Distinguishing a Presentation From a Leadership Talk – how to give lecture

Brent Filson

At a tempestuous rehearsal of the NBC symphony orchestra, the cantankerous conductor Arturo Toscanini once shouted to a violinist, “God lets me hear the music, but you get in the way!”

When it comes to school administrators trying to communicate with people, Toscanini’s admonition resonates with me.

After all, the adage that communication doesn’t happen unless the other person gets the point applies especially to those who lead our public schools. The trouble with the vast majority of communications I have witnessed from administrators is they fail to truly get the point across. The sender and the receiver are not in tune.

There is one main reason why. When communicating, administrators tend to give presentations. Instead, they should be giving leadership talks. The difference between a presentation and a leadership talk is what Mark Twain said the difference between the almost right word and the right word. “The difference,” he said, “between the lightning bug and lightning.”

Knowing that difference and putting it into action can greatly increase the likelihood that what you send will be received and acted upon.

Let’s understand the basic difference between the presentation and the leadership talk. Presentations communicate information, but leadership talks persuade people to believe in you, to follow you and, most important of all, to want to take leadership for your cause.

My experience has taught me that 95 percent of all communication in business is accomplished through the presentation. However, if 95 percent of communication was accomplished through the leadership talk instead, leaders would be far more effective in achieving results.

Inspiring Action

Here’s how to prepare a leadership talk.

First, before you speak, be clear about the difference between a presentation and leadership talk and decide whether you intend to give one or the other. Do you simply want to communicate information? If so, give a presentation. Or why not just hand out a piece of paper?

If, however, you want to motivate people to follow your lead, if you want them to be your “cause leaders,” give a leadership talk.

Second, know the three basic triggers of the leadership talk. They can be expressed as questions.

* Do you know the emotional needs of your audience?

* Can you bring deep belief to what you are saying?

* Can you have the audience take action?

If you answer “no” to any of those questions, you cannot give a leadership talk. The questions are not meant to be stumbling blocks to your leadership talk but stepping stones. If you don’t know the answers, find out.

Let’s look at each trigger.

Do you know the emotional needs of your audience? Their emotional needs are our tools to get results from the talk. For every emotion, a problem is crying out for a solution. When you understand their emotional needs and help them bring solutions to those needs, you are a long way down the road of developing a leadership talk.

First Impressions

The chief executive officer of a worldwide business asked me to help him develop a talk he planned to give to several hundred of his top executives. He said, “I feel as if I am Daniel going into the lion’s den.”

Indeed, he was entering the business equivalent of a lion’s den. Hired from a competing firm, he was a stranger to the company, which had been hobbled by declining market share and bad morale caused by the arbitrary actions of the previous CEO, an isolated dictator.

“This is the first time most of them will see and hear me,” he said. “I’ll give a presentation on the state of the business.”

“Hold on,” I said. “Don’t give a presentation. Give a leadership talk instead. You’re facing an important leadership situation. The old saying, ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression,’ applies here in spades. You’ve got a great leadership opportunity. But to give a leadership talk, to have people believe in you, follow you and want to take leadership for your cause, those people must be emotionally committed to you and what you say. Understand and speak to people’s emotional needs.”

The words “emotion” and “motivation” come from the same Latin root word meaning “to move.” When you want to move people to respond to your leadership, you must engage their emotions. This means understanding what their emotional needs are.

Well before the CEO’s speech was to be given, we talked to several of his managers and found they were feeling intimidated by the demands of increasingly sophisticated customers. We learned they feared not being supported in the decisions they made in the field. We learned they were angry at having to meet what they considered unnecessary reporting requirements. We learned they didn’t trust the top executives.

Intimidation, fear, anger, distrust… those emotions described the state of his audience and, in truth, the state of the business.

The CEO gave a speech that spoke to and answered the needs of those emotions, a talk based on the single idea that he was a person they could trust.

Can you bring deep belief to what you’re saying? The function of a leadership talk is to get people to take leadership action for your cause. But people will sign up for leadership only when they believe you believe deeply in your own cause.

“I’m a patient, reasonable man,” another CEO told me. “But when I run out of patience, I don’t give presentations. I give leadership talks. My best talks!”

Your communication will be a leadership talk when you are dedicated to what you’re going to say, fully informed and inspired to speak. Don’t give a leadership talk unless you can get that inspiration.

Can you have the audience take action? The ancient Greeks had a saying: “When Achines speaks, we say, ‘How well he speaks,’ but when Demosthenes speaks, we say, ‘Let’s march against Philip!”‘

Gaining Commitment

The measure of a leadership talk is not linked so much to what you say but what your audience does after you have had your say. The leadership talk should have people “marching,” taking action that achieves results.

Get your audience committed to your leadership–and test that commitment–by challenging the audience to take specific action for results. Another CEO, who gives many talks before community organizations, attributes the success of those talks to his challenging his audiences to take action.

“In many of my talks, I stress the need for improving our educational system. So at the end of my talk, I’ll tell the audience to call on the principal of their local school, ask about the dropout rate and how they might be invited to talk to dropouts or potential dropouts. Or I’ll ask my audience to offer the services to a teacher for several months. I challenge audiences to get involved, and I tell them exact ways they can do that. After giving speeches with those specific calls to action, I’ve received more positive correspondence than from any other speeches I have given.”

As a public school administrator, you do nothing more important than communicate for results. But in trying to get your points across, don’t get in your own way. When you avoid the presentation and give the leadership talk instead, you’ll help ensure that what you send will be clearly received–and acted upon.

Brent Filson is the founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, 505 White Oaks Road, Williamstown, Mass. 01267.

E-mail: filsonlead@aol.com His latest book, Results!Results!Results! Getting More Faster, is the fourth in his Action Leadership Series.

COPYRIGHT 2000 American Association of School Administrators

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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