If You Want to Lead, First Learn to Speak

141184078This is a post from our former Chancellor, Dr. Wright L. Lassiter, Jr. This excerpt is from one of his last Weekend Memo articles before he retired. We were honored to learn from his experience and leadership knowledge through these posts.

From: Chancellor’s Weekend Memo # 358


Many years ago while working at Tuskegee Institute (Alabama), I was introduced to Toastmasters International by two friends/neighbors.  I came away from that meeting totally impressed with the Toastmasters vehicle for becoming a top-quality speaker.  Over the years, I have subsequently earned the highest Toastmasters designation — Distinguished Toastmaster.  Additionally, at each institution where I was employed after leaving Tuskegee, I have chartered Toastmasters clubs.  A new Toastmasters Club at the district headquarters was recently chartered.

In this commentary, I am sharing eight elements to aid one in becoming an accomplished speaker.  Great speakers are not born — they are made!

Point #1  –  Be Yourself, Know Yourself.   Anyone giving a speech has to be clear about his/her own beliefs.  If you have a sense of clarity, then you can move on to technique.

Point #2  –   Know Your Audience.   Find out beforehand what the audience mix is, what it expects from you, and what the topic for the occasion is.  Just before you speak, mill about and talk with people.  Assess their level of sophistication on the subject about which you will be speaking.  Know your time slot and stick to it.  Remember, disappearance makes the heart grow fonder.  You can make friends with a short speech, enemies with a long speech.

Point #3  –  Sell Only One Idea.   The most effective speeches have at their core a single idea that can be written concisely.  A speech is essentially a sale; you are better off to sell one thing at a time.  Nail down that core idea, then, in your speech, hammer it over and over.  Know what you want the audience to repeat to you when the speech is over.

Point #4  – Reveal Yourself.   If you want the audience to relate to you, share something about yourself so people will feel that you are one of them.

Point #5 – Write it Several Times.   Writing is discovery.  Our ideas don’t come into our minds marching in lockstep.  Sit down and do it — then get it right.  Get it written — then rewrite.  Your first rewrite should be a complete overhaul.  Avoid the worn out and overused.  Get to the point.  It is not enough to shape your speech to one idea.  Make sure it is the right idea for that audience.  Follow this three-step process for creating, loading, and triggering core ideas: First, write down any ideas that may serve the core of the speech.  Then, put the list away.  Let it “simmer and germinate” for at least 24 hours. Second, select the single idea that will drive your speech.  Now, take that idea apart and examine its elements. Third, trigger the idea.  Put it into action at each stage of your speech.  You should begin with the idea and end with it.  Every paragraph, every sentence, every word should be linked in some way to it.

Point #6 – Don’t Waste the Introduction.   Let the person introducing you know that the introduction is very important to you — that it sets the stage.  Introductions can be like movie cartoons — injecting humor, change of pace, and new perspectives before the main event.  Avoid it being an obituary.

Point #7  – The Delivery.   When you are well prepared, it is far easier to be relaxed when speaking.  Even the best of speakers (if they are human) get butterflies at the beginning of a speech.  A way to overcome the “flutters” is to memorize your opener.  The worst thing you can do is ramble, trying to say everything.  Visual aids?  Be careful here.  Your audience did not come for a slide show or a sales presentation.  It came for a speech.

Point #8  –  Take Charge of the Question and Answer Period.   If a question and answer period is on the program, consider reducing the length of your speech to make time for it.  The beginning of the Q & A session is an abrupt transition from a speech.  You have been talking; now it is time to both talk and listen.  You must be sure to listen!

When it is all over, there is one cardinal rule:  decide how to improve the next time!  Hold on to these pointers as a reference tool and refer to it often.  Let it be a reminder of things to think about each time you make a speech!  Just — “food for thought.”


For more information on how BOSS classes can help you become more productive and effective or information on the BOSS degree and certificates, contact Becky Jones, Associate Dean, bjones@dcccd.edu 972-238-6215.

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