When activist Martin Luther King started his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, he had already been preceded by 14 other speakers on that noisy and hot day in 1963. Although his speech was the length of a TED talk, the challenge of keeping the attention of thousands of listeners was big. Like many other great leaders of our time (such as Steve Jobs), Mr. King succeeded by not trying to motivate or persuade his audience, but by taking them on an inspirational journey. As Nancy Duarte found out, when analyzing the best talks ever given, inspirational leaders use a method of ‘pressure and release’. By continuously moving back and forth between predicting an exciting future ahead and reflecting on a disappointing current situation, leaders maximise the attention for their speech. Still too often, exciting and important stories from leaders are being completely ignored by the audience, whose attention is more focused on their mobile phones, while the presenter is communicating their story the old-fashioned way. Time for some refreshing ideas for leaders, on how to make a speech memorable and having the impact it deserves!
It all starts with the story itself
According to sound consultant Julian Treasure, being honest, sincere and considerate are the most important elements for a powerful talk that will resonate with the audience. Being brief, to-the-point and clear in what you say, while keeping your word and doing what you say, and wishing others well. When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and spoke his famous words he did exactly this. Furthermore, he used storytelling and a clear vision to inspire people and communicate his message so that everybody would hang onto every word.
Show them you are passionate about your story!
Although analysis of numerous great talks has indicated that less then 10% of effective communication happens by the words spoken, some leaders still try to communicate by hiding behind a lectern and standing still for an hour. Body language and tone of voice are still being neglected, while they can significantly contribute to getting a message through. Focus on the pace of speaking, slowing down or taking a moment of silence are all perfect for emphasising things. Bringing the message by using different volumes, a smile and authentic posture, complete your inspirational message.
You don’t need to smile all the time of course. And stay away from making accusations and gossiping about people who aren’t present. As Eleanor Roosevelt excellently put it: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people“. There is always more to the story, so don’t judge. Why would you deliver a tough message when you can bring an inspirational one and still make your point? Don’t complain or bring negativity to the table, as you’ll gradually lose your audience. And nobody is helped with excuses, or exaggeration, so leave them out.
Strong leaders are masters of combining these ‘ingredients’ and lessons. By telling powerful, memorable and actionable stories, they increase their effectiveness, build stronger and more secure relationships with their audience even improving their well-being. But always keep in mind that strong leaders stay authentic and remain true to themselves.