Executive communications is an area undergoing rapid change. The best communicators have the uncanny ability to connect with their audience on such a visceral level that we hang on every word. They don’t just communicate; they connect. They don’t follow a script – they paint a picture with their words. They are able to adapt, adjust and improvise because they lead with conviction and feeling, sensing the audience’s needs in real-time. That connection – the ability to adjust and “feel” – is where influence and persuasion lie.
One of the best speakers across the business and political spectrum is Bill Clinton. After his speech at the Democratic Convention in the summer of 2012, NPR called him the “Improviser-in-Chief” for his ability to improvise while speaking.
A comparison between his prepared text and the speech he delivered shows that much of what he said at the Convention was added in the moment. An analysis of his speech analysis shows how much was ad-libbed (green text was added; pink was cut text).
While Clinton was known for winging many of his best speeches, his improvisational skills derive from the fact that he is prepared, confident, and able to speak in a direct, human way. It is because he knows his larger story, his purpose and is deeply connected to his mission – not to pre-packaged sound bites – that he is able to improvise so successfully. Without passion and purpose, no amount of preparation matters.
Clinton’s speech illustrates what “ Jedi”expert communicators are able to do that separates them from the pack.
1. Follow your gut – Clinton leads with feelings, not facts. He senses his audience – how they are feeling, the energy flow, and he is able to adjust. As a “feeler,” he follows his instincts.
2. Ditch the ‘script’ – Clinton doesn’t just wing it. Clinton prepares judiciously and knows his material; he also knows when to ditch the script. Knowing when to deviate from the plan is the difference between talking at and connecting with your audience. Speak from your heart, not your slides.
3. Paint a vision of purpose – While technical communicators focus on facts; experts such as Clinton aim for the heart, not the head, by communicating a purpose, a larger “mission” of what could be that connects his audience together. He creates a collective “we” that builds a coalition of commitment to something big: in this case, a vision of a better America.
4. Create a simple narrative – Experts speak in simple, human tones. While others use statistics and jargon, Clinton speaks to the audience in a direct, no-nonsense way. He takes complex topics and breaks them into simple, digestible explanations and stories that “stick.”
A Jedi master knows that preparation is imperative. He or she also knows that the ability to ditch the script and speak simply and passionately to a larger collective purpose is the difference between communicating and connecting.
The best communicators connect because they “keep it human.” Do you?