Speaking Up: More Impact with Less Stress – Part 1

Posted on 4th October 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. I continue my pivot to an aspect of business empathy that is of particular interest to many of my clients: top-level executive communication. My aim is to offer practical suggestions that will sharpen communicative effectiveness and build credibility for top executives, aspiring leaders, and anyone else who applies them.

Tips for Greater Impact and Lower Stress
In this discussion I respond to an intriguing question that a client posed recently, one touching on the challenges of speaking up at work: “I have a colleague who never seems to get worried or stressed in meetings or presentations, even if they suddenly cut her speaking time in half or the computer projection goes dark. What is her secret? How does she stay so calm in these situations, and how can I get to that point myself? I expend too much energy on this, worrying how I will be perceived.”

It sounds like that particular colleague is a star performer, and I congratulate her on her good work. Of course I can’t comment on what her secrets are for dealing with the pressures of speaking in meetings and presentations – I have never had the pleasure of meeting her or watching her work – but I will share four suggestions that can make you more effective in these situations and also reduce your stress.

Make Clarity Your Priority
My first suggestion: whenever you speak in a meeting or deliver a presentation, make it your top priority to be clear. This needs to be a conscious choice on your part, as it will directly influence the way you prepare and how you express yourself. There is a clear efficiency argument for choosing clarity: it forces us to organize our ideas and express them in ways that are easily understood by others. This avoids or reduces misunderstandings, saves time, and ultimately reduces stress for you, the speaker. It also creates a favorable impression: if you express yourself clearly, people will infer that you think clearly. And that is a good reputation to have.

If you listen carefully to what people say in meetings and presentations, you will quickly realize who has not chosen to make clarity their priority. Some choose to appear clever, or amusing, or to demonstrate their mastery of every detail of a certain topic. Others may choose to speak up to advance a personal priority, or because they enjoy the sound of their own voice. And that’s fine: everyone gets to choose how they express themselves. But I encourage you to choose to be clear. I suspect that the ‘star performer’ mentioned above has also done this at some level: no matter what the circumstances, her message is clear in her mind and she knows how she will convey it lucidly to her audience, come what may. That is a powerful advantage.

Distilling your message: ‘What do I want them to remember?’
Asking yourself this question, or some variant of it, will help you to be clear. This is about distilling and prioritizing your thoughts, deciding on the two or three key points that will form the core of your message. This is what you want people to take away after the meeting or presentation is over.

Why is this ‘distillation’ important? Because if we are being honest, most people have relatively short attention spans and short memories: they are only going to hear and remember a few points from your remarks, no matter how eloquent you are. So one of the most effective things you can do is to build that insight into your preparation and delivery: knowing that most people will only hear and remember two or three points, you decide what those points should be and emphasize them.

Think back to the temptations in the last section: the temptation to appear clever, to amuse, or to impress others. The temptation to make a certain point, or to be the center of attention. All are normal aspects of human nature, but they are rather self-focused. I encourage you to focus on clarity and on adding value for others. An effective way to do this is to always distill your message to a few key points. Having these clearly defined will make your communication more impactful and give you the confidence that will allow you to relax.

In my next post I will provide two more practical tips, on organization and perspective.

Good luck, and until next time…