• How to speak like a world leader

The ability of world leaders to communicate effectively is what separates them from the also-rans of the political world. They have the inherent skills to utilise a range of methods to put across their message in a manner that engages, enthrals and often persuades us to value their leadership on a number of given issues.

Barack Obama and the Rule of Three

Barack Obama’s oratory has been evident throughout his political career, from junior Senator to presidential candidate to two-term President. Author and Broadcaster, Carmine Gallo emphasises Obama’s use of the ‘Rule of Three’ as a key component is his rhetorical success. He contends that three is one of the most powerful numbers in communication. ‘We think in threes, we group numbers in threes, we speak in threes’. Obama is also a master of the impactful pause, in the same way Tony Blair was back in his hayday; notice how it helps make whatever has come before really land here;

Key Takeaways

  • Repetition is powerful because it can make a message more persuasive, more memorable, and more entertaining.
  • Pause in between sentences and at the end of a Rule of Three. The pause makes what you have just said more impactful to the audience as they are forced to process what it meant.

Try this: Next time you need to communicate your business’s core mission, try breaking it up into threes, for instance; ‘we believe in providing high-quality products, an unparalleled level of professionalism and going above and beyond for our clients’. And remember the pause! Yes you can…

Bill Clinton and the art of gesturing

In 2020, two decades after Bill Clinton left the oval office, people are still discussing his communication skills. So much so that we still hear his name mentioned by clients as a public speaker they most admire.

Clinton can also be seen as a good measuring stick for any aspiring public speaker or someone looking to hone their presentation skills. It’s easy to forget that he was almost booed off the stage early in his speaking career. At the Democratic Convention of 1988 the relatively unknown Arkansas Governor was due to speak for 15 minutes, but droned on for over a half-hour. The loudest applause came at 32 minutes, when he said, ‘and in conclusion…’. In the video below, notice how often his arms are by his sides and gesturing is limited to aggressive finger pointing.

Clinton learned an important lesson that day. He recognised his need to improve (particularly given his political ambition) and spent the next 10 years focusing on polishing his public speaking skills.

One of Clinton’s key tools was the art of the gesture. Gestures can often be conflated with waving your hands all over the place during a speech, something which I’m sure we all find both distracting and unhelpful. As speaker and author, Sam Harrison notes, what Clinton learned to do effectively was to ‘sync his words with his gestures’. In Clinton’s later years his arm movements are noticeably open and wide, relaying an image of accessibility and authenticity. To guide the audience’s emotion and attention, he extends his hands with palms facing up or out: ‘Let me ask you something [palms up]…’ or ‘Folks, this is serious [palms out]…’
He’ll also overlap hands in front of his chest to reinforce intimate statements such as, ‘This is personal to me…’.

The difference in his two styles are clearly on display here when endorsing President Obama for a second term at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. The phrase ‘the man who stopped the slide into depression [palms up, halting gesture]…’ particularly stands out for me at 1:18.

Key Takeaways

  • Even the best public speakers have had to work on their craft in order to improve.
  • Coordination between words and gestures can be the simple fix to help engage an audience and improve your speech.
  • Be careful not to over use hand gestures, they can take attention away from the message you are trying to get across.

Try this: The next time you have a speech or presentation to give, comb through the words and identify areas where the gestures mentioned above could sync with what is on the page. Make notes and practice – maybe rope in a colleague or family member to practice with. Rewatch the second video of Clinton, above and you’ll see what I mean.

Boris Johnson and the success of failure

Let’s be brutally honest, how many of us actually expected Boris Johnson to be Prime Minister two years ago? Defying conventional political wisdom, his political career has gone from strength to strength in spite of foot-in-mouth moments, scandals and failures – with the 2019 General Election handing the Conservatives their largest victory since the days of Thatcher.

We all remember him getting stuck on the zip wire in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, waving two Union flags around with an expression Frank Spencer would have been proud of. That would have killed any other politician but he makes it work. Some see his bumbling persona as hindrance but as journalist and think-tank director, Jonathan Lis points out, Johnson’s carefully cultivated bonhomie has been disarming opponents since his days at the Oxford Union and continues to do so with the British electorate because it embraces his flaws and ultimately gives a lot of people what they want in a leader; a relatable character.

Now, I’m not advocating machiavellian tactics to help your public speaking skills but embracing your flaws is directly applicable to the world of business. Heather Monahan, author of Confidence Creator states ‘if creating a culture of transparency, authenticity and trust is important to you, it is time to own your mistakes and flaws and do it with pride.”

Key Takeaways

  • Embrace your idiosyncrasies, they make you stand out.
  • Be humorous about mistakes, we all make them; they will help you connect with people.

Try this: Quite simply, at your next speech, allow yourself to feel unencumbered by the fear of failure. If Boris Johnson can become Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, you can certainly give a presentation on marketing statistics!

Michelle Obama and the power of authenticity

Despite being markedly different speakers in their communication styles, Boris Johnson and Michelle Obama do overlap on one issue; authenticity. She is also rightly seen as one of the most impressive public speakers in the world and uses it to incredible effect, helping to change a nation for the better, focusing on programmes and projects around the world about which she is personally invested, such as anti-obesity initiatives and pushes for women to receive education around the globe.

In another YouGov survey between Jan 2019 – Jan 2020, one keyword that stands out for Obama is ‘genuine’. Pick any speech of hers and notice how well she is able to connect with her audience, be it at the 2016 DNC, her book launch in Brooklyn or at speech to inner city school kids in London. At the book launch infront of 19,000 people, whilst rejecting Facebook COO Sheryl Sanberg’s ‘Lean In’ philosophy of parenting and workplace advancement, she said ‘Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all. It’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work’.

Immediately, the audience erupted in cheers and laughter. Not only could they see a prominent personality willing to speak what they perceived as the truth, but she did so with humour, earnestness and authenticity that is rarely seen in public figures (you might find this is especially true in business). As Elaine Swann, author of the etiquette guidebook ‘Let Crazy Be Crazy’ contends, this authenticity is what fuels her popularity, combined with her raw candor that so many believe is missing from most politicians and celebrities. ‘What drew us to her,’ says Swann, ‘was her honesty and her authenticity, and I think we’re just seeing another layer of that at this point.’

One of the smartest things to take from Michelle Obama is to engage with your employees or peer group in a way that helps them see you as another human. Why do people have such affection for her? Because they relate to her. Obviously you don’t need to swear in front of 19,000 people (or even 19) but show them that you’re not another robot there to pass on more information for them to store.

Key Takeaways

  • Do not underestimate the power authenticity to connect with your employees.
  • Focus on what you’re truly passionate about and pursue that. Your drive and enthusiasm will be infectious.
  • Be vulnerable and share your real stories to connect; don’t only share successes, share failures too.

Try this: If you are hosting a networking event, don’t simply thank people for attending and recite the agenda for the morning. Show why people should listen to you by engaging with them by telling a funny personal story about your morning with your family or something you may have struggled with on the way to work. It doesn’t have to bring the house down but it will certainly relax people. I know from being in similar situations that I always feel warmer towards someone in the workplace if I even get a hint that they can empathise with me.

This article has more tips on charisma and presence in public speaking.

Another skill possessed by many world leaders is the ability to speak with authority, learn more about that in this article.

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