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12 Communication Tips to Turn You into an Inspiring Leader


  Written by Ronnie Peterson

Have you ever worked for somebody that demotivated you? Even when they thought they were doing the exact opposite, and trying to get you going?

I used to work for somebody who, at about 12 noon each day, would go into the open plan sales office, and talk for what would be anything from twenty minutes to an hour. He never planned what he was going to say, and it was impossible to actually see what he hoped to gain from most of it.

He would often go off on tangents, and the sales team got bored, and lost concentration.

Then he would get angry, accusing people of not listening to his “pearls of wisdom”.

Instead of being inspired by him, the sales staff worked in spite of him.But, I have been lucky enough to have been impacted by somebody that was truly inspirational. The complete opposite. As part of a community development team that helped uplift communities by digging wells, painting schools etc, we had two full time leaders who ran things. In addition, there were some extra people that gave input, on teaching specific areas etc, and the one person simply lifted you up and drew you after him.

That’s the type of leader that I would like to be, and if you’re in leadership or aspire to be, I’m sure that is the case with you too.

I’m going to tell you about some of the ways that he communicated, and if you start to implement them, you will turn into an inspiring leader too. Before I do that though, let me just explain one thing. Communication, when done face to face, includes three elements. Those are verbal, non-verbal, and tone. I’m going to break down the lessons from him into those three sections.

Firstly, the verbal section. These are the actual words that you use.

1. Use pictures

Not actual visual pictures, but describe an image that people can see, and relate to. It then becomes far easier for the listener to personalise. Martin Luther King spoke about going up to the mountain top, or a cheque that bounces due to insufficient funds. Churchill spoke about fighting on the beaches, the landing grounds, the fields and so on.

Internalising is important. If you want somebody to follow your lead, you do need them to internalise it, and start to own it.

2. Use repetition

Anaphora is the Greek word used to describe the process of starting successive sentences with the same words or phrase. King and Churchill both used this tool extensively. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, King repeatedly says “Now is the time”, followed by a different action. Churchill repeats “We shall fight” seven times in that short portion on his speech.

It highlights your points, and will make it easier for your audience to remember.

3. Be a chameleon

You need to adapt to your surroundings and situation. When trying to inspire, you will use different wording to when pushing a team to meet a deadline. In a one on one conversation, you will again use different wording to that of speaking to a group, and that’s probably a good time to drop the use of repetition.It also depends on your goal for any particular interaction. Are you wanting to inspire and motivate? If so, you need to articulate a clear vision. If you are trying to help somebody improve performance if underperforming, change it up.

4. Stay on track

If words only count 7% of how communication is important, don’t let that 7% destroy everything, by not actually being relevant. Don’t go off on tangents, whether in a group talk or a one to one. No matter how big the audience, once you’ve lost them, you can’t get them back. Always keep the “why” of the conversation in your mind. Most of these tips are about the “how” of communication, but if you have no good reason to be communicating, why are you doing so?

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The second section is the non-verbal section of your communication. This is anything non-verbal, so includes areas like your body language, clothing and jewellery worn, and any other items that your audience will see, and judge.

5. Be self-aware

Dale Carnegie, in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, talks about self-awareness, and having to take control of how you are represented to others. You are responsible for the way that people react to you. So are you aware of what your body language is telling your audience? Or what your permanently closed door in the office tells your subordinates? If you want to be seen as approachable, maybe you need to leave that door open. It may not be all the time, but try to do it some of the time at least.

6. Be aware of who you are communicating with

This actually goes hand in hand with being self-aware. It concerns two aspects. The first is whether you are actually taking note of how they are responding to you or not. What is their body language saying back? Are they bored? Distracted? No longer even listening to you? Or getting angry and about to disagree with you? You need to be able to read your audience, whether in a presentation, team talk, or one to one conversation.

The second aspect is about anticipating how your audience will react before you are even in front of them. If you can anticipate, you are less likely to cause offence etc, and more likely to win them over.

7. Listen

Communication is a two way street, and while a lot of how you appear as a leader is down to what you say, and how you say it, you do need to listen. There is a gap between how leaders are represented on television, and how people actually react to them. On television, they are never going to show somebody simply listening. That’s boring, isn’t it? So they show them talking.

But to the person that they were actually listening to, the impact is different to that of the person watching it live or later on the TV. This person cares that they are being listened to.

8. Show empathy

I have seen people listening, because that is what they have been told to do. The only problem is that it goes no further than that. What you listen to, you now need to internalise. Once you have internalised it, show that you care, and intend to take action. This is what actually earns you respect, not glibly listening then doing nothing.

9. Focus on the conversation

You need to remove distractions. Stop looking at your phone, and concentrate on the issue at hand. Show that what you are currently talking about has your full attention.

The third part of communication is tone. This is how you use your voice as you speak. It includes pitch, pace and volume too.

10. Use escalating volume

If talking to a group, don’t start at full volume. Start moderated, and as you build to the finale of your message, escalate the volume. This increase in volume will carry with it an increase in energy, and likely to see an increase in emotional response from your audience. Going back to King’s famous speeches, if you measure the decibels of how he is speaking, the end is usually considerably higher than in the beginning.

11. Use an increase of pace

Like an escalation of volume, the increase should be made as you build to the finale. Like with volume, it carries an increase in energy, and will see a corresponding increase in response from your audience.

12. Lower the pitch of your voice

This is quite a difficult area, because it actually changes with fashion. One to two hundred years ago, before loudspeakers were invented, many famous orators had higher tones of voice. High pitched sound waves travel better, so speaking in the open air with a large audience, having a high pitch meant you could be heard better. Think of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, or Abraham Lincoln. Both were meant to be fantastic speakers, both had high pitched voices.

In modern times though, regardless of gender, the lower your pitch, the greater your gravitas.

If you’re not with me on this one, compare the old video footage of BBC news reports with modern day advertising, with celebrities such as Idris Elba or Mark Strong. Fabulously low voices, instantly recognisable. Immediate buy in.

So, there’s a dozen tips I’ve given you, but I hope that by breaking them down into the 3 components of communication, that makes it easier to remember. So, before your next one to one chat with someone, or the next team meeting, plan what you want to say, and then work through this list to see how you can improve it in a rough draft. That will, you will implement some of this.

And then keep doing it, and getting better at it. Then you’ll become more and more inspirational!

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