Establishing credibility is fundamental to leadership. As we have discussed, leaders affirm their believability through the content of their leaership messages. Vocalization of the message also plays a role; in other words, the way you look and sound as you present is critical to your credibility (see Figure 8-1). Emerging leaders often ask their speech coaches or trusted advisers how they should present. The answer most often given is, "Be yourself!" This is the correct answer, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The leader must be him- or herself on stage or in a coaching session, but he or she may also need to do more. Here are some suggestions:
Reflect the mood of the moment. Know the situation. Is the organization upbeat and optimistic, or is it fearful and dreading tomorrow? Take your cue from the mood and adjust your presentation style accordingly. For upbeat audiences, a lighter approach is acceptable; for uptight audiences, being direct and to the point may be more appropriate. Humor, however, can be a terrific way to lighten the mood and break the ice.
Emulate, don't copy. Be the speaker you are. Do not try to replicate some orator from the past. Use your own words. It is okay to quote, but do not try to copy the manner and gestures of someone else. You will only do yourself a disservice and raise questions about your believability.
Act the part. Speaking out loud, as discussed earlier, is acting. It is the art and practice of giving voice to your thoughts and words as a reflection of your leadership style. Sometimes women feel that they must raise their voices if they are to be heard, but instead of just being louder, they may come across as shouting. This situation plays into the stereotype of male speakers being more authoritative than female speakers. The truth is that men and women are equally believable or equally disingenuous as speakers, depending upon their ability to communicate the authenticity of their messages. Using a microphone will enable the speaker, male or female, to speak in a voice that captures his or her natural cadences and voice colorations. And don't hide behind the podium; use a wireless microphone so that you can stride across the stage or walk among the audience as you speak.
Take the message, not yourself, seriously. Audiences love it when the speaker shares something of her- or himself. Self-deprecation, or making a joke at your own expense, is a great way to connect. You can be serious about the message without being strident and overly intense in your presentation style.
Effective leadership communicators need not be polished orators. Winston Churchill was an accomplished master of the art form, but Katherine Graham had to force herself to become a public speaker. Both, however, radiated conviction in their communications.