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Get Out of The Communication Stone Age: Give Leadership Talks

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

Leaders must be close enough to relate to others but far enough to motivate them. – John Maxwell

The newly invented electric telegraph carried the first news message over one hundred sixty years ago. The message zipped forty miles in a flash over wires from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. 

The public was dazzled -- except Henry David Thoreau. He wrote: "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."

Today, we live in a Golden Age of communication. We have the Internet. We have faxes. We have e-mails. We have streaming video. We have online audio. We have RSS feeds. We have logs and blogs. 

Yet today, Thoreau is as right as rain. When getting our messages across, we are stuck in the Stone Age.

Here is why. Most business leaders I have met repeatedly make huge communication mistakes that are screwing up their jobs and careers. They are stuck giving presentations and speeches. They are NOT giving Leadership Talks!

What is a Leadership Talk? Look at it this way: There's a hierarchy of verbal persuasion about business leadership. The lowest levels are speeches and presentations. They communicate information. The highest, most effective way of communicating is the Leadership Talk. The Leadership Talk does more than send information. It has the leader set up a deep, human, emotional connection with the audience. That is where leaders communicate for the best results.

Here are examples of leadership talks. When Churchill said, "We will fight on the beaches ... " That was a leadership talk. When Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you ... " that was a leadership talk. When Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"  That was a leadership talk.

You can produce examples too. Go back to those moments when the words of a leader inspired people to take ardent action, and you have put your finger on an authentic leadership talk. 

Mind you, I am not just talking about great leaders of history. I am also talking about all leaders everywhere, regardless of their function or rank. Leaders speak 15 to 20 daily, from formal speeches to informal chats. When those interactions are leadership talks, not just lectures or presentations, the effectiveness of those leaders is dramatically increased. 

That is where business leaders communicate for the best results. You can order people to go from point A to point B. But the best way to get impressive results is to have people who want to go from A to B. Instilling “want to" in others, motivating them ... isn't that what outstanding leadership is all about? 

Do not get me wrong. The Leadership Talk is not a "feel-good" way of relating. It took me 20 years to figure out how to give Leadership Talks and author books about it. There are specific processes one must manifest to give Leadership Talks. Usually, it takes me two full days to teach people how to do it. Once they learn it, they can use it throughout the rest of their careers. The Leadership Talk is easy to understand and takes years to master. The point is that through it, you can take specific, concrete steps to motivate people to take action that gets excellent results. 

For instance, before leaders can develop and deliver a Leadership Talk, they must first answer "yes" to three simple questions: "Do you know what the audience needs? Can you transfer your deep beliefs to others so they believe as strongly as you do about your challenges? And can you have that audience take ardent action that gets results?"  If leaders "no" to any one of those questions, they cannot give a Leadership Talk. 

One hundred sixty years ago, the dots and dashes chattered down the wires from Baltimore to Washington spelled out that the Whigs had nominated Henry Clay to run for the presidency. 

Back then, Thoreau might have said nothing important was communicated; but today, if you want to lead for impressive results, take Thoreau to heart. Communicate what indeed IS essential. Do not give presentations and speeches. Give Leadership Talks. Forge those deep, human, emotional connections with your audiences. Get them motivated to take ardent action for impressive results.

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