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Dump Your Speech Notes for Leadership Talks!

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
-Benjamin Franklin

 asked me to help him develop a talk he planned to give to hundreds of his top executives. He said, "I feel as if I'm Daniel going into the lion's den."

Indeed, it was the business equivalent of a lion's den that he was entering. Hired from a competing firm, he was a stranger to the company, a company hobbled by declining market share and bad morale caused by the arbitrary actions of the onetime CEO, an isolated dictator.

"This is the first time most of them will see and hear me," he said. "I'll give a presentation on the state of the business."

"Hold on," I said. "Don't give a presentation. Give a Leadership Talk instead."

There is a difference, I explained, between a presentation/speech and a Leadership Talk. A display/speech communicates information, but a Leadership Talk not only sounds information but makes a deep, emotional, human connection with the audience. 

Most leaders give presentations and speeches when they should be giving Leadership Talks.

"You're facing an important leadership situation," I said. "The old saying, 'You never get a second chance to make a first impression,' applies here in spades. You have a great Leadership Talk opportunity. But to have people believe in you and follow you, they must be emotionally committed to you and what you say. So, understand what their emotional needs are."

I went out into the field and talked to several of his managers and found out that they were intimidated by the demands of increasingly sophisticated customers. I found out that they feared not being supported in the decisions they made in the field. I learned they were angry at meeting what they considered unnecessary reporting requirements. I knew that they did not trust the top executives.

Intimidation, fear, anger, distrust . . . those emotions described the state of his audience and, in truth, the state of the business.

The CEO gave a Leadership Talk that spoke to and answered the needs of those emotions, a talk based on the single idea that he was a person they could trust.

That Leadership Talk marked the beginning of a turnaround for that company.

The lesson: Analyze and speak to the emotion of a situation, and you can become a dramatically more effective leader.

Make that analysis happen this way:

* Know the difference between a presentation/speech and a Leadership Talk, then view every speaking situation you meet as either a presentation/speech situation or a Leadership Talk situation. 

* Know that you rarely give presentations/speeches and that The Leadership Talk should be your primary leadership communication tool.

* Analyze your audience's emotions by asking what they feel when you speak, what they fear, what angers them, and what inspires them. 

* Structure your talk around emotional-talking points. For instance, list three things that anger your audience. Make those things the main headings of your address.

* Speak to them about their emotions. Tell them, for instance, that you realize they are angry and what they are mad about. Tell them what you know they are feeling. 

Speak thus, and you are revealed in powerful motivational ways. Furthermore, they are exposed to themselves.

These revelations can create strong bonds between speakers and audiences.

Understand the speaking situation in terms of its emotional content, and you understand that situation in new ways. Understand it in new ways, and you speak in new ways. And when you say in new ways, your audience will act in new ways.

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