Friday, 30 October 2009

How different is Leadership from Public Speaking?

I went to Milan yesterday for lunch. It sounds rather exotic but it had a serious underlying purpose. The lunch was being hosted by The British Chamber of Commerce in Italy and as we’re interested in joining the Chamber their invitation was an opportunity to find out more. It also allowed me to meet new people, talk about our business and expand our list of contacts here in Italy. And, the 1½ hour drive was a pleasant change, fog excluded.

It was a worthwhile investment as not only did I meet some nice people and eat a nice lunch but I was also reminded of 2 very important things:
  1. Metro systems only exist for the purpose of people moving and those who use them will always be sardines on certain lines or stations at certain times of the day. Being able to get mobile signal on a Milan metro or in a Milan metro station is no compensation.
  2. When you are asked to speak at an event it’s imperative that you know who your audience is and better than you know your subject
While listening to the speaker yesterday I also observed the audience and realised that the qualities of an effective and charismatic leader also apply to public speakers. Unfortunately our speaker didn't do so well. On the drive back I started listing the various common points and decided that a blog post on the subject was necessary. So, while it might not be exhaustive, here’s my list of important qualities for leaders and speakers:
  1. Time – Set the time limit. Specify in advance the amount of time someone has to speak, in the same way as you would specify the length of time required for a meeting. Golden rule: stick to time.
  2. Audience - Know your audience. Who is attending, what do they do, and what is their interest or purpose in being there.
  3. Subject – Know your subject. You’ve been chosen to speak because you’re a recognised expert and you’re leading the meeting because you’re responsible for achieving the results. Make sure then that you not only know what you are going to talk about but that it is also relevant to the audience in attendance.
  4. Concise – Be specific. Whatever you do don’t waffle! Regardless of how interesting and relevant your subject is nothing will lose an audience or a team faster than a load of waffle.
  5. Engaging – Be realistic in your enthusiasm. You might have passion for your subject but unless you can convey that to your audience and engage them fully you will lose their attention and any hope of them being interested in any next steps.
  6. Next Steps – What if anything do you want the audience to do next? Donate funds to your association? Sign up for a workshop or development program? Pick up and run with a number of tasks that will transform how the team works and accelerate growth? Whatever it is you need to tell people. Contrary to popular belief most people are not mind readers and unless you’re clear people won’t know what to do.
  7. Questions – Make time for questions. Try to keep responses short and to the point. If a longer discussion or interaction is needed shorten the response by committing to speak to the person individually. Don't waste other people's time, or stop dessert from being served, by entering into a discussion.
Finally, have some fun! It makes an enormous difference to your own countenance and can also be contagious making for a far more enjoyable lunch or meeting.

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