Michelle Fenech Seguna

In recent weeks, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in a number of conferences, and of course, I loved reconnecting and networking with several business counterparts. As I was sitting and seeking to listen attentively to the speakers at the last conference that I attended, I couldn’t help but get annoyed at some of the ‘empty’ speeches I had to endure. 

Whilst a few talks were inspiring, many others left me wondering and questioning, ‘Is this all there is to it? How about getting rid of the fluffy stuff and hollow speeches that feel so abstract and aim instead towards specific and concrete words followed by tangible action?’

Unfortunately, certain words and phrases find their way into the business world, becoming buzzwords that many leaders adopt in an attempt to appear more contemporary, strategic or smart. Some terms, like ‘optimise’, ‘synergise’ and ‘leverage’ add nothing to a speech or conversation. Many of these words are needlessly complex, and often times end up becoming nothing more than empty, annoying words. We see this happening by politicians too. Do you remember the overly used and abused term ‘mechanisms’? By latching onto these words, leaders may inadvertently send negative or confusing messages to the people with whom they are seeking to engage.

Language is an important component of leadership. The words that a CEO uses in conversations with team members are often a direct reflection of the individual’s leadership style. In the corporate world, whether in business negotiations, in boardroom presentations or discussions, or at a press conference, a CEO is continuously defined by words which have to be chosen carefully. Whilst body language and vocal dynamics play a significant role in communication, one cannot underestimate the importance of the actual words spoken. Deliberate choice of words and intentional modification in the use of language have an impact on a leader’s success in building great rapport with clients and in engaging dynamically with team members.

So, here are a few suggestions for CEOs and business leaders worth considering:

1. Storytelling is key to helping people retain new concepts

The key to getting people to absorb new concepts is narrative. Storytelling piques interest and when delivered well, takes the audience on a journey. Stories are memorable and relatable. So, for instance, making people understand the importance of innovation is one thing, but telling them stories about how other organisations led the way by being innovative is another thing.

2. Make use of positive words and incorporate ‘we’ language

Seek to replace words with negative or neutral associations for words with stronger, more positive associations. ‘Problems’ become ‘challenges’, and ‘employees’ become ‘team members.’ People want an optimistic leader who is seen as being ‘one of us’ and who demonstrates and cultivates a shared identity. CEOs need to be identity leaders – that is, leaders who inspire positive organisational outcomes by representing and cultivating a sense of ‘we’ among team members.

3. Emotive communication

In our public speaking workshops we explore the importance of not only reaching people’s minds but also of reaching their hearts. Emotive communication can help get prospective business partners and clients to believe in your company’s offering, and can enable you to get your employees to commit to your mission. A word of caution though – whilst appealing to the emotions is encouraged, one needs to apply consideration and maintain balance. Overuse of emotive words can sound deceptive, so watch out for that.

A CEO’s language is the vehicle for connection, inspiration, and building trust – it ultimately leads to shifting mindsets, influencing behaviours and driving lasting change. My advice is that as a leader, you monitor the quality of your language by paying attention to your daily speech, and you’ll soon see the pattern of your own favourite words emerging. You may be surprised to discover the words that are part of your linguistic toolkit. You may not even be aware of some confusing words that you frequently use.

When seeking to make use of engaging language effectively, keep in mind that you are surrounded by your own team of ‘language auditors’. You can ask your team members to point out those confusing or less meaningful words and phrases as they arise. Then, work on changing them, opting for simplification and clarity instead. Big words aren’t always better words. A great leader is one who strives to connect. One last thing – whilst carefully crafting one’s words is important and can be effective, a leader will ultimately also be challenged to turn words into action.

Michelle Fenech Seguna is the Founder and Director of Speak to Move, offering professional training programmes which enable participants to communicate confidently and present powerfully in business and social situations.  Michelle is based in Malta, where she offers executive coaching and corporate group training.  To know more about Speak to Move services you can reach Michelle Fenech Seguna on [email protected]  or access www.speaktomove.com.mt for more information.

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