It’s a stubborn myth that public speakers are born, not made.
While we assume climbing the corporate ladder or being in the public eye takes hard work ,we cling to the notion that communication abilities come without effort, springing from the lucky few naturally.
Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, widely regarded as ‘natural’ born communicators, worked continually to hone their ‘natural’ skills. Clinton worked with speech coaches throughout his presidency. Ronald Reagan famously said he couldn’t imagine being president without having been an actor.
It’s not just the communication skills of politicians that people notice. An executive who assumes a strong track record of accomplishment and the right connections will “speak for themselves” assumes wrongly. More often, the lack of communication ability will erode confidence in leadership abilities, and at the very least, become a stumbling block in accomplishing goals.
Leaders must have a clear vision and be able to articulate that vision well enough to inspire others. Leaders are expected to display confidence, most readily by the way they communicate with confidence to others. Like so many other attributes, the communication skills so necessary for today’s leaders are not automatically acquired. They are learned and honed purposefully and with effort.
So what to do if your communication skills are not on par with the position of authority you’ve achieved? Here are five tips to get you started on the road to communicating with power:
Take every opportunity to practice.
It sounds obvious, but we generally avoid the things we don’t like to do and we generally don’t like doing the things we feel we’re not good at. If you’ve been delegating the public speaking to others, stop. If you’ve been avoiding those opportunities, stop.
Many people’s fear of public speaking is directly proportionate to the number of people listening. If large audiences intimidate you, seek out opportunities to address smaller numbers of “friendly” audiences. You can work up to larger numbers and to audiences who don’t know you as you grow your confidence.
Never read a speech you haven’t rewritten.
Even if you have someone writing remarks or a speech for you, make sure you rewrite the final draft or at least key phrases in your own words. You know your own “voice” best. Unless you are a professional actor, or have an exceptional speechwriter, speaking someone else’s words will never sound as passionate and persuasive as your own.
Never give a speech you don’t believe in.
If you’re not a professional actor, now is not the time to try and become one. A lack of passion and conviction will show. Concentrate on what you do believe and what you can say with confidence and you’ll be much more likely to connect with your audience.
Learn to use your voice.
Our voices are as individual and as unique to us as our fingerprints. They provide an enormous amount of information to those listening about how we really feel about what we’re saying. Make sure your voice matches your message and says what you really want it to about you.
Aileen Pincus is founder of The Pincus Group, a training firm providing counsel to corporate, government and non-profit clients in the art of public communications.