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How Should a CEO Speak?
Having successful and productive business relationships depends on excellent communication. The CEO in particular should have world-class communication skills. The three main types of communication the CEO must master are verbal, nonverbal, and written. Verbal and nonverbal communications are flip sides of the same coin, which means that learning how to speak effectively means also learning how to master nonverbal communication. Here are some thoughts on how a CEO can make the most of his or her speaking skills.
Mastering verbal communication isn’t just optional for the exceptional leader.
The Components of Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is, of course, using words to communicate information. But don’t think of speaking as the sole ingredient of verbal communication. Listening is equally as important. In a one-on-one conversation, listening helps the speaker know where to go next in the conversation and is a major component of emotional intelligence. In a group or audience situation, “listening” may involve more reading body language and facial expressions than listening to words, but it’s just as important in order to be confident the message is getting through to people.
Nonverbal Communication is Equally as Important
Being able to speak clearly and logically is essential, but so is mastering nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication includes the use and interpretation of gestures, posture, facial expressions, and other forms of body language. Your body language is tremendously powerful in setting the tone for a conversation, either reinforcing or undermining your message. If your nonverbal cues aren’t in harmony with the words you’re speaking, people will wonder what is wrong, or simply tune out your message.
Reading Builds Vocabulary and Improves Verbal Communication
Great communicators are avid readers. Whether you consume work-related texts, journals, news publications, novels, biography, or any other type of written work, reading increases your vocabulary and exposes you to new ways of expressing concepts. Reading good work helps you attune to cadences and rhythms that you can use in speech to reinforce what you’re saying, and it can prevent you from relying too heavily on phrases and buzzwords that eventually lose their power. If you want to speak better, read more.
Learn How to Keep Filler Words to a Minimum
Brief silent pauses aren’t something you should fear.
Everyone is guilty of using filler words like “um,” when speaking, and if we eliminated them entirely, we would probably sound like robots. Usually we use fillers when we’re looking for the exact right word or are formulating our thoughts into words. Many people use them to indicate they’re about to speak. To avoid overusing filler words, first of all, don’t worry about it too much. To some extent, filler words are a natural part of speech. Pause and think before speaking, and learn to be comfortable with small intervals of silence to reduce the use of filler words.
It’s OK to Have “Scripts” for Small Talk
The art of small talk is harder to master than many people realize, yet the CEO may find himself or herself in countless situations where it is appropriate. It’s OK to have informal mental “scripts” to help with small talk. One mnemonic people use is FORD: family, occupation, recreation, and dreams – four topics almost everyone responds well to. Having a couple of questions ready in each of these categories and knowing which is most appropriate to the situation is an excellent way to improve your small talk skills.
Understand the Power of Stories
Storytelling is a feature of every culture, yet analysis was long considered the most important form of making a case for something. Research has shown, however, that narrative ultimately cannot be suppressed, and that it can be an enormous factor in leadership. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were both masters of the art of the narrative, for example. Stories activate our brains, helping us see patterns and draw conclusions, and they are the key to making analysis meaningful. Master storytelling, and you master a critical ingredient in great leadership. Speaking is far more than using our mouths to form words. It changes minds, calls people to action, and strengthens bonds, and it is an essential part of the CEO’s skills repertoire. Speaking and other aspects of verbal communication can be improved upon like any other skill, and the effort invested in doing so is paid back multiple times over. Outstanding leadership and outstanding communications are committed partners in success.