Are you one of many who struggles to communicate with authority and confidence?
Have you been in a meeting when the moment has passed you by?
Have you made a point – only to be shot down?
Do you struggle to build credibility in your team?
Following these seven steps will help you speak with confidence and authority.
“A wise man speaks because he has something to say; fools because they have to say something”
Many mistake authority for noise: shouting loudly and often.
It’s those who choose their moments that show true leadership.
Often in meetings, you can feel that you have to say something.
I’ve often seen people in the audience who want only to be seen to be asking a question.
They signal for the microphone to pose a question, only to register their involvement.
Our clients in Scotland’s councils have introduced harsh methods to keep meetings on time.
Similar to the conch in ‘Lord of the Flies’, they have introduced a ‘talking stick’.
Things got so bad for one council in London that the Chief Executive walked into a meeting with her Equalities Committee.
She opened the door and challenged the group:
“This paper mache bomb has a life span of 60 seconds. Unless anyone can tell me in one sentence why we are here, it will go off”.
Within sixty seconds the room was clear, and the committee was disbanded.
So much time is wasted.
People feel they need to speak, meet, or be seen to be doing something.
Leaders demonstrate their authority by telling it how it is.
Typical academic presentations follow a similar pattern.
They begin with the Background.
Moving on to the Methodology.
Then it’s time to discuss the Results.
Finishing up with the Recommendations and Conclusions.
We always advocate turning this pattern on its head, so it reads:
Results – Recommendations – Background – Methodology – Conclusions
Because the audience appreciates you getting straight to the point.
They want to know what’s in it for them.
It’s far more engaging to start:
“3 in 4 of us are oblivious to the amount of sugar and salt we’re consuming. We need to change the way we communicate these guidelines to reduce the levels of obesity”.
By putting the point first, we engage others.
Think about how you make points to other people.
You tend to give the background first, then your reasoning, and finally your results.
Leaders put the results or the recommendations first, depending on what their audiences want.
So next time, start your point with the result or recommendations.
Trust me, your audience will thank you for it.
I remember working with a Marketing Director in Glasgow in 2010.
She wanted to turn her organisation’s reputation.
They faced poor customer reviews and falling sales.
Giving a presentation to her Board, she waxed lyrical about the new “customer service strategy”.
A 40-slide Powerpoint, complete with paid-for infographics, and six carefully worded values.
After half an hour, the Chair asked her to sum up her presentation in a few words.
“We’ll make more money long-term by being nicer to customers”.
She believed using big words and showing all the workings in the margin would impress her audience.
Instead, she needed to keep it simple.
Leaders will take complex messages and simplify them into simple soundbites.
As explained in this blog “Make your Message Crystal Clear” I wrote in 2015.
“Just to pick up on John’s point, I know we’ve moved on slightly but I’d like to say a couple of things about it…”
“Can I just make a point about one of the things we’re going to need to think about in the future?”
“I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes or overstep the mark here, but…”
All of the above phrases contain “weak” or “filler” phrases.
They add little or nothing to the substance of the point you’re about to make.
Demonstrate leadership when communicating.
Make your points without unnecessary caveats or explanation.
Avoid these phrases, that can come at the end of sentences.
“So that’s just my two cents’ worth”.
Far better to stop when you’ve made your point.
Like a game of football/soccer, score and then retreat to the half-way line.
Here are two from recent times:
“Britain will not be plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction”
(UK Brexit Secretary David Davis on life after Brexit)
“I’m not a quitter”
(UK Prime Minister Theresa May on her future plans)
We now have two very clear pictures.
One of Mad Max and the other of Theresa May quitting.
Leaders will speak positively, so you only see positive pictures.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech is the ultimate positive vision.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is another.
To speak with authority, work out what is happening and what you do want to happen.
Now you’ll articulate that positively – and people are more likely to follow you.
“When they ask you how you are, true leaders will want to know the answer – and will miss their next meeting if you need to talk about it”.
Leadership author Simon Sinek has a very clear view of leadership.
It’s based on listening and understanding.
You may have been given advice at school to stare at the wall when making a speech.
Or to focus on people’s mouths rather than their eyes when they ask you a question.
Or to break from 100% eye contact because people find that unnerving.
Our advice is to forget all three.
Leaders will focus in on you.
They’ll be interested.
Pace is the second determining factor.
Particularly in Scotland, we have a habit of speaking far too quickly.
Often we confuse speed with confidence.
Far better to slow down and pause.
Watch this video of Steve Jobs .
It contains 49 seconds of silence in a two-minute presentation.
Every single word is meticulously chosen for effect.
It’s delivered at a speed of 2.5 words per second.
It’s extremely gripping – and authoritative.
In 2009, Scotland’s Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill released the only man convicted of the 1989 Lockerbie bombing.
He did so on compassionate grounds.
At the time of the release, he planned to make a statement and leave.
The week before the event, he was given some very frank advice.
“If you do that, Minister, it’ll be the last day of your political life”.
People were angry, confused and wanted answers.
So he stood and answered over thirty questions from the world’s media.
“Why have you betrayed the victims?”
“Don’t you believe he’s guilty?”
“Is there a cover-up?”
“How can you sleep at night?”
And in doing so, he slowly, surely, built credibility with his audience.
Five years later, I worked with an Edinburgh law firm.
They planned to make huge changes internally to the way people worked.
“We’ll make a statement on Friday afternoon and close the office for the weekend.”
“That’ll give people time to cool off and come back on Monday with questions”.
Take questions there and then.
Leaders face the music.
They prepare for the hard questions so they have answers.
But more than anything else, they demonstrate accountability.
Andrew McFarlan is the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can view his full profile here.
Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.