You’ve worked hard and successfully made it to the top tiers of the organisation. Fantastic! Way to go! But hey, sitting at the top seat is tough. Once you get to the top, you’re expected to communicate ‘the voice of leadership’, and your people have rather high expectations of you.
You’ll soon realise that the higher you go – and the more visible you become – the more communication counts. After all, leading is all about communicating. As expressed by James Humes, author and former presidential speechwriter, “every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.”
The leader’s role is mostly not to do, but to communicate what needs to be done. People need to see, hear and feel your vision. In order to accomplish that well, they first need to believe what you tell them.
Whenever people are asked about the most important skills of a leader, communication is always at the top of the list. Numerous studies confirm that strong communication skills are foundational for leadership. In 2020, Indeed listed clear communication as a top leadership skill for CEOs, and the challenging circumstances of the past year have also shown that clear communication is critical, especially in leading through times of crisis.
As the CEO, the spotlight is always on you. Your people are counting on you to speak with clarity and conviction, to be the voice and the face of the organisation. Whether you like it or not, people are watching you all the time, and that includes how you communicate.
Great leaders embrace speaking as a skill to nurture, and while some may think that great speakers speak on the fly, they don’t. Great speakers may look as if they just get up and speak with flowing streams of words. The truth is that great speaking is a skill that requires practice.
Learning to speak like a CEO is a talent that you can develop. Luckily, as a leader, you have ample opportunities to grow this talent, because you need to communicate all the time. As a leader, this is an asset surely worth developing right away. So, what are some of the secrets that have helped other CEOs succeed in their public speaking? Here are three secrets:
Every speech or presentation needs one big idea. The big idea is what most people will remember. A big idea is not about a long speech – that rarely works. It is big because it captivates people on an emotional level.
The problem with a number of speeches is that they try to do too much. Your message needs to be clear and simple in order to be memorable. Steve Jobs was brilliant at this. Jobs spoke in simple, clear and direct language that is free of the jargon and complexity so common in business communications. He chose words that were fun, tangible and concrete.
As a CEO, you face good times and bad times, so you need to balance reality with hope. A hallmark of leadership is optimism. As Simon Sinek put it, “optimism is about the future. It is not blind positivity nor is it naïve. It is not seeing the glass as half full and ignoring the half of the glass that is empty. It is the ability to see the emptiness of half the glass while choosing to focus on the fullness of the other half of the glass. It is the ability to see the good in the face of the bad. It is the practice of looking for the silver-linings in any cloud.” So, in challenging moments like those we are going through in current times, the CEO needs to speak about those silver linings.
I come across seasoned professionals whose early experiences might not have necessarily prepared them for the big speaking game. As they moved up the ladder, they might have not had the right opportunities to hone the skill of brilliant speaking. Yet, as senior executives, they are expected to speak to large groups, deliver key notes, present at annual conferences, lead board meetings and speak at other high-stake events. Add to that the recent introduction of presenting at hybrid events, where we are now speaking live in person to a small group alongside a larger audience watching us online, requiring somewhat even more sophisticated techniques to command attention.
If you are an aspiring leader and miss out on opportunities to speak like a leader, you risk being passed over for your dream job. If you already hold the post of a leader, there’s something at stake for you as well. We live in a world of instant communication, and keeping up is no small feat. The crux of the matter is that whilst better than average communicators are generally more successful than other people, it is great communicators who move the world.
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