Communication skills are the most important leadership skill, according to a 2016 Regus survey. Yet while we are all taught and tested on our written English, few of us learn how to speak powerfully.
How do the leaders at your organisation fare when it comes to internal presentations, public talks or media interviews? Do they inspire, engage and motivate? Or is there still room for improvement?
Without a clear framework, it’s hard to analyse or compare public speaking skills. We just know when someone speaks in a way that makes us sit up, that moves us, that creates positive change. This makes it hard to give feedback or identify where improvements can be made.
During the next talk or presentation at your organisation, use our three-step checklist to identify whether you are watching a communication superstar or a leader who needs some extra help:
Step 1. Is the speaker’s message clear, relevant and engaging?
First of all, is the speaker’s message clear and focused? A good test is to approach five people from the audience afterwards and ask them what the talk was about. If they all have similar answers, then the key message was well communicated. This is called the ‘Takeaway Test’.
Hang on to those five people for a second question. Ask them, ‘How does what was said apply to you?’ If an audience walks away from a talk thinking ‘What does that have to do with me?’ then the speaker has failed to make the message relevant.
Then consider whether or not the content was engaging. Was the message packaged in a memorable, credible and interesting way? This could be through the use of stories, strong verbs, inclusive language, metaphors and sensory language.
Step 2. Does the talk have a structure, with a powerful beginning and end?
Talk structures are like drainage systems - they are essential to have, but you usually only notice them when something’s gone wrong. A good talk structure feels effortless, rather than obvious, and is usually only noticeable in hindsight.
Is the navigation during the talk clear but subtle? Some of the tools good speakers use to achieve this include repetition, flagging important content, numbering points, summaries and signposting.
The start of a talk or presentation is the most important by far - that’s when the audience’s attention peaks. Does the speaker take advantage of this with a strong opening? The finish is the second most important part. Does the speaker build to an impressive finale?
Step 3. Is the speaker’s delivery passionate, authentic and confident?
Does the speaker bring energy to the room? The best speakers are passionate about their topic, and their enthusiasm infuses through the audience.
Next, look at the speaker's body language. Does he or she look at the audience when speaking? Do they hold eye contact for a complete sentence or thought? Do they use purposeful gestures to emphasise key points?
If the speaker is using slides, do they consist of carefully selected visual aids? Some of the best speakers don’t use slides at all.
The more ‘yes’ answers above, the more compelling the speaker. The more ‘no’ answers, the more room for improvement.
The good news is that public speaking is a skill that almost anyone can develop. Like any skill, the more you practice and train, the better you will become.
When reading through this checklist did you see areas for improvement? Search and compare providers to transform your leaders into powerful communicators.
About the Author
Abby works as the Communications Team Lead for findcourses.co.uk with a mission of connecting learning leaders with the data and information they need to provide the best training possible for their people.
Originally from Indianapolis in the U.S., Abby studied her bachelor’s at Hanover College in Business and Literature and has worked for findcourses since 2015. She is passionate about corporate learning and works internally to help organise Learning at Work Week within findcourses.co.uk's company of 165 team members, and provide and source external training in content creation as an in-house expert.
Abby is also the creator and editor of the UK L&D Report which interviews and surveys L&D leaders from top UK companies to help uncover data-driven best practice and easy-to-implement advice.