Leadership Communication: Why World Leaders Used Performance Techniques to Motivate Action

Posted on August 1st, 2019 by G. Riley Mills

Performance techniques can enhance leadership communication.

Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln performed Shakespeare to help sharpen their oratorical chops. Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Vaclav Havel, and Justin Trudeau were actors before transitioning to leadership roles.

Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Angela Merkel, John F. Kennedy, Suze Orman, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Robbins, and King George VI (The King’s Speech) all studied with acting coaches to improve their presence and delivery.

We are not suggesting you take acting classes. Rather, we are encouraging you to apply the same techniques actors have used for centuries to appear more confident, credible, and captivating to your business communication. We use “performer” and “performance” to invite you to bring your best self to the moment, no matter the setting or audience.

Why performance techniques enhance leadership communication

First Impressions Matter

The moment characters appear on stage or screen, the audience starts judging them—how they move, speak, and interact with other characters. Do I like this character? Do I trust this character? The same holds true in the professional environment. Research shows audiences make 11 judgments in the first seven seconds.

Great actors know specifically what and how they want to communicate to further the script or screenplay and influence the other actors in the scene before they take the stage or before the director calls action. They know how they will use their body language, voice, and gestures to clearly communicate their intentions to influence the other character and the audience’s emotions.

The same goes for leadership communication. Before delivering a speech or presentation, conducting a meeting, or delivering feedback, know specifically who you’re talking to, what you want to achieve with them, and how you will deliver your message with your voice, body language, and gestures to create a strong first impression.

Effective Communication and Intention

Intention is an actor’s secret weapon and can be for a presenter or speaker, too. Intention is a strong, one-word verb, e.g. challenge, motivate, persuade, inspire, empower, reassure, excite, etc. A strong intention can activate all aspects of your communication – voice, body language, and gestures.

Here’s why intention is so important to leadership communication. If you are trying to excite your audience but you are not excited or your audience does not see the excitement in your face, body, language or gestures, they will likely read your communication as apathy and may mirror back disinterest to you.

Conversely, if you actively use intentions throughout a speech or presentation, the audience should see noticeable changes in your eye contact, facial expressions, and body language and hear changes in your voice. These shifts in intention can add clarity to your communication and help you achieve your objective.

Let’s use a typical meeting as an example. You may greet your attendees, then reassure them sales figures are ahead of plan and then excite them as you unveil the latest product you are launching to drive holiday sales.

Intention is the glue that binds your verbal and nonverbal communication together. Intention will ensure your message is congruent and do your communication work for you.

Influence by reading body language

Through training and practice, actors become body language detectives, human sponges, studying the way people speak, move, gesture, stand, and dress, down to the smallest detail. Business professionals can do the same.

Much like an actor performing a scene in a play or film, when you present or interact with a co-worker, pay attention to facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice, as well as the actual words they are saying. The messages they are sending back to you contain very important information.

If your audience is avoiding eye contact, staring blankly, doodling, or slouching, crossing their arms, shaking their heads, scowling, or yawning, for example, you’re not engaging them. You must quickly adjust your intentions.

Whether delivering a message to clients, detailing a new policy to team members, or updating the CEO on a recent purchase order, it is your job to not only engage them with your message, but also to create a change in their knowledge, feelings, or behavior as a result hearing the information you share.

Read more tips in our book, The Bullseye Principle.

To learn more about how performance techniques can improve your leadership communication, please contact us.


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