A couple of years ago, I published my first book, A Climb to the Top: Communication and Leadership Tactics to Take Your Career to New Heights. It was an awesome journey putting my experiences and thoughts to paper that would end up helping thousands of individuals become better communicators.
Writing A Climb to the Top was the result of years and years of working with a variety of organizations in multiple industries worldwide, seeing firsthand the obstacles getting in the way of leaders with great potential.
After speaking and coaching throughout the world, I’m convinced that personal transformations often falter because individuals overlook the need to significantly improve their ability to persuasively communicate. They focus on improving their technical skills and don’t concern themselves with what they perceive as the “softer” side of business. Communication is often neglected because it is not perceived as a skill set critical for success. That attitude has caused countless individuals to reflect, rethink, and regret the negative impact it had on their careers.
It’s not that domain expertise doesn’t matter. It does. But those who merely satisfy minimum communication requirements often don’t have the speaking skills required to ascend into the top spots. When things go wrong, you can usually trace the problem to a breakdown in communication. When things go right, it’s often great communicators who help generate the most lasting results.
It’s why I’ve conducted numerous workshops on the language of leading and the importance of communicating in a way that inspires, persuades and provokes people to act. It’s why Columbia has had me teach their incredibly intelligent engineers the importance of communication and emotional intelligence: leaders who create significant change in the world and in their organizations, require effective communication skills.
I built A Climb to the Top around ten fundamental principles that are necessary to become an effective leader. In many ways, the focus of A Climb to the Top was directed toward public speaking; however, these principles, which I call the Ten Commandments of Public Speaking – are essential for all occasions where you must communicate effectively. Whether to a room full of 500 people, in front of your department or 15, or simply in front of your superior, these principles provide the guidance needed to truly be heard. Consider each of these principles which I’ve altered some from the book and ponder on how well you incorporate these into your communication habits.
- The Primacy and Recency Effect
When it comes to speeches, if you don’t start with something that captures your audience’s attention, you’re going to lose them immediately. And if you don’t close with something equally compelling—an inspiring call to action that literally propels people out of their seats—you’ve basically wasted your time and theirs. This same approach is just as applicable with anyone you communicate with, even if it’s not a speech. Think about the last meeting you went to that truly grabbed your attention compared to your typical meetings. Anytime you are asked to speak, think about how you can hook those around you to get their attention, share the necessary information and then close with a call-to-action that provokes change. Learning to effectively start and finish any message you give is crucial – doing so incorporates the Primacy and Recency Effect.
- Emotion Precedes Reason
When you reflect on the greatest speeches, messages, keynotes, and presentations you’ve witnessed, it’s likely the individual was charismatic and dynamic. That charisma – or emotion – is the greatest tool for persuasion. People aren’t going to recall the exact words you deliver or the exact way you present your ideas, but they will remember the way you make them feel. Understanding how to recognize and leverage those emotions are key to becoming an effective persuasive speaker. Remember, we are emotional beings, and while we want facts and figures, we make decisions based on emotion. Take the time to watch some of the most watched TED talks to see what sets the apart from the rest – it’s likely emotion.
- Speak with Conviction, Listen with Intention
The importance of a carefully crafted message is so important. The words you choose, the tone, inflection, etc. are all considered a part of that communication package that is headed to the receiver. Mr. Mark Twain once said, “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Ultimately, we all want to sound clear, definitive, and sure of ourselves. We can help ourselves in this department by being prepared on the topics we’re set to discuss with others. But, how does this apply when not every opportunity to communicate is a scripted one? Answering this requires adherence to the second part of this principle, which is listen with intention. When we seek to understand what the person or people in front of us are communicating, we will naturally respond and engage in a way that is appropriate for the situation. If you want people to believe in you and in what you say, listen with intention, acknowledge their thoughts, and speak with conviction.
- Body Language
So much is communicated before you even begin to speak. As a result, those around you are reacting to you even if you haven’t verbally addressed them. They’re also responding to how you are feeling about yourself based on the nonverbal postures you are using. How you feel will translate into how you hold your body and subsequently the tone and words you use. Which is why it’s critical to try visualizing confidence and conviction, even if you aren’t organically feeling it – fake it until you make it. Bottom line: your body language makes all the difference when communicating.
- Minimizing the Distance
We’re conditioned to believe that there should be barriers between ourselves and the people we are presenting to. That, in my opinion, is a time-honored habit that needs to change. Perhaps the communication models of the past simply weren’t designed to ensure speakers could build a rapport or establish a personal connection with their audiences. But today, collaboration and connection are critical. Again, I refer back to the most effective TED talks and how those speakers are conducting themselves. You will frequently see them walking around the stage, shifting their focus from one side of the room to the other, gesturing toward those watching and listening. While you may not be giving a TED talk, consider how you conduct your next meeting and what barriers you hide behind that are potentially obstructing your connection to those you are speaking with.
- Use the “Rule of 3”
The Rule of Three is everywhere – from the delivery of comedic sketches and stage productions to the layout of classical movements and literature. This pattern has successfully been applied to the marketing and advertising industry as well – pay attention and you’ll see plenty of your favorite brands incorporating this approach. Not only is it an excellent means of distilling down lots of information into digestible chunks, it makes your message more memorable. For speakers, three is—and always has been—the perfect number. List two things— black and white, up and down, right and wrong—and audiences tend to contrast the two. Rattle off a string of four ideas and people often forget half of what was said. There’s a certain rhythm however, to linking together three ideas that resonates with listeners and readers.
- Always Punctuate
Punctuation is essential to communication in the written word – it is just as important in speech. However, since listeners can’t see commas, question marks, or exclamation points, speakers have to express them in ways that make them care. You can’t be shy. You have to be intense, sincere, and passionate. Stories and speeches must come from within and make their way to an audience with power, conviction, and punctuation. You should always ask yourself these two questions when giving a speech: What do we want the audience to think, feel, or do to move them closer to our cause? What is different after communication has taken place?
- Incorporate the Power of the Pause
Mark Twain once said, “the right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Great speakers in every field and occupation rely on the power of well-timed pauses to grab their audience’s attention. During presidential debates, it’s often the candidates who control the pause and the pace of their deliveries who command the stage, compelling us to listen more intently to their words, tone, and delivery. When speakers are rushed or flustered, they seem out of control, quickly diminishing their credibility. When working with clients, I introduce three primary reasons why strategically placed moments of silence are essential for every speaker to add to their repertoire: pause allows the speaker to concentrate on their call to action, it creates suspense and it allows the speaker to control the overall pace of their delivery.
- Leverage Visuals
We change our clothes, eat different foods, and watch different television shows, all in the pursuit of variety. We work hard to avoid monotony. Time and again audiences mumble things like “I can’t listen to him any longer” and “When will it be over?” And yet the next speaker gets up and doesn’t do enough to change their feelings. They offer up the same boring speeches, one after another. No variety, no engagement, no results. The effective integration of visuals in your presentation can counterattack this and win your audience’s attention. Whether it’s pictures that help capture their attention or easy-to-view graphics that easily convey difficult data finding ways to incorporate visual stimuli will enhance your message and drastically increase engagement from your audience.
- Vary Your Pitch and Tone
How you deliver any message, in regard to pitch, will dictate the tone, mood, intention, and your perceived command of the topic. One way to think of this is to visualize and recall the differences in instruments. Take a violin and cello: the violin is high and bright, the cello low and slow. Depending on your pitch, you are attaching different emotions to your words. Take any sentence and play around with the pitch and its meaning will undoubtedly change. Recognizing, understanding and utilizing different pitches and tones are critical in delivering messages that people want to hear.
These ten principles – if applied properly – will transform your communication and leadership abilities. And while the idea of trying to do all ten of these things simultaneously may seem daunting, practicing them one by one will help you improve leaps and bounds. Practicing each of these principles, may at first seem unnatural, uncomfortable, and awkward. However, the act of overcoming these challenges is where growth and success will occur. Consider getting a deep-dive course on these ten communication commandments for your next leadership workshop or conference event. Learn more by reading my blog on the subject.