5 Strategies for Speaking with Impact


In the  webinar “Meetings: From Ordinary to Extraordinary,” effectiveness expert Paul Axtell explains how to communicate to get the desired results out of everyday team meetings—namely, to clarify issues, sharpen focus, set direction, and move key goals forward.

Do you feel heard? Do people build upon your comments? Consider that there is a way of speaking that engages and influences the thinking of others and that creates a sense of being connected. Here are five areas to pay attention to when you make a presentation, lead a meeting, or teach a class. Many of these same points hold true when you are a participant in meetings.

  1. Think about the audience. Just 5 to 10 minutes of reflection about who they are, what they do, and what their interests might be will make you more thoughtful and observant when you begin to interact with them.
  • Give some thought to how they were invited to this meeting or conversation. What are they likely thinking about as they come into the room?
  • Is there an authentic way to get them participating and contributing to you and the conversation? Being in the room early and meeting some members of the audience will give you opportunities to refer to them by name and build on the conversations that you have with them prior to starting. It will also make them feel comfortable and welcome, which will add to the psychological safety in the room. Are there a couple of early questions you can ask the group—questions that will add value to conversation? Don’t ask a question that you don’t intend to work with or build upon.
  • Use words that will involve the audience—refer to their jobs, projects, interests.
  • While communicating, study the audience and adjust accordingly—if appropriate. Notice their facial expressions and physical gestures to get clues about whether they are following and engaged with you.
  • Remember that people comprehend at different speeds. Slow and deliberate is better. If you are anxious, you probably speak more quickly. If your comments are worthwhile, people will appreciate having time to take them in—clarity matters.
  • People are inclined to hear what they want to hear. Communicate with enough clarity so they hear exactly what you want them to hear. Set up your comments so the audience interprets your remarks in a way that is consistent with your intent.
  • Let people know they can ask questions and share their insights and experience. Then be gracious when they do.
  • Whenever possible, use names and personalize your relationships.
  • Refer to comments that people made earlier in the conversation.
  • Let people know when they’ve changed your thinking or contributed to you with either a question or a comment.
  • Move your attention around the audience. Treat the conversation as though you are talking to one person at a time. When you can engage with a specific person, one minute goes a long way in connecting. Plus, when you speak to an individual, the eight people around them get a sense of attention and connection with you also.
  1. Speak efficiently. People will judge the quality of your thinking in part by the quality of your speaking.
  • Be clear, concise, and ensure your comments are relevant for the topic.
  • Do not provide examples unless asked for.
  • Do not provide detail that isn’t necessary.
  • Practice making your point in 15 seconds.
  • Only speak if what you have to say adds value to the conversation.
  • Don’t repeat what someone else has said.
  • Don’t make your point more than once.
  • Watch out for side excursions or tangents from your main point. Save the scenic route for the campfire. Going on and on will detract from your message.
  1. Watch your words. Language can either add to your speaking or detract from your impact.
  • Avoid repeating your favorite words.
  • Don’t exaggerate. Let the facts speak for themselves.
  • Don’t be tempted to make broad, sweeping statements.
  • Don’t use absolute language like always and never.
  • Choose words that have a single meaning to prevent misunderstanding.
  • Don’t use thoughtless, trite expressions such as “To be truthful,” “Honestly speaking,” “To be honest,” “All kidding aside,” “Let me make one thing perfectly clear.”
  • Be selective in the use of nonspecific words such as it, they, we, some.
  • Use active, convincing words and memorable phrases.
  • Be sure each word contributes to the substance or spirit of the message.
  1. Watch your non-verbal language. Everything about you communicates.
  • Don’t fidget.
  • Avoid distracting behaviors—don’t give people anything they can count.
  • Don’t scowl or do something that can be taken the wrong way.
  • Train yourself to look at someone directly for ten seconds as you begin speaking and when you begin listening. After the initial ten seconds, do what feels comfortable.
  • Make sure your tone matches your message. Your tone of voice lets me know whether we are friends or there is some friction between us. Intend to be gentle, supportive, and gracious and your tone will follow.

Make sure your non-verbal expressions match your message and represent how you want to be viewed.

  1. Find places to demonstrate powerful listening. People will notice your ability to pay attention and listen deeply to others. When they do, they will pay more attention to your speaking. Often you have to demonstrate your ability to listen first.
  • If you don’t develop a reputation as a wonderful listener, your speaking will get discounted.
  • Pay attention when each person speaks. That extra attention to the listening process conveys genuine interest that, in turn, encourages the presenter to share even more than they may have intended.
  • Be very attentive when you are not speaking. Don’t create an impression that you are not interested, engaged, or listening.
  • Let everyone finish without interruption.
  • Don’t nod excessively when you are listening—it is distracting.
  • Lean forward or toward the speaker when you are listening.
  • Say something that allows people to feel heard after they speak. “Good”, “Thank you” “Got it” “Clear” give a sense of completion to the conversation. If you want to emphasize a point they expressed that is fine but not necessary each time.
  • The degree of attention you devote to listening directly impacts the quality of what you receive, retain, and understand, which will inform your responses and speaking.
  • To accurately interpret what is said requires listening to the words, sounds, and vocal tones and observing facial expressions and physical gestures. Relying merely on spoken words, rather than on how they are delivered and the nonverbal cues accompanying them, gives you only part of the total picture.

Conversations and language create the world in which we live. The way we speak has an impact on the people around us. Treat your speaking with respect, and others will also.

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission of the author. In his webinar, Paul Axtell provides strategies for making all conversations more effective—especially those in meetings.

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