Do You Speak Like a Leader?
by Dana Bristol-Smith

Your audience wants to be engaged by you. As a leader in your organization, you have the power and privilege by title, to have people pay attention to you. However, do you have the ability to sustain their attention through the messages that you communicate?I recently attended a National Speakers Association convention in Portland and experienced some of the best professional speakers in the industry. They came in all shapes, sizes, and ages. As I was analyzing what it was that made them so engaging and powerful, I was looking for a technique, special skill, or even magic words, they used.

I found it really wasn't any of those things, what it was, was very simple - and something we all know. It was the ability to tell a good story.

We all know about the power of stories. Most of us were fortunate enough to be read to as children. Many of us, as parents, take the time to read to our children. Kids show us how impactful the power of a story is. An irritable or excited child will very quickly calm down and be pulled in by a story. As adults, stories still have that magic and power over us.

So, why is it that we forget that when we have to give a business presentation? Don't we want to engage our audiences? For some reason, we think that our business audience only wants to hear the facts and figures. I beg to differ. It's just not true.

The Harvard Business Review recently interviewed screenwriting coach Robert McKee. Mckee's students have written, directed, and produced hundreds of hit films including Forrest Gump, Erin Brockovich, Gandhi, and Sleepless in Seattle to name a few.

Mckee was asked, "Why should a CEO or manager pay attention to a screenwriter?" He gave the following reply. "A big part of a CEO's job is to motivate people to reach goals. To do that, he or she must engage their emotions, and the key to their hearts is a story. "There are two ways to persuade people. The first is by using conventional rhetoric, which is what most executives are trained in. But there are two problems with rhetoric... First, the people you're talking to have their own statistics and authorities. While you're trying to persuade them, they are arguing with you in their heads. Second, if you do succeed in persuading them, you've done so only on an intellectual basis. That's not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone.

"The other way to persuade people - and ultimately a much more powerful way, is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener's emotions and energy."

Mckee continued and explained that life has its challenges and dark side. When a leader can share the challenges, the pain and the truth of a situation, people will trust and believe in him.

If we look back at some of the recent disasters in corporate management, we see people glossing over bad situations, or just plain lying. Both of those behaviors will in the least destroy trust, at the most, land leaders in jail!

So, what actions can you take to be more engaging and inspiring?

Here are a few suggestions

1. Tell the truth.

2. Rather than just giving facts and numbers, tell the story of how the company overcame the challenge of losing a big client.

3. Share the lessons you've learned, even the painful ones. You certainly know that through those experiences, you've learned the most. And those are the experiences that your audiences will also learn the most from you and be touched and inspired.

It's important to remember that it is a privilege to speak to any audience. If you follow these suggestions, your audience will think and feel that it's a privilege to listen to you too.

About the Author

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies that want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. You can email Dana