Monday, March 16, 2009

Speak to Inspire Like Obama? Yes You Can!

Why is there so much written about Barack Obama as a public speaker? His command of an audience and his powerful speeches are the topic of many articles, blogs and books.

Well for starters, he looks like a leader. And because he speaks flawlessly using visually-rich metaphors and sweeping statements, we cannot help but listen.

We follow and admire people who can captivate our attention. Their credibility follows when they are congruent with their message.

Those with grand oratory skills are enough to initially trigger people's decision to regard them automatically as a great leader, an expert and someone to trust and follow.

Pretty useful skills to have wouldn't you agree?

Here are some of my observations of Obama as an inspiring speaker.

Speak to Inspire - Three Simple Keys

Focus on the Audience - A very basic rule but is often overlooked as the preparation of the message gets lost with who the speaker is, what the speaker will do and how much the speaker knows.

To connect with people, find out their issues, concerns, problems and offer a solution, empathy or just simple understanding.

Get to the heart of what's important to your audience, to your team, to your constituents and address these issues/themes sincerely.

A practical way to find out what's concerning them is to ask them! Call in advance or have them fill out a questionnaire before a presentation.

Here's a real-world example: a client recently took this advice and called his clients before a tender presentation to ask about what their issues were, what is their #1 concern and he was pleasantly received with "You're the only one who has bothered to call and find out..."

Guess who had the advantage and attention of the audience?

Be Authentic - This may sound easy but how do you practice being authentic? There isn't a step by step process to becoming authentic. The word itself is defined as "not false or imitation" and "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character".

It is not easy to fake authenticity or rather, people can usually see right through it.

To be authentic is just to be you, not whom you think you should be or say the right things. Transparency is key and sometimes a little disclosure helps.

Speak from integrity and from honesty and this is one of the most respectable things you can do for your audience.

Don't say things like "I know what it's like..." or "I know what you're going through..." if you have never been in the trenches.

A well known example is during the aftermath of 9/11, then New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani appeared at a press conference distraught and conceded that he did not know or understand what was happening.

It did not make him less of a leader to appear shaken, uncertain and under no terms did the public think he was weak just because he did not have all the answers.

In fact, his popularity ratings soared as his authenticity connected him to how millions were feeling.

A more local example is after a motorway tragedy, our Chief Executive went to the scene the next day and in his attempts to console the grieving survivors, caused more anguish than relief.

He couldn't communicate a message authentically and instead, resorted to politically correct rhetoric about what the government plans to do.

He was a politician through and through.

At that critical moment, just showing his authentic self would have been enough. The families needed compassion and understanding, not assurance of new laws.

Believe in Your Message - What you say and how you say it comes from how much you believe in it. You must be congruent with your message or people will be able to spot a fake.

Have you ever sat through a sales pitch and said to yourself that the presenter would say anything to make a sale?

Or how about the CEO who announces that the company must reduce costs as he's on his way to a 3-hour lunch at the club in the company limousine?

That is when credibility goes down and cynicism goes up.

The term "walk the talk" may be a bit overused but the value of this is even more magnified during challenging times.

Leaders have to be congruent with what they say. The way you say it "shows" it all.

Barack Obama is particularly gifted at this. His unwavering voice, his direct eye contact, his unfaltering pitch and confident stance already show, without words, that he believes in his message.

You can ask someone who doesn't understand a word of English distinguish one of Obama's speeches whether he stands behind what he's saying.

Do not underestimate how people can discern whether a message is congruent or not.
CLICK HERE to view Obama's victory speech, one of my favorite clips. Notice the confidence, the leadership stance and masterful use of words.

These three keys are just a clue to becoming an inspiring speaker. Of course, there's a lot more to discover, learn and apply.

Join our upcoming April 27 Dynamic Presentation Skills Workshop to learn about how to present as an inspiring leader.

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