The link between leadership and public speaking.


- Hisham Wyne

There's a strong link between public speaking and leadership. Leadership requires effective communication, and speaking confidently in public is a key part of that. Improving your public speaking helps you sell better, inspire people, and boost your career.

I remember that in my university days we’d all regularly be put to sleep by a particularly boring professor. But here’s the thing – the man was a genius. His bookshelf was draped in awards, medals and crispy parchment attesting to his achievements.

His trouble was that he just couldn’t communicate. And that reduced the effectiveness of his ideas in a classroom setting.

Now apply the same reasoning to leadership. Like it or not, leadership skills are associated with speaking well, and getting ideas across confidently.

For many of us, who really don’t like speaking in front of crowds, this seems unfair. But it’s easy to see why leadership is linked to speaking well in public.

Leadership requires communication. A good leader can balance on the seesaw of organisational politics and sway it. Leadership is about getting people to respond effectively – and communication is key to that. And the ability to articulate ideas effectively in speech is a cornerstone of communication. Hence why the ancient Greeks called rhetoric “the art of winning the sole by discourse.”

And then there’s this singular individual, who said, “Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.” And he’d know – because he’s Richard Branson, the charismatic leader behind the success of the Virgin brand.

And yet, most of us hate speaking in public. In fact, 19% of the world’s population has a phobia of public speaking – as do every 3 out of 4 people that also face speech anxiety. [Link: ]. To put that in perspective, only 16% of us have an active phobia of death.

Yet, there’s good news. And it’s this:

Public speaking isn’t a genetic predisposition. It’s not something we’re born with. It definitely isn’t something handed down through generations. It’s a skill. And like any skill, it can be learnt.

Don’t believe me? Here’s business author Brian Tracy:

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”

What does that mean?

It means just one thing – work at it. Yes, it’s handy if you can get some professional help, or find a workshop to hone your speaking skills quickly. But at the end of the day, it’s all down to sweat.

The really natural speakers you see on stage or TV aren’t born that way. Fact: Comedian Louis CK spent decades refining his material and honing his stagecraft to get where he is. And ex-Tonight Show host Jay Leno used to fit around 150 standup gigs into his schedule in addition to his day (or night) job!

Practice makes good speakers; repetition keeps them sharp.

One more thing – I referred to Richard Branson as charismatic. No surprise. Charismatic is an appellation that sticks to Branson like expensive cologne.

And Charisma is important. Forbes says it actually beats out actual performance on the job when leaders are evaluated.
And time and again, it’s been called the most effective leadership style in the long-term.

But what is charisma if not tricks of tone, body language and emotional availability? What is it if not practiced ease at talking, listening and conversing?

Charisma, like public speaking, is a skill that can be picked up. It comes from body language, approachability, and the ability to speak well. And all those things can be practiced and mastered.

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re in a leadership position, and want to improve, don’t just look at Executive MBAs. Try becoming a better speaker. It’ll help you sell better, communicate effectively, and inspire people. And most importantly, it’ll make people judge you better when evaluation time rolls around.