In a recent coaching session, my executive client shared this goal with me: "I want to become a more inspiring speaker so my employees really become engaged and catch the vision for this new year."
The backstory: According to the CEO, this senior leader Tyler, who'd assumed the new role of plant manager, did not get along well with his 3,000 employees. They saw him as insincere and aloof. He definitely had not won their confidence in the three years he'd been on the leadership team, but his boss could not pinpoint the problem.
My analysis of Tyler's communication issues turned up a totally different profile. In our interactions, Tyler connected immediately, shared his goals passionately, and accepted feedback readily. Obviously, there was a "disconnect" somewhere.
So after he shared his goal for our coaching session, I asked him his definition of "inspiring speaker" and invited him to walk me through how he conducted his strategy meetings with his plant leadership team.
The results of our discussion? Four common myths about how to inspire a team, clients or any audience for that matter...
Great Speaking Skills -- Myth #1: Speak to Them
This may sound counter-intuitive, but to be considered an engaging speaker, you have to stop talking occasionally. Today's audiences want a piece of the action. Accustomed to being part of the communication flow on social media, leaving their feedback on blog posts, tweeting their thoughts periodically throughout the day about news, events, happenings or impulses, today's employees expect to participate -- not to just sit and listen without talking back in some way. They become engaged and inspired when someone makes them think -- and then asks for a response in some way.
Great Speaking Skills -- Myth #2: Be the Hero of All Your Stories
Listeners gain inspiration when they walk away from a meeting feeling as though they themselves -- not the speaker -- can overcome challenges, do new things, achieve their goals. Hearing stories about peers or other "ordinary" people -- problems they've overcome, struggles they've endured, lessons they've learned -- these illustrations inspire and give confidence.
Great Speaking Skills -- Myth #3: Develop Ideas and Solutions
People help support what they create. Every politician in history longs for "grass-roots" support to put them in office, because when they have it, their policies as an elected official have a better chance of gaining that all-important "yes" vote in the court of public opinion. Rather than speaking as "the authority" with all the answers, often a leader inspires and gains stronger buy-in by asking the provocative questions, guiding the discussion, and listening to his or her people offer their best ideas. Engagement comes from two-way communication.
Great Speaking Skills -- Myth #4: Be Polished to Perfection
Forced to choose between either perfection or authenticity, my guess is that most audiences -- especially employees and clients -- would prefer authenticity. Speakers who spend their time focused on delivery at the expense of relevant content irritate rather than inspire. That's not to say that the way you communicate your ideas doesn't count. But in our social media surroundings, we've come to accept imperfection in delivery. Not so, with ideas. If the idea doesn't engage immediately, listeners leave -- mentally, if not physically.
So back to Tyler and his type who come to me with the wrong concept about how to be an "engaging" executive to kick off the annual conference: My job is often as easy as debunking a few myths. Well, almost.