President Gerald R. Ford once said: “If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate.”
Most executives know exactly what Ford meant because they spend a lot of time in front of others, trying to get their points of view across. Invariably they do a good job in front of small groups—no doubt a key factor in their ability to climb the proverbial corporate ladder.
In front of more formal audiences, some managers falter. When delivering presentations, they seem to withdraw, rather than project. As a result, they diminish the power of their message—and frankly, their prospects for advancement.
The secret to presenting well is to be yourself. This cliché fails to get to the heart of the issue. Should a shy person be withdrawn on stage? Should a loud person get louder? Or should a mild-mannered individual become milder or more mannered? Absurd.
The challenge for a speaker is project authenticity. By any measure, this is your individuality—but it is more. Authenticity for a leader is a reflection of core beliefs, as well as an embodiment of the values of the organization. The outward manifestation of authenticity is presence; that’s the “real stuff” of leadership. Consider it your beliefs put into action. In short, you walk the talk because you are setting an example for others that you, too, follow. That’s a heady concept, certainly.
When it comes to presentations, listeners in informal or formal settings look to their leaders to be authentic. Here are two things to do when considering how to assert your leadership presence to underscore your message.
Prepare. Preparation is essential. It means knowing your audience and your message. Understand your message, as well as what the audience needs to know. It means you prepare your text and possibly, your slides, to reflect your message in ways that are understandable and memorable. This is why stories are so critical to good presentation. Preparing good ones enables you get your message across in human terms.
Project. You need to get out of your skin. Presenting is not a matter of being you, per se, it’s being the stage version of yourself. By that, I mean you use your voice to amplify your words, your gestures to punctuate your message, and your pauses to give the audience time to reflect on what you have to say. Projection is essential to getting a strong message across in a meaningful way.
When leaders speak, their words need to resonate with integrity and with their individuality. This is the way to ensure that people remember your message—and you.