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The Speaker As Leader
by Craig Harrison
February, 2002
edition of
The Toastmaster

I often hear Toastmaster bifurcate between our two tracks: "Are you in the Communication or the Leadership track?" They presume it's an either/or situation: you're either a speaker OR a leader. And then it hit me — Speakers are Leaders. Speakers lead their audiences in thought, lead them to new points of view, to new understanding, and many times lead them to action, just like leaders.

Yet I wonder, how many speakers see and hear themselves as leaders? Do they know the power they possess from the platform? Do they see how they articulate their visions, enlist the support of others, walk their talk and transform an assortment of individuals in an audience into a cohesive corps of followers of their point of view or train of thought?

Once we realize as Speakers we're acting as Leaders, we can actually apply leadership lessons to help us be more effective speakers.

Leaders start with a Vision. So do speakers! What is the vision for your speech? Can you answer this question for yourself? With your vision in place, work backwards from your vision to decide how to advance it. How will you share your speech's vision with your audience?

For example, suppose you want to give a speech on the importance of parks in our downtown areas. Work backwards from your vision and figure out how best to advance it. See yourself convincing your audience of all the reasons having downtown parks benefits them.

My vision for this article: to help readers identify that speakers are leaders and show them how to use leadership tenets to help them be more impactful speakers. It all starts with a vision. When it's clear in your own mind you can begin to share it with others.

Leaders enlist the support of others.

So do speakers. When you give a speech and articulate your vision you are recruiting followers. You do it in different ways: through eye contact, through direct and rhetorical questions, inclusive language and an inviting message. You don't yell at your audience but you do pique their curiosity, appeal to their interests, and let your listeners find where they fit into your speech. As a result, your audience "buys into" your message. As Toastmasters we don't enlist them through sign-up sheets, pledge cards and oaths. We do it in more subtle ways: through our persuasiveness, our style and our genuine delivery. Thus do we turn listeners into followers and supporters of our cause. We build understanding and agreement with our audiences through our speech.

Leaders walk their talk.

Speakers do too. Those speakers who are most successful are those who live their message. They embody the ideals they espouse. There's a consistency between the message they articulate and their own belief system. When you ask your audience to care, are you caring for them? When you implore your listeners to action, are you leading the way? Audiences look for congruency and notice inconsistencies so make sure your actions, behavior and demeanor match that which you are trying to encourage. This is how integrity is derived and credibility is earned. Remember, people will 'do as you do' far more than they will 'do as you say.' As a speaker/leader, you must model the way.

Leaders put their people first.

Speakers should too. Leaders and speakers are there to represent the needs, desires and ambitions of their audience. By putting their followers first, leaders are responsible for and gain the allegiance of their people. Speakers should be doing the same with their audiences. Speaking is about serving the needs of one's audience. By knowing your audience you can show them respect. You can also best serve their needs. Leaders know, it's not about them, but those they represent. Are you audience-centered? If not, why not? Without your audience you are just talking to yourself. By putting your audience first and striving to serve their needs, yours will naturally be taken care of as well. The opposite cannot be said. Put yourself in your audience's shoes as you create and prepare your next speech. Always consider their perspective. Leaders are always mindful of their followers and you should be too.

Leaders know their followers.

Speakers should too. As a speaker at the club, contest or professional level, you have resources to apply as well. Coordinate with your Toastmaster of emcee prior to your presentation to gather information to help you succeed. Learn as much as you can about the day's program, the environment you will be speaking in, and who precedes and proceeds you. Who will be introducing you? Use the introducer to establish your credibility and prepare your listeners for what is to follow.

Leaders leverage their resources.

Speakers should too. Who is in your audience? Are they subject matter experts? How do they best like to learn? Are they visual learners, kinesthetic or predominantly aural in learning style? Can you marshal their support? How will you do it? Will you appeal to their intellect or politics? Will you demonstrate an understanding of their preferences? Plan to include your audience members in your speech either through your remarks, planned interactivity or questions and answers. They will naturally be asking themselves "what's in it for me?" Have you helped them answer that question for themselves?

Leaders lead.

As a speaker you should too! I can't tell you how many speeches I've heard where the speaker was well prepared, well groomed and well spoken. The only problem: the speaker forgot to lead. It's funny, we go to all the trouble of stating our case, presenting our audience with a well reasoned piece of thought, and then politely sit down. Don't forget to lead.

What is the purpose of your speech? Remember the vision? Having laid the groundwork for a successful speech, don't forget to leverage your leadership by the speech's end. Now that you've demonstrated your knowledge, educated your audience and presenting compelling documentation for your thesis, what should your audience do with your speech? Let the audience know. They are awaiting your lead. Tell them what to do! Is there a call to action? If so, state it, in no uncertain terms. What is the next step for your audience members? Make sure you tell them. Audiences want to be ledÉthey also need to be led. Don't assume your eloquence alone will carry the day. Leaders close strongly. They remove ambiguity and uncertainty. They state in unmistakable terms what they think and what they expect. You, as a speaker and a leader, should do likewise.

Secretary of State General Colin Powell isn't the only one who can combine being a leader and a speaker. As Toastmasters we too are both speakers and leaders. The first step is to recognize our dual natures and embrace the leadership mantle. Speakers, it's your lead!

Leaders lead.

As a speaker you should too! I can't tell you how many speeches I've heard where the speaker was well prepared, well groomed and well spoken. The only problem: the speaker forgot to lead. It's funny, we go to all the trouble of stating our case, presenting our audience with a well reasoned piece of thought, and then politely sit down. Don't forget to lead.

© Copyright 2002 Craig Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Professional speaker Craig Harrison, DTM/AL, a member of Speaker Bureau Forum Toastmasters (#9338-57) in Lafayette, CA, mentors speakers at all levels of Toastmasters to embrace their leadership potential. Take the lead by clicking on www.ExpressionsOfExcellence.com for more resources to help speakers become leaders.

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