What’s the Big Idea: Communication Tips for Leaders
November 6, 2012 by Bill Rosenthal

Being that it’s an important election month, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a great leader. There are probably thousands of definitions of leadership, but the one that resonates for me is that a great leader has the ability to inspire others to change.

Unfortunately, some leaders either lose sight of that objective or simply don’t have the skills to inspire with words when they speak to an audience.

Bill Gates is a perfect example. Although he’s improved tremendously in recent years (no doubt he’s had the help of a good presentations coach), Gates’ presentations were decidedly unmemorable. His delivery wasn’t terrible, but his presentation style was bland and unremarkable; certainly not in keeping with the founder of arguably the single most influential technology company of the 20th century.

Audiences expect that leaders will be dynamic and inspirational when addressing a group. Here’s how you can deliver on those expectations to inspire your audience to take action:

  1. What’s the Big Idea?

Stay focused on the one message that you want audiences to come away with. Effective leaders make their big ideas stand out and remove background noise that competes with the Big Idea. If an idea doesn’t add value to your Big Idea, you don’t need it in your presentation.

Leaders keep their message concise—as long as necessary to drive their Big Idea home, but as short as possible. A Big Idea doesn’t require a ninety minute speech. It’s big because of its power to transform people and viewpoints.

  1. What do you want your audience to DO?

An inspirational leader describes one or more actionable steps people can take, providing a clear roadmap for change. Without direction, people get lost and everything stays the same.

You may have heard the story that Abraham Lincoln frequently slipped out of the White House on Wednesday evenings to listen to the sermons of Dr. Finnes Gurley at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. After one sermon, someone asked President Lincoln for his opinion of the sermon. The President thoughtfully replied, “The content was excellent; he delivered with elegance; he obviously put work into the message.” “Then you thought it was an excellent sermon?” asked the bystander. “No,” Lincoln replied. “Dr. Gurley forgot the most important ingredient. He forgot to ask us to do something great.”

  1. Not convincing your audience to take action

Impactful leaders are closers.

They present the facts, arguments, and emotional appeals that move people to action. They explain the value of their ideas for that particular audience and how they will benefit by taking action now. Dynamic presenters deliver their message with fervor and certainty to seal the deal.

The next time you are called upon to present new ideas and paradigms to a group, remember to ask yourself What’s the Big Idea, and how can I move my audience to action?