4 Mistakes Bosses Make About How to Become an Engaging Speaker

An executive coaching 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 upcoming year.”

The backstory: According to the CEO, this senior leader Tyler, who’d assumed the role of plant manager three years earlier, did not get along well with his 3,000-plus employees. They saw him as insincere and aloof. He definitely had not won their confidence as part of the leadership team, and the CEO could not pinpoint the problem.

My interaction with Tyler resulted in a totally different perspective on his personality and the communication problem. In our discussion, Tyler connected immediately, shared his goals passionately, and accepted feedback readily. Obviously, there was a disconnection somewhere.

So after he shared his goal to become a more “inspiring speaker” to “engage his employees,” I probed further for a few definitions: “Can you walk me through how you conduct your strategy meetings with your leadership team at the plant? For example, what topics do you cover? What do you do now for your opening comments to help your team catch the vision?”

What follows is the essence of his responses—common misconceptions about how to inspire a team, clients, or any audience for that matter.

How to Be an Engaging Speaker: It’s Not What You Think

Mistake #1: Speak to Them

This may sound counter-intuitive, but to be considered an engaging speaker, you have to stop doing all the talking. Today’s audiences want a piece of the action. Accustomed to being part of the communication flow on social media, today’s employees expect to participate—not to just sit and soak.

They become engaged and inspired when someone makes them think—and then asks for a contribution (an answer or application, feedback, their own story or experience). Give them opportunity to contribute to your “presentation” or “speech.”

Mistake #2: Be the Example

Listeners gain inspiration when they walk away from a meeting feeling as though they themselves—not the speaker or presenter—can overcome challenges, do new things, or achieve new goals. Hearing stories about peers or other “ordinary” people inspire them and give them confidence. Sure, include your own stories and experiences. But in addition to your own illustrations, share problems others have overcome, struggles they’ve endured, and lessons they’ve learned.

Mistake #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. When they have that “we built it” support, 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 that guide discussion. Then listen to how eagerly people offer their best ideas. Engagement comes from two-way communication.

Mistake #4: Polish to Perfection

Forced to choose between either perfection or authenticity, most audiences 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. (Think live Facebook feeds. Consider how-to videos on YouTube.) 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 have the wrong concept about how to be “engaging.” My coaching job is as easy as debunking a few misconceptions. Well, almost.

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