When I took my first job in leadership in marketing, I was given a book by Rogers Ailes called, “You Are the Message.” This was long before he went on to create Fox News and become such a polarizing figure today in our culture. I’d like to publicly thank Roger for helping me take my life to a level I couldn’t have imagined growing up in a small town called Avon, Ohio. I hope to share some of his best secrets for being a powerful communicator with you today.
He has always believed in creating interesting spokespeople within their areas of expertise. You don’t expect an explosive Libertarian former federal judge or an incredibly self effacing chief business reporter with a wacky sense of humor to create a new business network with a tag line yelled by his crew, “Demand it!” His ability to help others communicate from their strengths and know they’re supported has created a significant following around the world. His reporters respect Roger and would do almost anything he asks. This helps create the success that Fox News Channel has become today. For many who don’t believe that it works, take to look all the iterations from the many other news networks around the world.
This book changed the way I worked with media and helped me best understand how to write for other people. This is an important quality for a speechwriter. I’ve written speeches for many well-known corporate and nonprofit leaders over the years. They’ve all been very happy with the response they got from their speeches. I thought it might be helpful to share what makes these leaders more effective.
Here are the three things I took away from Roger. Try applying these tools to your communication strategies and you’ll be surprised at the response you get.
Rule 1 – First impressions count. Take time to relax, slow down your breathing, and remember people are there to help you succeed. Keep in mind that this is not a speech but something you want to share with your audience. Your message can change their lives, but they are looking to be led from the beginning of your discussion. Remain conversational, but not boring. Smile naturally, and look out to your audience. Begin connecting individually and then as a group. Once you have established eye contact, don’t keep it too long but long enough so you don’t look like your eyes are darting around.
Rule 2 – Prepare your speech with the idea that the person you’re presenting it to understands the subject but not everything you could do in a given situation. Bring people up to speed quickly but don’t go too far into the weeds. Share explanations, but don’t make people feel stupid. Explain from the point of view, “Here’s something I know that you might not.” This helps you win over even the most unwelcoming audience. Sharing something is much easier than lecturing someone. Learn about who is in your audience and try to balance the material so everyone listening feels like they’ve learned something new. I want my presenters to connect with the audience in both content and friendship. People can take tough news from a good friend easier than from someone who is disconnected. High flying oratory only takes you so far. Today, knowing the right mix can take you to a higher level.
Rule 3 – Take time to be yourself. Don’t try to give a presentation the way someone else would. In most cases, you’d come off as a cheap imitation anyway. Use your strengths, connection, and clarity to help you better share your points of view.
How you present yourself is critical to your success. Many of the R&D scientists and technologists struggle in their corporate uniform, a suit and tie, for example. I suggest that my clients where clothes they’re comfortable in. It doesn’t mean they don’t match their audience expectations, but they find some little way of connecting to their own core. For years I used cartoon ties to soften my hard driven image. It became such a trademark for me, clients would send them from all over the world for me to wear. They always brought a smile to the face of the people in the audience. It was a great way to connect on a deeper level.
When I work with my clients, I spend 80% of my time helping them to identify their authentic voice. This includes the speed at which they talk, and the beliefs and passion they feel about the subject. Allowing a person to be themselves is a challenge if they don’t know who they are and what they believe. Helping them clarify their message provides them with a solid platform to speak from on any occasion, from speaking in a board meeting to delivering a toast at a wedding.