To speak and to speak well, are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks. ~ Ben Johnson
Often times leaders assume they can talk a certain way because of the title they have. Giving orders and expecting people to do as they say purely based on their title. Sure your title will have people listen to you, but really moving them and bringing sustainable change in an organisation requires more than that. If you’re looking to make a deep shift in an organisation then the way you talk should strengthen your leadership. Leaders need to be diligent in the words they choose, specificity and power of their language. So how can your speech amplify your leadership values and influence?
To answer part of this question, I want to go back to 1863. The year that Abraham Lincoln gave the amazing speech, the Gettysburg Address. A short speech that only had 272 words and lasted just over 2 minutes. But this speech moved the entire nation and is still regarded as one of the best known speeches in the history of America:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
The most important lessons from Abraham Lincoln on how leaders should talk essentially cover 4 key skills:
1: Less is More
There is power in brevity. Leaders should be able to bring a message across without using too many words. The more efficient you are with your words, the better the reception by the audience. Brevity gives someone else a chance to process, participate and respond. Especially in todays’ society which is overloaded with information, it’s important to bring your message in a compact and clear way.
2: Repetition Resonates
Lincoln’s use of repetition and rhythm helped the speech to leave a lasting impression. Lincoln uses the Rule of Threes in two separate occasions in his speech. First with “we cannot dedicate… we cannot consecrate…. we cannot hallow,” and then with the now-immortal lines, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Repetition begets rhythm, and these small inclusions lend the speech its epic nature. Use repetition and rhythm to emphasise and enhance speech.
3: Empathy Inspires
Do you really care about the people you work with? Do you know everyone in your organisation? When your company is still small it’s easy, but when it grows into hundreds of people it gets challenging. It reminds me of a story of a receptionist who retired after working at a bank for over 20 years. The receptionist always left office at exactly 16:45. Nobody ever asked why, until his last working day during the farewell drinks. The direct supervisor asked the receptionist why he always left office so early. Then the receptionist shared that he left every day because he had to go to practice with the national orchestra, since he was the conductor! The receptionist had been the conductor of the national orchestra and nobody knew. For 20 years nobody in the company knew their colleague was a world class performer. Speak with empathy. Speak because you care.
4: Authenticity precedes Connection
Authenticity opens the door for true connections. The ability to communicate authentically with others is becoming an important leadership attribute. When leaders have it, they can inspire their followers to go the extra mile and make a deep shift in an organisation. When they don’t, cynicism prevails and true change will never happen.
In the journey of speaking like a leader, the above 4 skills will help you communicate more effectively and confident. My wish for you is that you will speak with impact, no matter your title and no matter what phase in life you’re in.