4 Myths About How Executives Become Engaging Speakers

4 Myths About How Executives Become Engaging Speakers

Jason, an executive client, shared his new year’s goal with me:  “I want to become a more inspiring speaker so that my employees really catch the vision for this upcoming year and get engaged.”

Sounds worthwhile. Here’s the backstory:  According to his CEO, Jason, who’d stepped in as plant manager three years earlier, was not well liked by his employees. His team of 3,000+ saw him as aloof, insincere, and disinterested in them as individuals. He definitely did not have their confidence as part of the leadership team. But the CEO could not pinpoint the problem in their connection—or lack thereof.

After my interaction with Jason, I had a totally different perspective on his personality and the communication problem.

In our discussion, Jason connected immediately, shared his goals passionately, and accepted feedback readily.  Obviously, there was a disconnection somewhere between I had experienced with him and the backstory the CEO told me. 

So after Jason articulated his goal to become a more “inspiring speaker” to “engage employees,” I probed for a few definitions: “Can you tell me specifically how you conduct your strategy meetings with your leadership team at the plant? For example, what topics do you discuss? Give me an example of your opening comments to help your team catch the vision?” 

What follows here is the nutshell version of his responses—common misunderstandings about how to inspire a team, clients, or any audience for that matter.

How to Be an Engaging Speaker: It’s Not What You Think

Myth #1:  Speak to Them

This may sound counter-intuitive, but to be considered an engaging speaker, stop doing all the talking. Today’s audiences want a piece of the action.  Accustomed to being part of the communication flow on social media, today’s professionals expect to participate. They hate to just sit and soak.

They become inspired and engaged when you, the speaker, make them think—and then ask for a contribution (an application or an answer, their own story or experience, feedback or opinions). Give them opportunity to contribute to your “ideas,” “presentations” or “speeches.”

Myth #2:  Be THE Model or Example

Team members gain inspiration when they walk away from a meeting feeling as though they themselves—not the speaker or presenter—can do new things, overcome a challenge, or achieve new goals.  Hearing stories about peers or other “ordinary” people inspire them and give them real confidence. Sure, include your own experiences. But in addition to your own illustrations, share problems others on the team have overcome, struggles they’ve endured, and lessons they’ve learned.

Myth #3:  Offer Ideas and Develop Solutions

People support what they themselves create.  Politicians long for “grassroots” support to put them in office.  When they have that we-built-it support, their policies as elected officials have a much better chance of gaining that all-important “yes” vote in the court of public opinion.  Rather than speaking as “the authority,” often leaders inspire and gain stronger buy-in by asking the provocative questions that guide discussion. Engagement comes from two-way communication.

Myth #4:  Polish to Perfection

Forced to choose between either perfection or authenticity, most audiences prefer authenticity. Those speaker-leaders who spend their time focused on delivery at the expense of relevant content irritate rather than inspire. 

That’s not to say that the way you communicate information and ideas doesn’t count. But in our social media environment, we’ve come to accept imperfection in delivery.  (Think live Facebook feeds. Consider how-to videos on YouTube.) Not so, with ideas. If the idea itself doesn’t engage immediately, listeners leave—mentally, if not physically.


So back to Jason and his type who have the wrong concept about how to be “engaging”: My coaching job is as easy as clarifying a few misunderstandings.  Well, almost.