I’ve read 75 books this year. Not all of them were good. Some were dry, boring or derivative. One business presentation book cites my books seven times. I’m flattered, but it didn’t teach me anything new.
Sometimes, however, I’ll read a new book that’s genuinely helpful and full of strategies to make you a more effective speaker. Here’s a short list of some of 2018’s bestselling leadership books and public-speaking tips you can learn from each one:
1. Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian traces the experiences of four transformative U.S. presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. In a Fast Company interview about the most important lesson business leaders can learn from her book, Goodwin said, “The ability to speak to audiences with stories.”
Tip: Tell more stories.
Great leaders are great storytellers, and they worked at it. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was driven by a voracious desire to become a strong public-speaker. He took every opportunity to speak to an audience of one or one hundred.
Lincoln learned that if you want to connect to the greatest number of people, fill your conversations with “concrete examples and stories.” Lincoln became so effective that he “drew crowds from the countryside eager to be regaled and entertained by a master storyteller.” Tell stories to regale your listeners.
2. Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts
At just over 1,000 pages, this new Churchill biography is long–and powerful. In May and June of 1940, England’s most powerful leaders were advocating for making a deal with Hitler. Churchill’s back was against the wall, and he had one last weapon: words.
Tip: Move the human heart.
Over roughly 45 days in 1940, Churchill gave a series of speeches that turned public opinion in his favor. One word–victory–became England’s rallying cry. Although Churchill was 65 years old when he became England’s prime minister, he relied on something he’d studied at age 23. He’d studied rhetoric and identified five aspects of persuasion that would move the human heart:
- Use short, simple words.
- Pay attention to the rhythm and sound of your words.
- Steadily build your argument until the evidence rains down on your listener.
- Use analogies.
- Use words that arouse emotions.
Churchill once said, “He who enjoys it [the gift of public-speaking] wields a power more durable than that of a great king.” Wield power by becoming a great communicator.
3. Connecting the Dots by John Chambers
I recently visited John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco, at his house in Silicon Valley. Although Chambers is a legendary CEO with a reputation as a great speaker, he once had a deep fear of public speaking.
In a revealing moment, he told me that growing up with dyslexia was very hard on him–his palms still sweat when he thinks about being laughed at in class when he had to stand up and read. Chambers grew in confidence when he realized that his ‘disability’ could be an asset.
Tip: Turn presentations into conversations.
Dyslexia made it hard for Chambers to read from prepared notes or a teleprompter. Trying to memorize a presentation just made it worse. Instead, Chambers internalized the content. He took a mental snapshot of the outline. Remarkably, it made him a more natural, effective presenter. He could walk among the rows of people in an audience, as though he was having a one-on-one conversation with each person. And he did so without notes.
Don’t memorize every word or read from notes or slides. Practice until you’ve internalized the main points. You can still use slides, of course. But think about having a conversation instead of delivering a formal presentation. You’ll look remarkably relaxed and confident.
4. Leading Matters by John Hennessy
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Google’s chairman of the board and former Stanford president, John Hennessy. According to Hennessy, “When you move from the field in which you built your career and step into leadership, your technical talent will become less important. In this phase of your career, one of your most powerful skills is an ability to tell appropriate, compelling, and inspiring stories.”
Tip: Great storytellers read books–a lot of them.
Hennessy says the gift of storytelling can be cultivated by reading history and biographies. Hennessy is a voracious reader because great leaders learn from those who came before them. Reading also makes you a more interesting speaker because you can draw on colorful stories and characters. “Reading has enabled me to engage in meaningful dialog about the world and its future,” writes Hennessy.
In speaking to two of these four authors, it reminds me that great leaders are addicted to self-improvement. When you stop learning, you stop growing.