What makes a leader? The communications courses I run we usually start with a very simple exercise. We ask all participants to complete the following definition in at least thirty different ways: “A leader is someone who…” They can usually come up with fifteen or so, and then the going gets difficult; although interestingly enough, the most powerful descriptions tend to surface after that point. In the end, what is important is not the definition per se, but the reflection it generates on what qualities mark out a real leader. And what do I believe a leader should be? I could provide more than thirty answers here, but for the purposes of this article I will use this one: a leader is a person who helps others to see and do things they thought impossible.
What is leadership?
Leadership has very little to do with your position or the office you hold. Leaders do not necessarily need to occupy the highest and comfiest chairs, nor sit at the top of the organisational chart. Leadership doesn’t come with the post. Anyone can exercise leadership, whatever their position or job. For me, a leader is someone who helps others to see reality from a different perspective, opening up new horizons. A leader can conjure up for their audience opportunities they never thought possible. Ultimately, a leader is a Catalyst for Change.
A leader creates change, seeks transformation, makes things happen through team efforts, by constantly asking him or herself:
How can I inspire change within my team?
How can I draw for them a seductive and colourful future?
How can I help them improve their own reality?
A leader as a catalyst for change transmits ideas and brings them to life. He/she creates alternative ways of looking at a situation, of interpreting events, of exploring courses of action, of questioning accepted beliefs. Through challenges and examples, he/she brings a new perspective to the sector, to the organisation, or even to his/her own audience. A leader inspires change.
The team at Science of People, a human behaviour research lab, believe they have found five patterns of efficient communication that every leader should put into practice. Having asked 760 volunteers to study and rate thousands of TED talks, they have identified 5 patterns common to the most successful of such talks.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it
Surprisingly, evaluators gave the same rating to speakers in relation to their charisma, credibility and intelligence when watching the video on mute or with sound. Yes, you heard right: these qualities are transmitted through non verbal communication. Your body is not there just to hold your head up: your body and your voice, when acting in unison with the purpose of your speech, will allow you to reach out to your audience and transmit all the power, the conviction and the charm you can muster.
TIP: If you want to improve the way you communicate your leadership, concentrate as much, if not more, on your non verbal language as on what you actually say. Don’t spend all your time preparing the content: leave some time for practising your presentation.
Your hands say it all
When speakers made more gestures, their talk was more effective and received better ratings. Your hands are the non verbal tools which can help illustrate your words and fuel your credibility. They help the audience understand the concepts you are explaining, and increase people’s trust in you.
TIP: In order to improve your presence on the stage, let your hands talk. Make enlightening gestures to draw and accompany your words. Let your hands emphasise what your voice is saying. Remember; express yourself also with your hands.
Talk from the heart, not from a script
Your voice adds colour to your speech. The more vocal variety the speaker uses, the more times his or her speech will be viewed. Vocal variety projects greater charisma and credibility. Your voice allows you to captivate the audience and keep attention levels high. Always practise your presentations out loud, using the whole range of non verbal options. Paint audio landscapes with your voice.
TIP: Don’t learn the text off by heart or read directly from your notes or slides. This will kill the spontaneity of your voice and will make you less memorable.
Smiling makes you look smarter
Leaders always seem to be serious and stern, and they typically smile less. It seems to be a universally accepted fact that smiling diminishes your status. However, researchers found that speakers who smiled more were rated higher in intelligence.
TIP: No matter how serious the topic you are talking about is, find an adequate moment to smile.
You have seven seconds to impress
Evaluators took only seven seconds to form an impression of both the speaker and the speech. Researcher Nalini Ambady calls this “thin slicing” behaviour. When we meet somebody for the first time, our brain makes very rapid judgements, even well before any words are exchanged. Hence the importance of making a grand entrance onto the stage and having a well-rehearsed opening phrase to get you off to a flying start.
TIP: Always start your presentations in style, with a bang. The opening is your visiting card for the presentation, and depending on the impression caused in the first seven seconds, so will you and the rest of your presentation be judged.
Put these five patterns into practice in your next presentations and your charisma, your presence and your personal power on stage, in meeting rooms and in your interaction with others will improve. You will stop informing and start to inspire. You will communicate like a leader. Your will become a Catalyst for Change.