John Baldoni is an executive coach and speaker that often writes on leadership issues. In his latest book, “The Leader’s Guide to Speaking with Presence,” Baldoni tackles how leaders can better project confidence and authority whether they’re giving an important presentation or chatting with workers in the company cafeteria. In this interview with Anita Bruzzese, he discusses why it’s so critical that leaders learn to improve their communication style.
AB: You would think that most leaders would have developed speaking and presentation skills as they develop their careers. But you say in the book that this is not the case. Why?
JB: Many executives rise to a certain level without mastering public speaking because they have been skating by. Such folks have not taken the time – or been offered the opportunity – to develop public speaking skills. This lack of presentation skills can be a career inhibitor so I advise managers to take time to polish their public speaking. They can do this by studying speakers they admire, learning about what it takes to present, then practicing themselves and getting feedback from trusted advisors, even a spouse.
AB: What’s the biggest mistake leaders make when giving a presentation? And what’s the result?
JB: Ignoring the context. That is the speaker speaks AT the audience rather than TO the audience. Before you can deliver a pitch you need to know the situation the audience is facing. You need to acknowledge their issues and connect with them, then you can deliver your message. This does not mean you tell an audience what it wants to hear – that’s pandering. You deliver a message that addresses their concerns.
AB: If I’m a leader, how do I know if I’m failing to speak with presence?
JB: Simple. People stop paying attention to you. Presence is the manifestation of your authenticity. If people don’t sense that you are sincere they will pay lip service to what you say but will not follow through on what you ask. If you are a boss without authenticity your direct reports will comply with what you ask, but never commit.
AB: How can leaders project optimism without it ringing false with workers?
JB: It is a leader’s responsibility to adopt the “glass is half full” rather than “half empty.” That is not a denial of reality; it is a focus on possibilities. People want to follow a leader who is positive and upbeat rather than one who always takes a negative or pessimistic view. Optimists see the world and its challenges clearly. They simply choose to lead in a manner that instills confidence in others.
AB: You mention the importance of mastering the art of meeting and mingling. What do you mean by that and can you provide a couple of examples?
JB: Leaders need to get out of the bubble. The higher you go in an organization the more you can get cut off from the people who do the work. So here are some suggestions:
- Walk the halls. Meet and greet people. Engage in small talk as well as work talk.
- Visit employees where they work and engage them in conversations about what they want to talk about.
- Visit customers to see how your offerings are performing. Solicit feedback.
- Hold regular all-staff or all-employee meetings where you take questions from people at all levels.