I recently worked with the CFO of a large oil and gas company on a major presentation. He began by going through his PowerPoint slides, reading chart after chart.
“Stop,” I said. “You’re presenting like an accountant, not a leader.” Going over every little detail might have made him a great CFO, but it wasn’t going to win him points when it came to public speaking. To convey his leadership skills, he needed to shift his mind-set from educating his listeners to influencing them with his presentation.
To boost your leadership presence, start by developing these four speaking habits:
1) Don’t just dump the data, connect the facts
For my CFO client to make an impact on the audience, he needed to show them what the facts meant. Without any context, they might not understand its significance. After all, some of them might not be as intimately familiar as he is with balance sheet terminology.
Many years ago I worked with a leader from General Dynamics who was working on a presentation about tank specifications. He outlined how the tank would perform under various conditions. “Yes, but what does that mean?” I asked him. “Well, it won’t perform well when it’s too cold,” he replied.
That’s what he needs to tell his audience. As a leader, you can’t assume that your listeners will have your level of knowledge of specific topics, or your understanding of what the numbers mean to the company. It’s on you to demonstrate that.
2) Speak from the heart–not from a script
Preparation is essential, but if you want your listeners to see you as a leader, you need to give up the script. When you recite written words, you sound robotic, and that can make you appear dull and boring. You definitely don’t want that.
I recently worked with an COO from a small tech company who’d just moved over from a larger organization. He’d prepared and practiced a presentation about his big move and memorized it to perfection. Unsurprisingly, he received the following feedback: “You looked too rehearsed—too robotic.” In today’s age, you won’t charm anyone with a perfect script. You need to be raw, honest, and convince people that you’re speaking from the heart. It’s difficult to sound authentic when you’re reading a pre-prepared speech, even if you thoroughly believe in the words that you’re saying.
3) Ditch the technical jargon and use simple, plain language
You might be tempted to show your technical knowledge by using complicated language, but this tends to kill leadership presence–so don’t. At best, you’ll come across as confusing, and at worst, you’ll come across as arrogant. Neither outcome is ideal when you want to invoke credibility as a leader. I once worked with an aerospace VP of communication who spoke in literary prose. I asked him why he inflated his vocabulary. “Well, when I was growing up around the dinner table, we’d have family language competitions.” This is one instance where dinner table traditions didn’t work. He’s no longer with that company.
As a leader, being clear and simple trumps being verbose. By using plain, simple language, you’ll be able to get your point across in as few words as possible, and this helps magnify the impact of what you’re saying. When you avoid jargon, your audience will be more likely to see you as a clear communicator, and this is a crucial quality for a leader to have.
4) Use images to make your audience feel smart
When you spout facts and data that the audience doesn’t understand, you make them feel dumb. You want to do the opposite–your talk should make them feel smart. How do you do that? By accompanying your presentation with compelling images.
For example, I was recently working with a client who was using the phrase “establish common platforms across the country.” This sounds kind of vague, so we worked to develop a visual analogy to illustrate the concept. We ended up using the image of Legos–you start with foundational pieces, which are the “common platforms,” and you can put on Legos or take them off as needed. When he explains it this way, it’s easy to understand. Dumping one data point after another, on the other hand, won’t have the same effect.
Yes, as a leader, you want to show people that you are intelligent and knowledgeable. But remember, it’s not your job to teach and train people (that’s what managers are for). You need to speak with the view of influencing and inspiring your listeners, and that starts with making sure that every talk you give has a significant impact. So in your next presentation, make sure you incorporate these four strategies. The more you practice these habits, the more you’ll see your leadership presence improve.