These days many businesses claim to encourage the idea that their executives be ‘thought leaders’.
Thought leader presentations and speeches move a top executive from representing his or her corporation into a whole new league: someone leading the wider industry sector and general public opinion into uncharted intellectual territory. Someone who projects confidence and authority. Such trail-blazing wisdom is thought to reflect well on the company concerned: we employ smart people – trust us!
But what exactly is a thought leader? It’s someone who (a) has thoughts that are sufficiently ambitious and different from run-of-the-mill thoughts to deserve wider attention, then (b) delivers these thoughts in a memorable way.
Not easy in a business context. The tone and substance of a thought leader’s speeches must match the corporation’s own branding, yet also come across as something ‘different’. Radical or innovative thinking requires tough-love honesty and self-awareness. Such qualities are not easy to reconcile with keeping up the share price and safeguarding commercially sensitive information. Did I mention getting the draft speech past the corporate lawyers?
It can be done. How?
Two approaches work well.
First, a thought leader need not have – and can’t have – all the answers. Asking basic questions in a different way to get people thinking differently is often enough to project big-scale confidence and authority. Less is more.
One way to do this is pose a thematic bold question right up front. This catches the audience’s attention and gives a speech a thematic structure.
Here are some extracts from a speech I recently supported that startled a whole sector, to excellent effect:
Why do we in this sector do things the way we do them?
Why should we change?
Why do many large, comfortable, profitable businesses and sectors shrink towards vanishing-point so fast?
They are attacked – eaten alive – by ‘disruptive technologies’!
By people who look at things differently. By people who take risks.
People with new ideas. Ideas no-one else has ever had.
That’s a massive business issue now. How can you know if you’re in a business sector that has two big problems?
And, much worse – it doesn’t know it’s doomed.
Second, a speaker can organise a speech/presentation around a frank personal example of failure and success. Challenges and mistakes that might seem banal to a specialist audience go down well for the wider public, and open the way to drawing bold thematic conclusions:
Small to big. Big to small
Hope? Or Change?
What I did – and what I learned
Knowledge to wisdom
And so on.
Note that both methods use one of the best tools in the public speaking kitbag: surprise. The speaker takes an unexpected tack, then draws wider conclusions that get everyone intrigued – and wanting more. A leader people want to follow.
Charles Crawford is the author of Speeches for Leaders
For more information on Charles and how he can help you, click here.
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