How to Shine in the Spotlight

High value complex sales veteran, Charles Bates, on sales presentations, public speaking skills, and leadership.

Public Speaking Skills and Leadership

As a Chairman or CEO your ability to communicate effectively to the public and your team has always been important - but until recently a less than inspiring verbal performance at the lectern could be overcome and forgiven by delivering sparkling results. However, in these challenging economic times, the public speaking skills have never been more crucial for the senior leader.

The reality is that you are probably working harder and more effectively than ever before but this is not showing. At key moments when you speak before your peers or staff you need to not only communicate and connect but also to impress your audience; because, like it or not, you are being judged!

Many leaders are exceptional at what they do and for the majority of their working lives display outstanding skills. Unfortunately, these are usually only seen by their close colleagues. The rest of the watching world assesses a leader and judges his communication when he is standing in front of an audience.

Delivering a weak, unconvincing, performance can lead to months of endeavour, leadership and effort unravelling in minutes! With a shortage of positive results to bolster your position, these key moments are now even more essential. Therefore, it is imperative that you, as the leader, come across as charismatic, assured, confident, and calm. Your ability to inspire, instil confidence, motivate and galvanise action is paramount.

Certain people are born with a degree of performance skill, but this is far smaller than people think. Great speakers CAN be and ARE created. The challenge which most leaders have is that although they may have an MBA and other relevant qualifications, no one has ever advised or coached them on the key fundamentals of charismatic and effective public speaking. Often, their hard work is undermined by a weak and ineffective presentation.

This is not about spin or clever PR manipulation of your message. This is about you, the leader of your organisation and them, your audience. It's about your standing up in front of the audience and delivering with charisma, confidence and conviction - and ensuring that all concerned are left in no doubt that you are the leader. When you are in the communication spotlight does your performance fall short of your other abilities?

Ask yourself these 6 simple questions:

  • Holding the audience 'in the palm of your hand' is a much desired skill, but do you have the tools, techniques and skill to achieve this?
  • While you might have a few pre-speaking butterflies (these are good) are they out of control or flying in tight formation
  • Is your performance scattered with the hallmarks of truly great communication; the use of silence, great tone of voice and poise?
  • When you speak do you inspire the audience, galvanise action and ‘stamp’ your authority on the presentation?
  • Do you ooze confidence, charisma, poise and gravitas?
  • Do you really enjoy the experience of presenting or dread it?

A survey in America, a few years ago, discovered that talking in public was the number one dread of most people, ahead of death. Some people would rather die than speak in public! As a senior business leader clearly you do not fall into that category, but excessive anxiety is more common than you may think. This can easily be brought under control by the application of a few mind management techniques.

Different styles of presentations can reinforce your message, or not.

The six most often used and their effects are:

  1. Heavily PowerPoint based presentation – the speaker may loose audience focus
  2. Memorised Presentation - the speaker's focus is how they're presenting rather than what they're saying
  3. Bullet Points – gives the impression of virtually ad-libbing
  4. Autocue - best for longer presentations where precision is of the utmost importance
  5. Inspirational and Passionate style - given from the heart with great subject knowledge

So, how do you go about delivering a speech or presentation which truly matches your position and stature?

As with most skills, it is not something which can be achieved overnight. Having coached senior leaders for many years, we know that even a small amount of potent, highly effective, professional assistance improves performance immensely. In the meantime, here are 6 key points which will help you to prepare for your next presentation:

  1. First impressions are vital and your audience will form a strong impression of you before you have spoken your first word. The importance of non-verbal communication must never be over looked. You need to pay attention to your body language as you ‘take the stage.’ If you are seen as assured and confident the audience will get a positive first impression.
  2. Memorise the first 90 seconds of your presentation - you will be very glad that you did.
  3. Ensure the clarity of your message. You know what you are talking about but will the audience be able to follow it? Break your presentation into bite size chunks and then link them together. Also, watch your speed of delivery. Too fast a pace will leave the audience confused and unimpressed.
  4. Many speakers feel the need to fill every moment with words, ignoring a key rule of charismatic speaking - silence is golden. Using pauses adds stature, poise and gravitas to your performance.
  5. As a senior leader you are always busy, but your moments in the spotlight are vital, so make sure that you commit time to practise. Experience shows that 90% of weak presentations are the result of poor preparation and lack of practice.
  6. It is important to start well and important to have a powerful close to your presentation. A powerful close which summarises the 3 key messages of your presentation is essential. Never close with the dull, ‘Ladies and gentlemen that concludes my presentation.’ The message to the audience is, ‘Get your coat he's finished! Instead, try something which evokes power and stature, for example, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, finally, these are the 3 things to remember...

Communicating with charisma, poise and confidence has never been more important. Proof that great public speaking can make all the difference was demonstrated when a little known constituent MP, David Cameron, elevated himself from outsider to winner in the race for leader of the British Conservative party. During the 2005 Conservative Party conference David Davis and David Cameron were competing for the leader's job. Each was given the opportunity to address the party conference and present his vision and credentials.

David Davis, the hot favourite for the top position, spoke on the first day and delivered a competent but standard speech. The following day the young pretender, Cameron, took the stage. His speech was acknowledged by independent observers as a tour-de-force, full of charisma, passion, poise and confidence. The result was that Cameron won the race and the rest is history.

A well known political commentator said, "Few of the friends who contemplated David Cameron's leadership bid expected anything other than a Davis victory. Their hearts wanted Dave to win but their heads told them that 2005 was really about positioning for another battle in four or five years time. There were times when some friends almost threw in the towel. Cheerleaders at The Times lost heart in the middle of September and used a leader column to suggest that it might soon be wise to team up with a bigger beast.

Simultaneously some of Cameron's closest lieutenants were complaining about their candidate's unwillingness to take risks. David Cameron's leadership hopes were transformed just days later through two compelling performances; first at his campaign launch and then the now famous Blackpool speech transformed his public standing. He was no longer the little boat at the mercy of powerful currents and the swell of larger craft; he was the supertanker candidate on course for victory.

This is clear and compelling proof of what a 20 minute presentation can achieve when delivered with Charisma and Effectiveness creating an Outstanding performance. CEO public speaking skills can be learned!

Article by Charles Bates

If you need to improve public speaking skills or sales presentations for yourself or others, we can help. Telephone +44 (0)1392 851500. We will be pleased to learn about your needs or talk through some options. Alternatively Send email to for a prompt reply or use the contact form here.