As a leadership coach I get asked often what leaders should say and do when speaking to staff in their organization. This is no surprise; even the best leaders get a bit shy at the microphone. Depending on the client, my suggestions may vary, but here are some general rules I’ve shared over the years that have yet to let anyone down.
Be a Storyteller
Visit any bookstore and you will see a prominent display of dark, palm-sized notebooks with an elastic band enclosure and a neatly folded inside pocket. Other brands cost half as much, so what makes this brand so popular? It’s the story of its origin and its connection with the spirit of creativity itself. Why carry around any mundane notepad when you can carry something inspired by the great artists and writers of the 20th century?
Why buy the computer tablet with the cute logo on the back when most any other brand will set you back at less than half the price? It’s the story behind the logo, of the former CEO who dreamt its existence and that product line’s place in modern American history.
Company stories don’t just explain a decision or clarify a point. They inspire, envelop and linger long after the telling is over. Stories connect us with the people we know, the things we buy and the companies we work for. What better way to sustain such a connection than with a story?
Practice the Law of Three
My high school speech coach will be forever remembered as having taught me the Law of Three when speaking to any audience.
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them what you told them.
Yes, the law is that simple, but utterly effective. People need help remembering the important stuff. That means repeating yourself to help them along. My coach would instruct me to explain briefly what I was going to convey, then convey it in detail, and then summarize what I had said.
Convey Your Why
Every story has a moral. “Little Red Riding Hood”? Trust Your Instincts. “Snow White”? Good Always Wins In The End. Your story is no different. The WHY in your story is critical to your message. It’s your call to action. Always begin your most important messages with a story, says author Simon Sinek, because you always want to start with WHY.
Red Light, Green Light
Dramatic pauses don’t just make for good drama. Good speakers use them to make room for understanding and comprehension. Along with keeping good eye contact with your audience, good speakers will convey a key point and then pause, usually for two to three seconds, to ensure the point gets across. Give the audience a moment to process what you’ve said. Watch for understanding and acceptance before moving on. If all you see is confusion or concern, you’re at risk of losing the audience.
Use Sound Bites
We live in a 140-character world of tweets, posts and hashtags. Make sure your key points are concise, clear and designed for easy portability. Draft key points ahead of time. Make them memorable. Grab a copy of “Quotable Quotes” and study the masters.
Don’t End with “Thank You”
There’s a story of two executives who each successively delivered a keynote address to their company. At the end of the keynote by the first executive, employees were heard saying, “That was a wonderful message.” At the end of the second keynote, employees were heard saying, “We better get to work!” You want to give a great speech, but what you truly want is to see your words turned into action. To do that, you can’t end with a “Thank you.” End with, “Are there any questions?” Or, “Does everyone know where they should begin?” Or perhaps, “Is there any reason we need to approach this differently?” But never, “Thank you.” Save that one for when the work is done and the accolades are earned.