When COVID shut us all down three years ago, the first online courses we were asked to teach focused on communication for leaders. Whether the programs were touted as leadership or not, the idea was to create skills for people leading teams and the need to bridge the communication gap since face-to-face live communication was no longer possible.
In the middle of a program for a large international firm across multiple continents, I inadvertently (and unintentionally) used the phrase/word Communicator-Leader. After class that day, I started thinking about what that meant. Although it’s probably redundant, I like it more and more. And it describes perhaps the most important task a leader can focus on and the result of someone who is effective at communication.
For the past two years, I’ve been helping lead a program in St. Joseph, MO that is centered around leading in such a way that a team maximizes their effort, creativity, and cohesiveness. That experience has helped contribute to my personal definition of leadership as empowering others to perform at their highest levels. I’ll measure my leadership success based on what others are able to accomplish.
How does communication fit in? We’ve all seen leaders (by title/position) who were poor communicators. Whether it’s the inability to lead a compelling meeting, putting people to sleep from the stage, or crafting too many and confusing emails and memos on a never-ending basis, there are lots of practical aspects to communicating well. But just like defining leadership by the results of those you lead, I choose to define communication by what the audience takes away. Just this week I asked a coaching client who had claimed that her topic was boring this important question: “What do you want your audience to repeat?”
That is the secret sauce that links leaders and communicators. If you aren’t an effective communicator – if people can’t spread your message as you intended when you’re not there – then your influence is limited to you being present. If your team and leadership require your presence, then the scale of what you can accomplish is severely limited. Individuals can only be in one place at a time. We don’t scale well as humans.
But messages live on without us. Great leaders convey ideas which are heeded and repeated accurately. The burden for effective communication falls squarely on the shoulders of the presenter.
Here are three tips to make your message more repeatable, and by inference, your leadership more impactful:
- Start all your message preparation with the question: “What do I want people to repeat?” Not facts. Not diagrams. Not stories (and I LOVE stories!). Start with what you want the audience to take away.
- Flag the core message. Some ways to do this are “If you don’t get anything else from our time together, know this…” or “Everything we’ll cover today is less important than this one thing…” or from my teacher days, “If you’re taking notes, this is worth writing down” or “If there was going to be a test, this would certainly be on it…” Don’t neglect repetition as a powerful technique. That which gets repeated gets remembered. Handouts and visuals can reinforce this message as well.
- Ask someone from your audience (or anyone consuming your message) to summarize what they heard. “What did you hear me say?” is not just a good parenting and relationship tip, it’s good leadership. When the message isn’t repeated clearly, don’t blame the listener, go back to tip #1 and refine what and how you deliver your message.
Great leaders are effective communicators. Great communicators are leaders with or without the title. Communicator-Leader… a position worth mastering.
Communication Matters. What are you saying?
This article was published in the May edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.