By: Jim Roddy, VP of Marketing at the RSPA
If you’re looking for an addition to your New Year’s resolution list, I’ve got one for you, me, and every other executive and aspiring leader: communicate better.
You can’t wish your way to communication expertise; you have to work for it by first acquiring knowledge and then practicing what you learn. Communication guidance is especially important now as we present multiple times a day through an ever-increasing number of video calls with our teammates, partners, clients, and prospects.
Two resources I recommend every time I’m asked for advice on this topic are Do You Talk Funny? by David Nihill and a book by the brother/sister duo of Jennifer Vautier and John J. Vautier, Mastering Executive Presence, which we’ll discuss today. The Vautiers define executive presence as “the ability to demonstrate a certain ease, confidence, and effectiveness when communicating. It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you are in charge or deserve to be.”
We flunk that standard when we talk in circles, wandering from one subject to another. We fail when we appear nervous, stumbling through the material we’re trying to present. And our messaging plan falls apart when we bore our audience, allowing them to disengage in this world of constant distractions.
We’re not destined to flunk, fail, or fall apart. Start learning today, then practice tomorrow. Some of my favorite passages from Mastering Executive Presence include:
- People very rarely become better tennis players, chess players, pianists, dancers, or chefs without conscientious practice. The same is true for adept communicators. Very deliberate practice is a must. And not two days before a big presentation.
- The thing about first impressions: they last. They last as long as forever.
- Be you. But be the most enthusiastically passionate you possible.
- People don’t fall asleep during conversations, but they often do during presentations — and that’s because many presentations don’t feel conversational.
- Being a dynamic presenter and storyteller has a lot to do with a leader’s success.
- Craft an irresistible beginning. Capture the audience’s attention quickly so they put away their phones, put aside lingering thoughts from their previous meeting, and temporarily forget their next looming deadline.
- In that first 30 seconds, you want your audience to tune in, not out.
- To provide an effective talk, you must slash back the range of topics you will cover to a single, connected thread. “Great writing is all about the power of the deleted word.”
- To say something interesting you have to take the time to do at least two things: Say why it matters. Flesh out each point you make with real examples, stories, and facts.
- “Remember, it’s just a conversation. There may be 100 people in the audience, but it still is just a conversation. You may stumble, but it’s OK. Pause, reset, and go forward.”
- “Almost every PowerPoint presentation sucks rotten eggs.” Seth Godin
- Do not read your slides. It is an insult to your audience.
- Here’s the secret you’ve been waiting for: The way to get over any fear you may have of public speaking and delivering C-suite presentations is … practice. That’s it. Anyone who is any good at speaking has put in the time.
RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 9.0/10
I became a fan of Vautier Communications’ work in 2017 when I participated in one of John’s multi-day speaking courses and read their first book Speak As Well As You Think. The Vautiers dissect executive communication into digestible chunks while emphasizing this underlying message: great communicators aren’t born, they’re made.
Believing the opposite of that is the biggest mistake I see leaders make related to communication. When they need to deliver a message – whether that’s one-on-one to a direct report, via Zoom to the executive team of a prospective customer, or to dozens from the front of a room – leaders erroneously believe winging it and relying on instincts will get the job done. I learned from Mastering Executive Presence and from studying effective leaders that every communication situation requires critical thinking, planning, note taking, and practice before you walk into that room or connect to that video call.
When I’m on the receiving end of poorly planned/practiced communication, my blood pressure rises because I see it as a sign of disrespect. I don’t expect everyone who communicates with me to be a Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, or Maya Angelou, but we can all put in the time preparing for a talk – if we care enough about the listener.
Let’s all commit to improved communication in 2021, not just to benefit our businesses but for the betterment of those we serve.
Purchase your copy of Mastering Executive Presence here.