your audience will be with your presentation.

Convey trust. Take ownership of the opportunity to speak and treat listeners with respect. Say “Thank you,” but don’t do it enthusiastically. Do whatever it takes to build your confidence: prepare properly, practice, use notes, etc. Stand physically relaxed and avoid signaling nerves with strange gestures or strange movements.

Connect with the audience. Smile. Look directly at people individually and collectively. Scan the entire audience in a natural and measured way so that everyone feels like you are speaking to them. On the road or at the event, keep an eye out for a development unique to the occasion, then mention it at the beginning of your talk. Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is a master at this. Each time, in the dreary old high school auditorium or the Waldorf Astoria, he finds something to say that is distinctive and complementary to his listeners and his place. Get to know your audience and engage directly with them, your city or your event today. Make them feel special, which is why comedians walk off stage saying, “That was a great audience.”

Develop some appropriate one-liners that work anywhere. The old witty phrases, which you feel comfortable with, are always there for you like a good friend. They reduce your anxiety, help you convey confidence and connect with the audience, and help engage the audience and help them relax. One of my favorites goes something like this: “I’ve always wanted to talk on XYZ. (brief pause) I guess I can die happy now.” He never stops laughing.

Never read your speech. It may be appropriate to read a short formal announcement or a reference to someone else’s statement. But reading your content is the fastest way to lose your audience’s attention, put them to sleep, or literally lose them as they vote with their feet by walking out the back door. I once sat in the Michigan Legislature gallery listening to Governor John Engler deliver his State of the State address. While I appreciated him and most of his ideas, I struggled to stay focused as he plodded through line after line. You can guess what the opposition party was doing. To the governor’s credit, he got better over time, according to some close associates, with help and professional practice. Good for him. Good for his constitution.

Be brief. FDR “Be honest; be brief; sit down” is a good rule of thumb for any speaker. In November 1863, Edward Everett delivered the keynote address at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new military cemetery at Gettysburg, followed by President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Everett later wrote to Lincoln: “I would be glad to flatter myself that I have come as near to the gist of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Tell stories. Jesus generally spoke to crowds of followers in parables, which are short stories from everyday life that contain an application of deeper spiritual truths. Although more than thirty parables are recorded in the Gospels, the book of Mark says that Jesus used many other parables in his public speaking ministry. In fact, he “did not tell them anything without using a parable” (Mk 4, 33-34). People are interested in people and that’s what the best leader stories should be about.

List core values ​​and/or set goals clearly. Put your values ​​and goals in every important presentation. Because? Because one important way to motivate people is to make sure they know where they’re going. Values ​​and goals are an integral part of a vision narrative. Share them, or better yet, as a leader embody them. Lead by example.

Be positive. “Negative campaigning” has long become commonplace in American life. But it is better for a leader to take the right path. Ronald Reagan gave us a version of this, the 11th Commandment of his: “You shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Describe who you and your organization are, not who others or competing organizations are not. Being quoted in the media with a loud attack on others has more to do with ego or revenge than advancing your organization’s vision. No one follows a flamethrower for long. The heat is too intense.

Use accessories to reinforce, not replace, your speech. PowerPoints, short videos, images, audio, and other technologies can be enormously effective tools for engaging an audience. But you’re still the speaker, and for my money, you need to talk. No medium has yet been developed that is as convincing as a passionate person who really believes what they say. Use accessories wisely, but don’t forget the natural power to “switch off.”

Use your same (better) vision speech repeatedly. Leadership expert Barry Z. Posner’s formula for good visual communication: “Repeat, repeat, repeat!” Richard Nixon made the point most colorfully: “The moment you’re writing a line that you’ve written so often you want to vomit, that’s the moment the American people will hear it.” Communicate the vision persuasively and persistently on every possible occasion. And don’t worry if you share the vision too often. Management consultants Thomas Werner and Robert Lynch recommend that leaders communicate their vision 7 times in 7 different ways. I would say much more often than that.

These articles are suggestions from experience, not rules. Some will apply all the time. Some will apply at times. It’s your idea to call.

You are the leader. Lead with his words.

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