How can we speak for change?
A few weeks ago I had the awesome privilege of working with a group of leaders to help them share their voice in a more persuasive way.
I told them, “Leaders are speakers and speakers are leaders.”
Initially, they looked at me a little cock-eyed. But as I talked I watched their eyes get really wide, realizing, I think, what that means.
One woman said to me, “I know this is true. But I'm resisting it because it means that I have to stand up and speak what is inside me.”
Yes. We need to stand up and speak what is inside us. Maybe now more than ever.
I am personally pretty devastated about the election results here in the United States… not gonna mince words on that one. I have dedicated my life to bringing more good into the world through words and story – and knowing how cruel and bigoted the words and actions of our new President-elect have been – and how, if even unintentionally – they have been legitimized and normalized, is disheartening and scary for me.
We as speakers know how much our words matter – and how powerful they can be.
So how do we speak and lead in a time of change and division? Especially when the divides feel insurmountable? When our stories carry more weight and risk – and when “vulnerability” is not just an ethos we aim for but a new reality we're living, making the sharing that much scarier?
I don't have all the answers – but I have some reminders for us as leaders and changemakers (because, as you know, all speakers are leaders, and leaders, speakers).
Three things to keep in mind in your next moment of persuasion:
1: We use our MIND. “Am I clear?”
When you structure your content, the most important question you want to answer is this one: Am I clear? If you're not, there's really no point – even if you're incredibly researched and exciting, and your audience is eager to hear you.
We can get clearer by editing ruthlessly, thinking through the technical aspects of your presentation that can either hinder or enhance your clarity (like, how should I set up the room, what visuals should I use?, etc.). And we can use stories to help anchor our ideas and data and make it meaningful – among other things.
And of course, Maya Angelou said it best when she said, “People won't remember what you said, they'll remember how you made them feel.”
Aim for clarity.
2: We use our bodies. “Am I in this?”
This is about moving your content from your mind (an exercise in theory – and the place where we spend most of our preparation time) into your body. It's embodying the idea, and letting it live in you, and you in it. It's the process of taking an idea and having it become a part of you. It's a creative process, and a long one – and there are no shortcuts because it's ultimately the process of finding your authentic voice and sharing that.
An authentic voice comes not just from the mind – but from the body as well.
The most persuasive thing we can do is share our human selves. So: are you in your talk? Is it coming from you? Have you taken the words and ideas and messages that we inherit from others (because we all inherit our ideas from somewhere), and then made it your own? Does it FEEL like you? Have you brought your energy into it?
Because a ‘Sally' talk should feel different than an ‘Andy' talk (for instance) – if we're aiming for authenticity. And it should also feel differently for an audience, too.
Aim for authenticity.
3: We use our soul. “Is it clear that I care?”
This last piece is about vulnerability. The difference between a memorable talk – and a real persuasive moment – is often about how much the speaker has risked. How much are we willing to risk in order to be heard and seen – in order to do something real and true? Of course, each situation calls for very different expectations and needs and comfort zones.
We do NOT need to spill all in order to move our audience. (Oftentimes, ‘over-sharing' can do the opposite.)
But we do need to risk. If we want to move our audience and give transformation a chance, we need to ask ourselves if it's clear that we care. (And it can be made clear in many ways.)
Aim for vulnerability.
And! Last chance to get tickets! This Thursday Andy and I are coalescing a group of changemakers here in the Twin Cities to talk about creating meaningful change. Turns out, we need it now more than ever! We still have a few spots left, if you – like me – are wanting to figure out how we can move forward with integrity and love, and a determination for something better – related to our political reality or not. You are welcome! Your voice is needed.
Let us speak, and lead.