When President-elect Barack Obama speaks, people listen. He is one of the most powerful and effective communicators of recent years, and he engages, motivates and inspires his audience. Business leaders can learn from his example as they too must engage, motivate and inspire their employees.
“Those [business leaders] who really master the art of speaking and persuasion become a cut above all the others,” said Shel Leanne, the author of Say It Like Obama: The Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision. “[They] are powerful speakers who can lead through great communication in the good times and the hard times.”
Obama prevailed against the odds because he won voters with his words. He tore down barriers and built bridges, something every business leader can apply in the workplace.
“He’s very good at addressing the elephants in the room,” Leanne said. “He has an exotic name, as he calls it, and he came from a mixed relationship. All of these things [are] not what we typically see in a president-elect. Instead of trying to pretend that [wasn’t] there, he was very good at [addressing] the difference in his background. By drawing attention to it, he in some ways neutralized it. He made people comfortable, and from there he steered attention to commonality.”
For Leanne, the best example of Obama’s oration is his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
“In terms of just sheer power, [the] ability to persuade people and the ability to make an amazing impression, the 2004 keynote address is a phenomenal example of great oration,” she said.
No matter who Obama is addressing, he finds a way to connect. How often do your business leaders think about how to connect with their audiences before interacting with them?
“Sometimes it’s obvious [how to connect], but there are other times when it’s less obvious,” Leanne said. “When [Obama] was speaking in front of a group of working mothers, I was actually amused when I started reading the speech because I kept thinking, how is he going to connect [like] he normally does with this group?
“He gets in front of them, and the first thing he starts talking about is, ‘My mother was a working mother, so I understand your challenges.’ Then he starts talking about his wife, ‘My wife is a working mother; I see her challenges.’ Immediately these two experiences [connect him] with the audience and establish an emotional connection.”
Business leaders also have to communicate effectively with those they are leading.
“When you’re in the good times, you want to motivate people to be on the leading edge, and the power to communicate a vision is central to that,” Leanne said. “During the hard times, you need to keep people motivated and believing that things can turn around. And communication is equally if not more important [in that situation]. So it’s very much worth [your] while to invest in speaking and communication skills.”
From her own experience, Leanne found coaching is a good way to instill these skills.
“Absolutely, people can learn this,” she said. “If you’re coached, you’re going to get there faster. You’re going to be more effective more quickly.”