When Leaders Speak – People Listen - Proteus Leadership Article
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When Leaders Speak – People Listen

- By Richard Dore

Why Leaders succeed or fail every time they communicate

"Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. The ability to persuasively sell your ideas is the single greatest skill that will help you accomplish your dreams and live up to your full potential." - Carmine Gallo

One of the biggest challenges for today’s leaders isn’t coming up with great ideas, instead, it is having the ability to sell and speak on those ideas in an inspirational way so that people want to come on the journey with you. If you do not lead when you speak, you are missing so many amazing opportunities to shift and transform people and to move your ideas into reality.

In our heart of hearts, we all know that the ability to craft communication and presentations that are compelling is one of the most critical, ongoing skills a leader needs to develop. This is one of the reasons the Proteus 'public speaking' courses have, for over two decades, been some of our most popular and requested programs.

Whether you need to pitch a persuasive argument to your executive, sell change to your staff or colleagues, inform people to inspire action, present a message from the heart, deliver a workshop or represent your company through a keynote, leaders are now expected to be able to do this exceptionally well.

Your Leadership Is Demonstrated When Speaking

At Proteus, we have a mantra that ‘your leadership is demonstrated when speaking and the way you communicate will make or break your credibility, now and into the future.’ In fact, James C Humes the US Presidential speechwriter, states that, “Speakership is leadership. Every time you speak in public, you are auditioning for a leadership position.”

When you are communicating, people are making a judgement about you, both consciously and subconsciously, whether you like it or not. So, as leaders we need to continually work on becoming an exceptional communicator and presenter, where we capture people’s hearts and minds all within fast paced settings.

In our highly distracted digital world however, it has become even harder for leaders to cut through all the noise with messages that stick. There is now also the extra challenge of having to compete with the best speakers in the world, who are all available for people to watch whenever they want. As Carmine Gallo, TED speaker, coach and author states, “depending on your perspective, 2006 was either a really bad year for public speaking or the start of a world-changing transformation. In that year the famous TED conference began streaming 18-minute presentations from the world’s top minds, for free. Today, TED talks are viewed more than two million times a day and, in my opinion, they have become the gold standard in public speaking and presentation skills. It also means that, like it or not, your next presentation will be compared to a TED talk.”

Now, more than ever, leaders need to have the skills to communicate and speak well. In today’s technological environment, where we can access information anywhere and at anytime, you need to ask yourself; “do I really need to present my information in a public forum, or can my material just be published and made available to everyone to access on their own terms?”

If your message does need to be heard publically, then you need to acknowledge that there is now the added pressure of making it a magical experience for the audience. You need to ask yourself the big question; “Why would they want to listen to me?” From there, you need to go about making your presentation exceptionally engaging and an experience your audience won’t forget.

While there is now an added pressure to present at such a high level, we all need to remember that exceptional communicators aren’t born; they are made. Take comfort in the fact that you CAN become a great presenter by decoding the art and science of public speaking and replicating the skills, templates and techniques of great speakers back into your own leadership communication repertoire.

If you take a moment to stop and reflect on all of the presentations that you have both delivered and participated in over your career, ask yourself the question, “what made these presentations either tragic or magic?” This will allow you to identify the things you need to do and the things you need to stop doing as a public speaker to make your presentations great.

For some, little adjustments, new skills and a robust roadmap that can be used is all that is needed to improve presentation and public speaking abilities. However, for others it isn’t that easy, as the biggest factor that is impeding their success is the straight up fear of getting up in front of people and speaking publically.

The Fear Factor

If you have a fear of public speaking, know that you are not alone. Many people rank the fear of public speaking higher than a fear of dying! As such, the fear of public speaking is perfectly normal and will predictably trigger some fear based physiological responses. With this adrenaline hit, we not only go into a ‘fight or flight’ mode, but more often than not, we ‘freeze’. As we say at Proteus, "just when we need it the most, our brain checks out!"

When you think about the notion of being exposed through public speaking, it is an act of being vulnerable because it sets us up for the potential of being judged, humiliated and rejected ‘from our tribe’. Rejection is tribal! And this is the reason why so many of us are terrified of public speaking.

To overcome the fear, a roadmap is key. A roadmap can help you navigate the feeling of vulnerability, especially within your introduction. Your introduction is the place you need to gain credibility, engage the audience and make a bold declaration to grab their attention, all while having absolute clarity on your objective and what your audience’s action orientated outcome is.

When we become nervous while speaking publically, we predictably experience things like a dry mouth, shaky hands and knees, lack of focus, upset stomach and we speak too fast. The good news is, there are many successful techniques that work to limit the negative impact of nervousness when speaking publically. The best way to overcome this however is to simply do more! Exposure therapy will always have more impact than any technique. As we all know, many rehearsals make for a great performance.

Warren Buffett, investor, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and one of the most successful businesspersons in our lifetime, used to be so terrified of public speaking that he would throw up. Buffett says that he, “arranged my life so that I never had to get up in front of anybody.”

Buffett however, quickly realised that if he couldn’t speak in public, it would end any chance of having a career and reaching his goals. So at 19, he enrolled in a public speaking course through Dale Carnegie. He ended up cancelling his first program because he was so scared, but he made it to the second one. Learning to master this skill was so important to his life and the success of his business that the only certificate he now displays on his office wall is his public speaking course.

Embrace The Fear And Immerse Yourself

The key to getting better at public speaking is to immerse yourself in it. Don’t avoid it and don’t try to eradicate your fear. Instead, you should embrace the fear because a healthy dose of fear keeps you humble and will make for a better performance. The best advice we can give people is to jump in and embrace the fear and leverage that nervous energy.

At Proteus, we always say that the best way to transform your fear of public speaking is to flip ‘nervous into service’. If you become overwhelmed by the notion of speaking in public, you risk becoming self-indulgent because you are focussing too much on yourself. Instead, what we need to do is focus on being of service to our audience and create a mindset that this is a great opportunity to share and give your audience a unique and positive learning experience. As Seth Godin reminds us, "you are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged."

People Want You To Succeed

Always remember, the vast majority of people in your audience want you to succeed and are looking forward to hearing your message. As Gina Barnett - TED speaker, coach and author says, “they want you to have a good time up there, they want to hear your ideas, even if they don’t agree with them, and they want you to succeed.”

So set yourself up for the best chance of success by becoming an exceptional public speaker and leadership communicator by designing, practicing and then going ahead and delivering messages that stick.

Richard Dore is the Managing Director at Proteus Leadership

“Presentation literacy isn’t an optional extra for the few. It’s a core skill for the twenty-first century. It’s the most impactful way to share who you are and what you care about.” Chris Anderson – Head of TED.

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What people are saying about Proteus Programs:

"Incredible program. So practical. I felt myself improve hugely as a presenter over the 2 days. It was challenging and confronting but still enjoyable."
Roxanne Ewing - Cromwell Property Group

"The Leadership Speak program demonstrated to me the power of first impressions, body language and framing messages to engage and give clarity around your objective. But more, it challenged me to put it into practice, time and time again, and the feedback from the presenters and my program colleagues was invaluable."
Narelle Peach - University Of Southern Queensland

"One of the best professional development courses I have attended. Even though I find speaking in public extremely challenging, the course gave me tools & information I can use to craft exceptional presentations."
Cathy Spanton - Murray Mallee General Practice Network

"This was a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone in a safe space and enhance my skills in leading and presenting. The program for me had a nice balance of practical with theory and each section gave be many tangible take aways. Richard and Nathan pushed the group and kept the pace but also created the safe space we needed to make mistakes and critique each other. This peer to peer feedback is powerful and was harnessed well by the group. The models really did unlock my thinking about the difference between an OK presentation and an outstanding one and I feel I am on the cusp of an upwards shift in my executive capability development with the skills I have now to make a difference. Its up to me now to apply these and create the time and self commitment to that."
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