Leaders speak as an extension and an expression of their leadership. They speak as representatives of their organizations. And they speak primarily to influence (to shape the way people feel and think) and to motivate and inspire (to move people to action).

An Example of How Leaders Speak

If you want to hear an example of a leader giving a great speech, listen to General Douglas MacArthur’s speech at West Point.

His speech and others like it by equally great leaders illustrate the four elements of a great speech as described by Demosthenes, the father of Greek oratory:

  1. A great person
  2. A noteworthy event
  3. A compelling message
  4. A masterful delivery

MacArthur was, undoubtedly, a great man. He fought in three major wars. He was the Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific Area during WWII. He was the last General of the Army (five stars), and he remains the most highly-decorated officer in U.S. history.

It was a great occasion. West Point, the academy he once led, was awarding him the prestigious Thayer Award.

It was a great speech, celebrating West Point’s motto and his own personal credo: “Duty, Honor, Country.” His eloquent conclusion ends with these words:

My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.

His delivery was masterful, given by a man in full command of his voice and presence.

Ronald Reagan’s address to the nation on the night of the space shuttle Columbia disaster was a great speech.

And Mother Teresa’s speech at Harvard in 1982 was a great speech.

Chris Witt is an executive speech coach based in San Diego who works with executives who want to speak like leaders. For more information, contact us.

A Great Person

To speak like a leader, you don’t have to be a five-star general, President of the United States, or a Nobel laureate. But you do have to be the best you you can be. And you have to let yourself shine through in what you say.

You are your message.

Let your experience, values, character, vision, even your sense of humor permeate every word you say and how you say it.

  • Don’t stand to the side of the stage in semi-darkness, ceding center stage to PowerPoint™.
  • If you work with a speechwriter, make sure they craft a speech that reflects your vision and voice.
  • Tell your story, not stories you get from a book or a website.

A Noteworthy Event

As a leader, you’re probably already conscientious about taking responsibility for your speech. Now go one better.

Take responsibility for the entire event.

Do everything you can to make the event, not just your speech, a success.

Work with the meeting planner to define and refine the event’s

  • Schedule – what happens before and after your presentation
  • Purpose – why people gather
  • Location – where the meeting is
  • Setting – what the physical lay-out of the room is like

Help the person introducing you do a good job. Consider crafting your own introduction and giving a copy of it to the person in advance.

A Compelling Message

Throughout this website you’ll find countless suggestions for crafting your message. But know this: when you want to speak like a leader, there’s no shortcut. Creating a memorable message takes preparation and, often, involves writing it out word for word.

Leaders don’t stand in front of an audience unprepared and “wing it.”

Here’s what makes a compelling message for your speech:

  • Develop one idea that you care about and that the audience will benefit from.
  • Be as clear and honest as you can be.
  • Don’t worry about style or trying to sound eloquent.
  • Scrap every trite word or phrase.
  • When you’ve said what you have to say as best you can, stop talking and sit down.

And this above all else: Care about your audience. If you don’t care about them – if you don’t want what is good for them – why are you talking to them in the first place?

A Masterful Delivery

Again, throughout this website you’ll find suggestions to improve your delivery. And again, there’s no shortcut. The only sure way to improve is to practice. (An executive speech coach can certainly help.)

Find a safe place to speak, an audience that will give you both honest, helpful feedback and gracious support. (Consider joining Toastmasters.)

Here’s how you can speak like a leader by improving your delivery:

  • Know what you want to say and how you plan on saying it.
  • Don’t memorize your speech word for word. Commit it to heart and commit yourself to speaking your truth. Memorize your outline, the flow and structure of your speech. And memorize, if you can, the opening and closing words of your speech. Prepare a simple outline to speak from, and take it to the front of the room with you.
  • Plant your feet. You can – should – move about as you speak, but don’t pace or ramble.
  • Breathe. Don’t leap right into your speech. Take a breath. It will calm you. Pause. It will command the audience’s attention. Breathe again. Then speak.
  • Establish eye contact – one person at a time. One speech coach put it this way, “Speak every word into the eyes and heart of one other person.”

The Way a Leader Speaks

The trick to speak like a leader, if it is a trick, is finding the most direct route from your insides to the ears of your audience.

You’ve purchased your wisdom at great price, with effort and more than a few sacrifices. So don’t be miserly in sharing it.

Audiences are tired of the speeches they typically hear from their so-called leaders: generalities wrapped in clichés.

Say what matters to you in your own words with your own passion and you will gain your audience’s attention. You may even move them to great things. You will certainly speak like a leader.

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Check out Chris Witt’s book, Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint, and presentations “Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint” and “How Leaders Speak.”

Chris Witt is an executive speech coach based in San Diego who works with executives who want to speak like leaders. For more information, contact us.