Being a visionary leader is more than just the sum of its parts. Whether you use the tips we suggested on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis is up to you. But vision is not a tightly molded concept that can only be applied in incremental time frame. A business vision is an ideal that you should apply to every facet of your business.
Thought leadership is a freestanding ability that does not operate on a daily, weekly, or quarterly timeline. It's something you should strive to embody, in all your interactions. Business visions emerge from the realm of ideas, and if you become a thought leader, you're automatically engaging in visionary discourse.
The majority of the actions we mentioned in the previous posts in our series showed you how to offer your vision to your customers and employees. But being a thought leader means broadening your influence to the public as well. And one of the most effective ways to do this is through speeches and presentations.
Everybody associates visionary leaders with stirring speeches. Whether its a product launch or a keynote address, different occasions call for different public speaking abilities and strategies. That's why this last post in our business vision series is focused on refining your communication skills.
Public Speaking Opportunities
When people imagine the great business visionaries, they might picture a visionary in a public speaking role, unveiling a powerful new idea. These Steve Jobs-esque moments represent the climax of a vision, an event where heads of companies can show a mastery of business, leadership, and tradecraft all at once. Now, it's actually time to get up on stage, building on the actions we've suggested in Parts 1 - 4.
No matter what industry you hail from, a well-executed speech can highlight the arc of your business vision. Here are a few steps you can to take to write a great speech and find speaking opportunities.
If you've been following our blog post series on business vision, you should already have a daily habit of tweeting and posting about events related to your industry. Maintaining an active role and staying visible among your peers will help you immensely when it comes to being invited to and selected for speaking events. The personal clout that you've developed online can materialize into real life support at conferences and trade conventions.
If you're just starting out, reach out to colleagues who are active on the conference speaking circuit. Find out what their favorite speaking role was, what events have relevant speaking opportunities, and ask them to put in a good word for you with the organizers of these events. Ask your marketing department do research about industry events and register you for speaking opportunities. If you've spoken at venues before, contact them directly and see when their latest events are taking place. There are also events on Meetup and local SMB gatherings that offer more informal settings to practice your public speaking skills.
Prepare the Presentation
Depending on the speaking opportunity, you may or may not have the ability to dictate the topic of your presentation. If you're on a panel, you will usually be asked to discuss a pre-determined topic. In these cases, you'll need to avoid a sales-y pitch about your products or services. Think back to the mission statement you wrote in Part 1. That piece discussed your business in a humanizing way. It also avoided talking about any one of your products in particular. Try to strike a similar tone with your presentation.
Outline how the ideas behind your product helped solve a problem your customers faced, and tie it all back to the topic of the event. Your vision lives in the ideas behind your product, and when you relate those ideas, you are imparting your vision upon the audience without invoking the commercial aspect of your business. The dream that was once inside your head has given you real world expertise that you can share with the world and use to solve problems in your field, without serving as an advertisement.
On the other hand, if you're giving a keynote speech or revealing a new product launch, you're obviously going to mention your product. Start off with the abstract problem your customers faced, perhaps with an anecdote; discuss how your vision solved it, and then introduce how your product has used your visionary ideas to offer a concrete solution. You want to tell a humanizing story. But instead of stopping at your abstract ideas, you take it further with material proof, the product itself.
Give the Speech
A full course in public speaking can't be taught in a single guide. Only experience can build your skills. Nevertheless, there are a few tips that can help any public speaker, no matter his or her ability.
- Practice. Start by simply reading your main points out loud, alone, and notice the rhythms of the speech. After you've read it a few times, go and practice in front of a mirror until you feel comfortable enough to do it without looking down.
- Use note cards. If you want guidance during the speech, write down your key ideas on note cards. But try to avoid relying on the script verbatim and keep your eyes on the audience.
- Work the crowd. Show up early to the event and mingle with the crowd. This will loosen you up and acquaint you with the people you'll be addressing.
- Give examples. The best way to convince an audience is to give examples. Real-life case studies are entertaining, human, and easy to grasp. Try to recall a specific instance when a customer approached you with a problem, and how you solved it.
- Use body language. Stand up straight, and use your hands to gesture and drive points home.
- Take it slow. Make a conscious effort to speak slower than you normally do. Most people talk faster than they think when they're up on the stage. Articulate each word, take breaths between each sentence, and give a marked pause before starting a new section.
Share with Others
While your presentation may be the main reason for attending an event, take advantage of the rest of the activities. After your speech is over, mingle with the audience or check out the exhibition hall. Talk to other contributors, ask questions about other presentations, and engage in dialogue with other attendees.
Ask your marketing team to write a recap blog of the event, sourcing your quotations and media content, and then share it on your social channels. Ask the event organizer if the session will be recorded and/or distributed following the event. If not, see if you can have one of your team members record a video of your presentation. Then have your marketing team upload the video online and use it as marketing material. Share it on social media, mentioning co-presenters and the event organizer to widen your reach. Mash it up will other old speeches to form a promo video for your company. And of course, use the photos of yourself up at the podium in as many blogs and related content pieces as you can.
Business Vision: Making a Difference
"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet." Theodore Hesburgh
You can certainly spot a strong business visionary whenever you see one. The titans of industry, from Henry Ford to Bill Gates, were once just dreamers looking for people to dream with them. We know from the popularity of the automobile and the personal computer that these two business leaders had strong visions.
But you don't have to be Bill Gates or Henry Ford to achieve a business vision. A business vision is not an instant of inspiration; it's actually comprised of years of hard work and small actions that add up over time. You don't have to be the smartest, or the shrewdest, or the most of anything, to make the advice in this series unleash your vision. That's because business visions live and die by one thing: your diligence.
The actions outlined in this blog post series are meant as suggestions. Some of them will be appropriate for your business, while others may not make sense. Many of the actions are standalone advice that would serve any executive well, no matter the context. In the end, the only requirement for your business vision is patience. Those looking for quick fixes and easy solutions will remain disappointed. But you didn't get to where you are by slacking your days away. If you have a dream that's worth it, why not put the work in?