Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 Questions with Jim Gray, author of "How Leaders Speak"


What's the biggest mistake a lot of new leaders make when they speak?

They put far too much pressure on themselves. They try to be perfect, and there’s no perfection when it comes to communicating with others. The best thing new leaders can do — anyone, really — is to focus on the audience. Serve your listeners with excellence and humility, and you can’t go wrong.

What do you think makes a great speaker?

Authenticity. Audiences can spot insincerity and self-obsession a kilometre away, and they loathe it. Listeners want speakers who are real, who can share something meaningful and personal about themselves. We’re all human. We’ve all made mistakes. Leaders who relate where they went wrong in the past don’t lose respect, they gain it.

Who's the best speaker you've ever seen?

Ron Ellis, the former Toronto Maple Leaf star.

What's the best speech you've ever seen made?

I saw Ron speak on the subject of mental illness at a reception in Toronto in January, 2001. To this day, it remains the best speech I’ve ever heard. It was stunning. Ron has suffered from depression, and told his story in a quiet, dignified way, without any trace of self-pity or self-aggrandizement. The speech was more like a conversation, which is what all great presentations are like. Ron made it about his listeners. When he spoke, we were absolutely still, transfixed. I’ll remember that speech to my dying day.

What's a quick way or quick tip you have for someone to improve the way they speak?

Do three things:

  1. Learn the first 90 seconds of your presentation cold, so you can concentrate on your relationship with your listeners and get off to a nice, relaxed start.
  2. Speak slowly, especially in the early going. You’ll look smarter.
  3. Have fun. It’s a privilege to address others openly in a democratic society. Celebrate it. Honour it.

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