Speaking to Influence

How to Shape the Way People Think and Feel


Leaders don’t speak—or they shouldn’t speak—primarily to communicate information. (That’s for other people to do.)

Leaders speak to influence how people interpret or understand information.

Influence it isn’t about telling listeners what to think and feel about a specific issue.  It’s about shaping how they think and feel about issues in general.  Once you do that, it’s easier to get them to take the action you’d like them to take.

Leaders have a vision or a dream—a compelling image of a better future.  And they speak tirelessly, relentlessly—some would say fanatically—to make their audiences see what they see.  That requires igniting the audience’s imagination, something that PowerPoint fails to do.  It can display words, charts, graphs, illustrations, photographs, and even audiovisual segments.  But what it cannot do is excite the imagination.

From Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint, page 22

Leaders have a vision, a lens through which they see the world. And they speak in order to spread that vision. They speak to influence. “Here are the facts,” they say. “This is what to make of them. And this is what we should do about them, as a consequence.”

Three Ways to Be More Influential

When you speak to influence, you do one or more of three things:

  1. Interpret: You tell people what something means by providing context and understanding.
  2. Evaluate: You determine the worth or value of something, making judgments based on your experience and wisdom.
  3. Advocate: You make the case for action. You tell people can be done, and why it should be done.

You cannot be influential and timid or self-doubting at the same time. You have to know what you believe in and why you believe it.

You also have to see the big picture. Influence is about framing how people look at an issue. And you can only put a frame around an issue when you see it in context.

Five Ways to Speak with Influence

Here are five ways you can speak more influentially:

  1. Remember that you are the message.
    Who you are—your personality, experience, values—shapes the message you communicate. You can influence people only if and when they trust you.
  2. Speak metaphorically.
    Use a metaphor—an overall image—to describe the situation you’re talking about. Is this a make-or-break situation or an opportunity? Exciting times or a disaster in the making?
  3. Make bold statements.
    Don’t hem and haw. Avoid modifiers, like “I sometimes think…” or “on occasion it may be…” Take a stand and defend it.
  4. Use strong words.
    Avoid jargon and all the business clichés that timid speakers hide behind: at the end of the day, going forward, thinking outside the box, low-hanging fruit, paradigm shift, etc.
  5. Tell stories.
    There’s no better way to engage an audience’s emotions and imagination than to tell stories. Long after people forget everything else you’ve said, they’ll remember the story you told.

To learn more about speaking influentially, check out Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas by Christopher Witt here.

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