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Executive Leadership: Public Speaking - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Public Speaking

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Public Speaking

“In order to lead, you have to be a public speaker.”

-- Julie Greenwald, Chairman/COO of the Atlantic Records Group, in Adam Bryant’s Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on Creating a Culture of Innovation (Macmillan, 2014).

Effective leadership means effective communication, and that communication takes many different forms. A small gathering over coffee, a meeting in the conference room, one-on-one phone calls, and intra-office memos each carry different contexts and objectives, and the ability to communicate in these varied situations can require different skill-sets, none inherently more important than the others. Yet one that gets a lot of attention is speaking publicly in front of large audiences: formal, one-speaker-many-listeners, stand-and-deliver speech-making, like they made you take courses in as an undergrad.

An online search for “executive public speaking” returns pages of websites explaining the importance of good speaking skills, most of them willing to teach them to you for a fee, of course. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big (Penguin, 2013), includes a chapter called “The Math of Success,” in which he explains that adding to one’s skills doubles a person’s chances of eventual success. Adams offers a thirteen-item list of economically valuable skills worth pursuing, and at the top of the list is public speaking. He describes his experience with one nationally-known corporate training firm and how it played a role in what is now a lucrative public speaking career.

Kristi Hedges, writing for Forbes.com (Article Source), takes a different approach, and suggests that public speaking training is a waste of money, because it focuses on delivering speeches with a list of supposedly correct mannerisms and gestures, when the real, valuable skill for the executive speaker is establishing presence: building trust and confidence, being clear and energetic. “Great presenters don’t follow rules,” she writes. “What makes [people] strong presenters is that their presence shines through, showing their passion and expertise for their topic.”

Passion is the first foundational building block for memorable presenters, according to Carmine Gallo’s, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds (St. Martin’s Press, 2014). Gallo, like Hedges, insists that there is no one way to be an effective public speaker, and that effectiveness comes from within. Analyzing more than 500 TED presentations, he shares what the most popular speakers have in common, beginning with the speakers’ personal connections to their subjects. He writes, “Successful speakers can’t wait to share their ideas. They have charisma, and charisma is directly associated with how much passion the speaker has for his or her content. Charismatic speakers radiate joy and passion: the joy of sharing their experience, and passion for how their ideas, products, or services will benefit their audiences.”

Advice obviously varies from one expert to another, but what the experts agree on is that communicating effectively in front of an audience is a skill that must be cultivated and pursued for any effective (or aspiring) leader.


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