This ONE Skill May Be Keeping You From Becoming a Leader

This post was originally featured on the MENG Blend blog:

What is the true definition of a leader?  My friend and author Bill Treasurer offers one definition.  It comes from his son Ian.  A preschooler, Ian came home one day and proudly proclaimed he had been the leader for the day.  When Bill asked what that meant, Ian proudly shared, “I got to open doors for people.”  Leaders open doors.  This simple definition speaks to the essence of servant leadership.

While supporting others is a key aspect of leadership, I’d argue there is a better definition of a leader.  A leader is someone who rallies others towards a defined future state that currently does not exist.  The rallying part of the definition is crucial.  A leader has to hone the skills of becoming an effective presenter.  Writing and speaking are paramount.  This was echoed by the 38th president of the United States,

“If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience.  Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.” — Gerald R. Ford

Over the last two years, I’ve committed myself to becoming a student in the art of presenting. I knew speaking would be key to help shifting business towards a greater focus on the customer and their experience. Leveraging those leanings, I’ve created a presentation that contains 21 Rules of Thumb when speaking:

Here are four major themes and 10 of those rules of thumb by the numbers:

Less Is More with PowerPoint

1.  No font size smaller than 30.
2.  No more than 16 words on a slide.
3.  The number of bullets you should use in a presentation…ZERO.

Preparation Is Key

4.  Beware of #13.  Bad things will happen while speaking.  Be prepared.  If something happens, you have three choices: you can fix it, you can feature it, or you can forget it.
5.  Dress to the 9’s.  Appearance matters.  Your audience makes split-second judgments about you before the first word is spoken.  Eighty percent of their judgments are based upon two factors: warmth and competence.  Dress smartly to leverage both for a strong first impression.

Organization Matters

6.  Don’t play 20 questions.  Finishing with a Q & A session makes a dud.  Take questions and then finish with a strong call to action and close.
7.  The brain can only concentrate for 10 minutes before shutting off.  Plan in breaks. Use videos, role-plays, and group exercises to help reset your audience.
8.  People remember things in 3‘s.  Use this simple yet powerful fact to your advantage when organizing main points in your talk.

Beyond Words

9.   We all have two hands with 5 fingers.  Gestures are key.  Use your hands to emphasize points.  Don’t be afraid to go BIG.  Let your elbows fly, but be sure to reset after each gesture.
10.  Give your audience 2 seconds of pause.  When you make an important point of emphasis, pause and let your audience have the time to let it sink in.

There are no natural born speakers.  The best only get better by doing.  They seek out opportunities and continuously sharpen their saw.  To steal a famous joke:

Tourist to New Yorker:  “Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”
New Yorker:  “Practice, practice, practice.”

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is a video about “Leaders Open Doors” by Bill Treasurer. In the spirit of opening doors, Bill is donating all of the proceeds from the book to organizations who support kids with special needs: