Perhaps, like so many others, you feel that public speaking is not really your thing. And yet, you know that you will need to develop this skill if you are to advance your leadership career.
Finding your speaking voice and ensuring that you consistently express yourself in a manner that aligns with your values and behaviours, is vital in your development as a leader.
If you never learned the art of public speaking, this might be a bit confronting. However, the pay-off will be sizeable. You will experience an uplift in profile and power.
Your speaking voice is an extension of the image you want to portray. It encapsulates your personality, your style and your preferences. An authentic communicator feels comfortable with the words they assemble, the space they hold and the emotion they convey. In short, they are true to themselves. But that doesn’t mean they speak in the same manner as they would in a one-on-one conversation. The eloquent self is mindful of the message and perception that they create.
So, how do you find your voice? This ‘you’, that is not quite you.
Reflect on the circumstances that require you to present. Consider the environments in which you feel most comfortable – capture your observations about the situation, subject matter and audience. Now consider the scenarios in which you are not as comfortable – describe how you come across in these times.
If you had to evaluate your own performance, what would you say? If you struggle with this or have no idea where to start, you can turn to somebody you trust who has your best interests at heart.
Seek to understand your current reputation. Find out what people are saying about you when you are not around. Can you link the aspects of your reputation to the role that you play when communicating?
- How do you greet people in the morning?
- What do you say when you open a meeting?
- How do you deliver a presentation to your team?
- When do you engage communities outside of work?
- How much do you share about your personal life at work and vice versa?
The ‘you’ that you present is an artefact. It’s not really the whole you. But it is what people see, hear and remember.
Who do you admire?
In the journey to finding your own voice, it may be useful to look to those speakers that you admire. You might immediately think of the great orators in history – Martin Luther King Jnr, JFK, Churchill, Lincoln – and that might be useful. But it could be more helpful to identify others closer to home. Who have you seen speak at a conference, meeting, town hall or pitch situation?
Choosing real people to emulate does not mean that you intend to copy their mannerisms. That would be a sure-fire way to appear inauthentic. Instead, you will develop an ear for what is working.
- How does the personality of that speaker shine through in their presentation?
- What did this person do to create a sense of shared purpose in the room?
- How did another shift the emotional energy of the group?
Think about why you trust these speakers and why you want to listen. As Maya Angelou once famously said; “people may forget what you say but they will always remember the way you make them feel”.
Create a goal
Once you know where you are starting from and you have a picture in your mind of what good looks like, you are ready to forge your own path.
Setting your goal is about forming a vision for how you would like to be perceived. It is best to start small and build. Focus on your next speaking opportunity and set an intention. Then plan out your content with this in mind. Immediately before you speak, revisit your intention, this time considering the voice, mannerisms, and presence you wish to portray.
If you repeat this process over time, you will become better and better at public speaking. You will have a clearer picture of how you come across, and you will be more and more confident when delivering presentations.
Monica Lunin is the author of What She Said: The Art of Inspiring Action Through Speech (Wiley $29.95) and director of the leadership and communication consultancy MOJOLOGIC.