Secrets of Successful Leaders
Who Speak Well
By Suzanne Bates
Secret #1: Talk about Big Ideas: Every speech or presentation needs
one big idea. A big idea
has a life of its own that lives beyond the leader.
President Kennedy launched the modern space program with these
words: “We choose to go
to the moon. We choose to
go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because
they are easy, but because they are hard…because that challenge is
one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone,
and one which we intend to win.”
Secret #2: Be original: Many leaders give canned speeches.
No one likes a canned speech.
People see you as a leader when they hear your words, your way.
You have to talk about what is true and real to you.
Zetcher, President and CEO of Talbots, was being honored a few months
after the tragedy of 9/11. He
recalled, “The first draft was a basic acceptance speech, and then
we thought, ‘Wait a minute, we need to talk about what people are
thinking. It has to be
about the country.’” Zetcher
and his team created a speech that was in the moment.
He says it was one of the best he had ever given.
Secret #3: Keep it simple: Many speeches try to do too much.
Your purpose must be clear; your message must be simple and
Marino, founder of the high-tech giant EMC, grew up in a working class
neighborhood on Boston’s north shore, and attended a co-op work program at
Northeastern University. “When I
was in college and I didn’t get
what the professors were talking about, it was annoying,” he said.
Taking that lesson to business, Marino demanded straightforward
messages. “A CEO
has to (be able to) communicate with people and walk them from A to B
Secret #4: Be a straight
shooter: What people most want in their leaders is honesty and
integrity. So, your
message must ring true.
Audiences want a leader to tell them the truth, no matter what.
A reputation for honesty can take you to the top.
Sallie Krawcheck was appointed CEO of Citigroup after the
corporate scandals of 2001.
She got there because of her honest reputation.
She was even dubbed “The Straight Shooter,” by Money
Secret #5: Be an optimist:
As a leader you face good times and bad; you must balance reality with
hope. A hallmark of
leadership is optimism.
The CEO must see and talk about what’s possible.
Ford, Jr. became CEO of Ford Motor Company in 2001, the company was
losing billions of dollars. Morale
was low; Ford Motor was getting hammered about quality.
Yet, he didn’t let the nay-sayers win.
“We are back on firm footing,” he said at a press
conference. “I am very
fired up about the results.” Within 20 months, Ford had turned the
company around and booked $896 million profit in the first quarter
Secret #6: Focus on the
future: In difficult times, we look to leaders for hope.
Hope is a potent message. Focus
on the future and what can be done.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani demonstrated this after 9/11.
“We have,” he declared, “the best police department, fire
department, the best police officers, the best fire officers, the best
emergency workers of any place in the whole world.”
While the rest of the world was focused on the horror, he
focused on the future. “The people in New York City will be whole again. We are going to come out of this emotionally
stronger, politically stronger, much closer together as a city, and
we’re going to come out of this economically stronger, too.”
Secret #7: Be real: As a
leader you’re different. Your
title or position sets you apart.
That puts you at a disadvantage with audiences.
To make a connection you have to be yourself; you have to be
founder and CEO of Cape Air, is warm, self-effacing and genuine with
isn’t just a businessman; he has his commercial aviation license,
and also worked as a mechanic. In
town meetings with employees he can relate to pilots as a pilot, to
mechanics as a mechanic, to business people as a businessman.
“People are interested in the person who is leading the
organization,” he said. “They
really want to know your feelings, reactions and opinions.
If you can share that in a self-effacing way—so they don’t
feel like they are watching an ego maniac, but a real human
being—you can really connect with people.”
Secret #8: Stand for something: What inspires most people in the
world today is not a paycheck; it’s a chance to be part of something
bigger. Leaders who stand
for something attract others –they want to be around the leader to
see if it’s contagious.
George founded Domain, a chain of designer home furnishing stores,
after she was fired as president of another company.
By 1998 she had grown her business from 3 to 250 employees,
with 23 stores and $50 million in sales.
Judy’s success became a legend, especially among women
had bootstrapped her way up.
When she speaks to business groups, she’s treated like a rock
star. People line up to
speak with her at these events. The
lesson, she said, “Is that you have to stand for something. To do
that, you have to be willing to reveal something about yourself.”
want to take your speaking to the next level, start by assessing your
skills right now. Ask a
friend or trusted advisor for feedback- someone who sees you speak,
knows what makes a good speaker and will be candid. Questions
What do you see as my strengths in speaking?
Can you give me a specific example?
Where do I need further development?
Please give me a specific example.
What would be the best way for me to address
Please give me feedback on posture and body
language, wardrobe and grooming, voice, and executive presence.
have never asked someone for feedback, don’t worry—it’s a great
experience. Most people go
out of their way to point out your strengths and that’s empowering.
Learning where you need to improve will start you on the way to
mastering the secrets of great leaders who speak well.
Read other articles and learn more
about Suzanne Bates.
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