Leaders sometimes make the same mistakes other speakers make when speaking, but they get themselves into more trouble when they do.
Audiences are pretty forgiving. They’ve suffered through so many bad speeches and presentations over the years that they’ve developed low standards. And audiences are willing to cut most presenters some slack, because they’re so happy they’re not the one who has to give the talk.
So you can usually count on the audience’s goodwill. You just have to demonstrate a sincere effort and give a half-way decent speech.
But the same isn’t true when you’re a leader.
Rightly or wrongly — most rightly in my opinion — audiences expect more from their leaders. That’s why, if you’re a leader or if you want to be perceived as a leader, you can’t settle for being — in the words of a friend of mine — a “not sucky” speaker. You have to be a cut or two above the rest.
Here’s my opinionated list of the mistakes you can’t afford to make as a leader when you’re giving a speech or presentation. (I’m only posting the first 3 rules today. I’ll post the last 4 rules at a later date.)
1. Not Having a Goal
How many times have you left a presentation scratching your head, asking yourself “what the hell was that about?” If so, it’s probably because the speaker didn’t know him- or herself. As a speaker you have to know and you have to let the audience know why you’re speaking to them. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want the audience to know, feel, or do as a result of listening to you?
2. Not Having Anything to Say
My mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” I’ve adopted her advice (in theory, if not in practice) and adapted it: If you don’t have anything important to say, don’t say it. Leaders talk — or they should talk — about things that matter. Build each speech around one idea. Just one idea. But it has to be what I call a “Big Idea,” something that has the power to change people’s lives, if only in a small way.
As a rule, I find that the more big words a speaker uses, the smaller their ideas. If you’ve got something important to say, you don’t have to dress it up in fancy clothes.
3. Taking Too Long to Say It
When’s the last time you wished a speaker had gone on longer? People have limited attention spans these days. They are easily bored. And they’re always thinking about what else they have to be doing. So you have to have something worth saying (your Big Idea) and you have to say it as briefly as possible. Leave them wanting more. In my book I propose the rule “no speech over twenty minutes.”
What do you think? I’m especially interested in hearing if you agree with what I said about big ideas not needing to be dressed up with big words.