Leaders Need To Find Their Voice
Why are so few business leaders good communicators, given all the education they have received, starting at varsity and then later, through their organisations? Leaders – let’s stop kidding ourselves, the reality is, if we can’t talk to people, we can’t lead successfully. The TED talk phenomenon, which has spawned TEDxEverywhere, should be having a positive impact on leaders. It would appear though that not many of us are taking any note.
Leaders are often told they need to be authentic. That means to some, that it is fine to be dull, obtuse, monotone and forgettable. Dramatic oratorical flourishes are not required but congruency is a must. For leaders this means matching the way we communicate with the content of our message.
When we speak using a monotone delivery, placing equal stress on each word, sadly, our audience just tunes us out. They start to look for other points of stimulation, such as how we are dressed, our body language, our voice quality – almost everything except the actual key message content. Authentic failure as a communicator is probably not what leaders have in mind as the desired outcome.
Leaders need to match their vocal variation and facial expression to the message being delivered. Congruency means emphasising key words or phrases, through either adding or subtracting voice projection. Whispering is as powerful as yelling, as long as the message content is aligned with the delivery mechanism. Dialing up and down the energy and speed when speaking, creates the necessary vocal variation to keep the audience focused on what we are saying.
Leaders are often notable for speaking while exhibiting a "wooden face", meaning they maintain the same facial expression throughout their talk. Good, striking, even exceptional news is greeted with the same expression as announcing disaster, doom and gloom.
The simple rule is, if it is good news, let your face know and smile or show happiness. If it is bad news, look serious, worried, upset or fearful depending on the content and context. Get the face involved, because it is a million times more powerful as a communication tool, than whatever is up on the screen behind us.
Voice speed can be an indicator of confidence or terror. Most of us, when nervous, tend to speed up and our ideas can rapidly begin to overtake each other. Pausing is needed to allow the audience to process what they have just heard. Getting through it in the time allotted does not equal getting our message across.
We can also speak using our body. Our facial angle allows us to become inclusive and capture all of our audience, no matter where they are seated. The front, middle, back, the sides – the leader makes eye contact to engage with people in all parts of the room. Eye contact means actual engagement – looking an audience member in the eye and speaking to them for around 6 seconds. Less than that makes for a rather fleeting perfunctory type of engagement. Locking on to their gaze for much longer starts to burn into their retina and becomes uncomfortable.
Our feet, funnily enough, are important when speaking. Pointing them straight forward and using only our neck to swivel our head and engage the audience is projecting confidence, credibility and solidity. Often times, speakers are unconsciously facing their feet toward favouring one side of the room. They subsequently only engage that half, leaving the remainder of the audience in supreme neglect. Slouching, standing off balance, nervously striding about the stage may not be projecting the professional image leader’s desire.
Our hands can be a dilemma too. We either overemploy them, so that like the monotone voice, everything gets the same unbroken level of emphasis or we don’t deploy them at all. Behind our back, resting on our hips, thrust deeply into trouser pockets, held protectively in front of our body are the usual suspects in the crime of neglect of our hand’s communication strength when speaking. Gestures are powerful to emphasise the key points we want our audience to remember.
Being a "good speaker" is not the goal. Being a good person, who can speak convincingly is the real goal. There are plenty of spivs, spinners, crooks, dodgy politicians, shifty CEOs etc., who are verbose and quoting that brilliant Aussie gem: "can talk under wet concrete with a mouth full of roofing nails". Leaders need their own voice to fully reach their audience, to persuade, to inspire, to be credible and memorable. You are the brand and what you say and how you say it matters. Be congruent, authentic, be you, but be the best possible you.
Always be congruent between our content and our delivery
Use vocal tone, facial expression, power and speed to vary the delivery
Keep our eyes fixed on our audience the whole time engaging them one by one
Work the whole room and not just one side
Remember – you are the brand