How to Develop Speaking Skills That Maximize Your Influence

I often say that leadership is influence, and influence is leadership. When it comes to communicating your style, leadership, approach, vision, and goals across the organization, we all need to be at the top of our game. But, how do we build those skills? There are three main ways to develop speaking and presentation skills and maximize your influence: Being Listener-Centric, Fostering Authenticity and Connection, and Preparation. For my recent Podcast episode of The World Class Leader Show, I spoke with Diane DiResta. Diane DiResta is the founder and CEO of DiResta Communications, Inc – a New York City consultancy serving business leaders who deliver high-stakes presentations.. Diane is the author of the Amazon bestseller “Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz,” which has been called the ‘Bible of Public Speaking’. Diane’s eclectic background led her to complete a master’s degree in Speech Pathology and, initially, a teaching career. However, her story changed with her first foray into the business world, providing presentations and management training for people and organizations. Today, Diane has concentrated her energy on interpersonal communication, presentations in the area of executive presence and media training, how to show up on stages, workshops and seminars, and one-on-one executive coaching. “In order to influence, you need to talk in terms of the other person’s point of view; you need to be able to read the room and have empathy.” Leaders need to involve themselves in situational speaking – what does this specific audience care about? The first step to building your influence as a speaker is to be ‘listener-centric’ and start with a compelling grabber headline, or ‘hook,’ that initiates agreement. It’s about starting with something that, as you speak, people are nodding. So, you’re always speaking to a topic that people care about, as a starting point for influence. It’s essential to be able to describe or express empathy in your communications. If you don’t understand your audience, it will be extremely difficult to understand which message is going to resonate with them truly. Positional authority can only get you so far; the ability to build trust and to establish and communicate your vision are critical components of your leadership and influence. Presenting to a larger group or a group that is a virtual audience requires some alterations in the approach, in order to create and sustain the connection. Your content and delivery style may be altered, depending on the context of the group; are they mainly from one specific department, perhaps they are investors, and you’re seeking funding. Or maybe your audience is primarily salespeople, or engineers — these groups would require very different approaches. For group communications, the goal is to make it feel like one-to-one, which requires eye contact. In a group setting, Diane coaches her clients to section the room and shift around the room making eye contact one at a time with selected individuals. This creates a sense of intimacy and slows down delivery, so that the message lands. In a virtual presentation environment, it is more challenging, but the perception of eye contact is still essential. In today’s COVID-19 environment, I ask everyone to turn on their cameras to increase engagement, and I encourage active participation in the conversation. Introducing a little fun or gamification into the session is also very useful in increasing interaction, which helps your messages to land more effectively. There’s a lot of uncertainty and complexity in the corporate world at the moment. People don’t know how best to communicate and what aspects of their approach they may need to alter, based on the level of certainty in their own environment. Dealing with this as a communicator requires a focus on honesty and empathy, to create trust and followship. A CEO who is willing to be authentic and transparent with his people will help them to feel heard, and these characteristics will build loyalty. Today, leaders must get out there and speak; it is a leadership skill. Many companies will hire coaches for their executives, but one of the most important aspects is simply practice – taking any possible opportunity to speak to a group on a subject. Start with low-risk settings like Toastmasters or volunteer for internal company department presentations, but work on gaining that experience as early in a career as possible. The secret of an excellent public speaker is preparation. Do your research, interview people, and understand the company, the culture, the association, the people etc. Diane recommends ensuring that you know your key messages and bullet points in-depth, emphasizing familiarization over memorization, so that the delivery can be more conversational. A presentation is 90% preparation, and 10% delivery. Prepare, know your audience, know your messaging, and practice your delivery out loud – even recording yourself. Then let go and have a good night’s sleep.   In closing, I asked Diane to share her thoughts on my standard set of final questions: What is the number one lesson you’ve learned? My most important lesson is that relationships are everything. Part of relationship building is visibility, so you need to get out there and participate because those social relationships are key. When you had your best performance, what conditions were in place for achieving that level of results? Passion, partnership, and inner work. When I had my most successful years, I was doing the inner work on myself, with mediation and spiritual classes. “We create from the inside out.” What is one thing you would have done differently in your career? I would have taken a sales job for one year, to develop those skills to a higher level. If you’re a consultant, a speaker, a coach; ultimately, you’re really a professional salesperson, and you need those skills under your belt. Who is your favourite leader? Tim Cook comes to mind. He didn’t try to be Steve Jobs, he’s led Apple successfully, and he’s done it his own way. He’s fostering certain integrity within Apple, which I recognize and admire. Mary Kay Ash who created Mary Kay Cosmetics is another innovator I admire. What is your favourite business book? I love the classic “Think and Grow Rich”, that book never goes out of style. I also like T. Harv Eker’s book “Secrets of the Millionaire’s Mind”, and Jim Collins “Good to Great.”
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