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Speak To Inspire

By Suzanne Bates   1/1/2008
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Communicating vision and values is essential to driving business results. Leaders, by definition, cannot do the work of the enterprise; they can only communicate what needs to be done, inspire trust and motivate others to execute the plans.

Many leaders are able to articulate vision, achieve buy-in and move the enterprise forward through effective communication. Others fail to get their message out and inspire people to act, even though they are intelligent, analytical and decisive leaders.

The result is that executives often don’t “discover” they need to speak well until they arrive at a high level within the organization.

What Is a Vision?

There isn’t anything mystical about a vision. It is a picture of what could (and should) be. Great leaders talk about what “could be” big ideas. Nobody wants to do something small. The hallmark of a big idea is it gets people excited. When you speak, people see it. They’re inspired. It’s vivid and exciting. They remember it, repeat it and start organizing their activities around it. Where do you begin when you want to develop and articulate a vision? It can be helpful to think of the process in these four steps:

  1. Observe. To determine a vision, you must become an astute observer of your world. You have to immerse yourself in watching, listening and wondering. You pay attention, ask questions, probe, discuss and gather information.
  2. Reflect. Consider what you’ve seen and heard, analyze and interpret the information, and evaluate what you know. Doing this sets you apart as a leader. People in your organization look to leaders to decode what is happening and then to communicate a course of action.
  3. Write. Because we live in a fast-paced world, where there is little time for writing and reflecting, many people want to skip this step. But that is a mistake. When you write down these reflections, you come up with the authentic ideas and material that enable you to speak effectively.
  4. Speak. If you have followed the process, speaking and communicating the vision is a natural outcome. Ideas are clarified, flushed out, developed and ready for delivery.

Observing, reflecting, writing and practicing a speech are not usually on a leader’s schedule, but they should be. A well-articulated, powerful vision attracts people to an organization, motivates people to take action toward progress and drives business results.

Making the Message Stick

Once you’ve engaged in this four-step process and you have a clear message, it’s time to consider how to make it stick.

The delivery of the message has to be memorable, and this is where creativity comes in. Creative writing is easier than you may think. If you don’t think of yourself as particularly imaginative when it comes to writing and speaking, find someone who can help you. Identify a talented presentation coach, an inspired colleague who speaks or writes well, a mentor with a flair for the right words at the right time, or a resourceful friend who will brainstorm with you. Ask that person to work with you and push you to make the message great.

Speaking About Vision

Vision is a boring word because it sounds like homework. One simple way to inject interest is to paint word pictures. If you would like to be the kind of leader who stirs passion and gets results, it is always most effective to take a truly creative approach. There are no rules. You are not bound to read PowerPoint slides or to use the same old format you have used in the past. It takes more than business acumen to make things happen in your organization. You have to genuinely connect with all of your key audiences. Don’t underestimate the importance of the innovative approach to driving your message home.

Making Time To Be Great

Many rising executives tell me they don’t have the time to invest in learning to do this well. The best leaders, however, make time.

I once worked with the vice president of a bank who claimed she didn’t have time to be strategic. She admitted she had never even spent 15 minutes of quiet time in her office to think, analyze and write about her vision, and subsequently had never presented any well-articulated vision to her team.

In high-performance companies, you can’t get away with that for long. If you are not sure where to look for assistance in developing these skills, ask around. There are good resources out there. Once you have located a coach, program or course, approach your boss or sponsor and make your case. Connect communication skills to business goals. Then, once you have persuaded the company to invest in you, invest yourself in the process. Commit to being great. The reward is in knowing you have the power to make things happen.

Suzanne Bates is president of Bates Communications, a management consulting firm that helps business leaders and executives articulate their vision and values. She can be reached at

Terms of Use: © 2008 Society for Human Resource Management. Members of SHRM are authorized to distribute copies, excerpts or e-mails of this information for educational purposes internally within their organizations. No other republication or external use is allowed without permission of SHRM. The information is not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice.
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