Speak Less Often to Have More of an Impact

Christopher Witt —  June 7, 2012

Leaders speak on behalf of their organization, whether it’s a multinational corporation or a one-person operation. And by necessity, they speak a lot. To win the public’s notice and goodwill or to shape their perceptions. To rally the troops. To atttact clients or customers. To keep the company’s funding sources informed and happy.

But leaders can fall into the trap of speaking too often.

Then they risk become repetitious. They lose their audience’s interest and respect. They cheapen their message.

Abraham Lincoln campaigned tirelessly for the Republican nomination for President in 1860. He spoke daily and at great length, frequently debating his opponent, Stephen Douglas, for 2 to 3 hours at a time.

But Lincoln stopped speaking once he won the nomination.  And even after winning the presidency, he made no formal speech for the five months between the election and his inauguration.  Although he spoke off the cuff and briefly at every stop along the train’s route from Illinois to Washington, he gave no formal talk. 

The result?  His inaugural address got everyone’s attention.

A later president, Calvin Coolidge, nicknamed “Silent Cal,” said “The words of the President have an enormous weight, and ought not to be used indiscriminately.” Leaders of all sorts should heed his advice.

Some leaders need to be encouraged to speak more frequently. But many leaders, judging from my observation, would be better off saying less or speaking less often.

Speak when you have something to say. Speak when your words will make a difference. Speak when the situation calls for it and when people are willing to listen. Otherwise, you’d be better off keeping silent.


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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.