My public speaking career began in high school. As the final for a drama class I drew a slip of paper out of a hat and spent five minutes talking about. . . umbrellas. After extolling their usefulness, detailing the stylistic options, and exhorting everyone to carry one at all times, I decided public speaking wasn’t so hard.
Now that I’m well out of high school, I realize that telling a compelling story in public is, indeed, hard. During this month we explored ideas, resources, and tools to help leaders articulate a vision for the future. This important leadership role is not easy. Like anything else, it takes practice.
One useful development strategy is to read effective speeches and listen to leaders who are effective at telling their vision story. There are many resources where you can listen and learn from other leaders’ speaking techniques – both those who are gifted and those who work hard at what they have to say. Here are a couple of my favorites:
- The Eloquent Woman – blog provides ideas and inspiration for public speaking, with video clips and analysis that could be useful for all leaders.
- TED Talks – another great resource for compelling vision stories. Searchable by topic, it includes hundreds of inspirational talks by famous and every-day people who have something important to say.
- American Rhetoric – a sample collection of the “Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century”
Which leadership speeches have been inspirational to you? What did the leaders do to present a compelling vision?
Dee Anne Bonebright
An important part of articulating a leadership vision is being able to tell the story effectively to large groups. One common strategy is to hold a town hall meeting. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, these face-to-face presentations by senior leaders can:
- Build high trust and promote a leader’s credibility
- Provide an opportunity for staff to give feedback
- Reduces confusion and misunderstanding
- Build a personal connection between the leader and employees
During my career I have been at a few of these meetings that were highly engaging, and I’ve been to many more that were forgettable. These steps can help you make the most of large group meetings.
- Set up the topic in advance. Provide key content before the meeting so people can come prepared. You might also survey people before the meeting to find out their questions and concerns.
- Start with a brief presentation (15 minutes). Use the techniques we have been talking about this month to make a compelling case for the change. Be well prepared, but don’t read from a script or rely on dense PowerPoints.
- Create low-risk opportunities for reacting. Encourage people to turn to the person next to them and talk about their reactions to the presentation and the questions it generated. In his MnSCU town hall meetings, Chancellor Rosenstone often encourages people to e-mail his office with their reactions. This can provide another option for people who don’t like to speak our in public.
- Ask for audience reactions. You are more likely to get open feedback after people have had a chance to talk in smaller groups. Invite them to share their questions and concerns and listen carefully to what they say. It might also be appropriate to ask a few people to start the discussion by preparing questions in advance. For example, find a student services leader who could ask a question from the viewpoint of the students.
- Respond appropriately. Be genuine and promote open discussion. Be careful not to appear condescending. And if you don’t know an answer, say so and promise to find out.
- Follow up. Don’t overload the meeting with too much information. Focus on your key points and provide more details in follow-up messages.
With thought and preparation, town hall meetings can be a valuable tool for sharing your leadership vision.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Four Ways to Engage Employees in Your Town Hall Meeting
How Not to Conduct a Town Hall Meeting
Tips for Conducting Effective Town Hall Meetings
Town Hall Meetings – Essential Elements
Compelling change visions are memorable, they stick with you and guide you during the messiness of change. I can still remember how effectively a leader at a previous position at a health care organization brought home this point, from her own view as a patient. We were undergoing a major change initiative, with some people showing resistance to the change that was being suggested, namely moving to a more patient-centered care delivery approach. Much of the resistance was because people were not sure why we needed to change, we had always received accolades for our technical care.
This leader told a heart-felt story of her experience during a cancer screening at one of our own hospitals. The screening was routine and done many times each day. Yet hearing her describe how frightened she was and describing how relieved she was when a care-team member spoke to her as a person gave us all a clear vision of a more patient-centered future state.
John Kotter describes this as leading from the heart. In his book, The Heart of Change, Kotter highlights that change visions must first help people “see” the future in a way that engages their emotions, then their “feelings and emotions” will guide them to new “actions and behaviors.” Successful change visions use a “See – Feel – Act” pattern.
Kotter provides tips for how to do this on his website, Kotter International. Briefly he encourages leaders to:
- use imagery and metaphors
- don’t use jargon or acronyms
- be energetic and enthused
- make sure your behavior matches your vision
- be visible and share the vision consistently and often
- bring the outside and personal world into the vision
Leaders need to wear their hearts on their sleeves when they articulate the vision for the future.
We’ve been discussing vision stories all month, mostly with a assumption that the vision is often crafted by a leader and their leadership team. While that may often be the case, I’ve found the sooner leaders engage everyone in the organization in making the vision part of their collective story, the more quickly the change is embraced. But how do you create a collective vision story, especially if you have many employees?
One way to engage everyone at the start of a change effort is to use one of my favorite tools, called SOAR, in a large facilitated meeting or in successive large meetings. SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results, and is based in appreciative inquiry, a process that is co-constructive and focuses first on what is best about the organization and the people in it. It can be used effectively with very large groups of people.
With Strengths, individuals and groups share what they value most about themselves, their teams, and their abilities to deliver on the mission for the organization. Then they explore the best Opportunities to further that mission, given internal and external realities.
Moving to Aspirations allows people to visualize their dreams, often capturing the dreams in a narrative story that uses vivid language. This is where the vision really gets co-created as they share their stories of what could be possible. Then, finally employees work to identify the Results they want to see and the specific things that need to happen in order to achieve those results.
There are many resources available on Appreciative Inquiry. One of my favorite how-to books is: The Power of Appreciative Inquiry.
SOAR is just one tool that can be used to engage employees in co-creating a vision for change. What have you found that works well?
Each winter holiday season my daughter and I go to a show put on by Kevin Kling, titled Tales of the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log. Kevin is an amazing story-teller and as I sit in the Guthrie Theatre listening to him I can see myself in his stories. In fact I am ready to take action and wrap the presents or set the holiday table (or pretend to be asleep until Santa comes!)
Kevin’s magic is that he makes the story feel like my story. It makes sense to me and I am drawn in. We need to do the same thing with our vision stories. Anita has provided great resources on how to craft a story. The next step for leading change is to communicate the vision story and draw people in, make it their story.
At the theatre everyone wants to be drawn in but at work your people are drawn in many directions and facing multiple priorities. Vision stories need to be broken apart and communicated differently to each group based on what is most compelling to them. This requires a framework for communicating the future state vision. The Message Framework Tool by Dan Olson can help you clearly identify what key aspects of your vision will be most compelling for each of your stakeholder groups. The overall vision stays the same but how you communicate it will be different for each group.
I can’t guarantee your vision will pack the house at the Guthrie but customizing your message for your stakeholders will help them see themselves in the future and become a part of the change, not a bystander.
Anita, Todd, and I agreed that occasionally things would happen to bring us off topic, and this is one of those times. I’ll leave it to you to link this story to articulating a leadership vision.
Here’s what happened. Monday was St. Patrick’s Day, a fact that I temporarily forgot when I decided to run an errand over lunch. I took a break from my projects to walk from my office in downtown St. Paul to the local library where I had a book on reserve.
On my way, I ran into the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Before crossing the street, I was stopped by a police band and a vintage fire truck from a local pub. There was a drum and fife band coming up. This threw off my schedule and my first thought was to find an alternate route.
Think about it. The purpose of the errand was as much to take a stretch break as to get the library book. The weather was fine for March and I was dressed appropriately. People around me were enjoying themselves. I had a curbside view of a parade. And was working up to be crabby about it.
Upon reflection, I decided that if the universe literally drops a parade at my feet the correct response is to stop and listen to the bagpipes. I confess that I didn’t stay for the whole event, but I did spend a few minutes before going on my way. The library book was, of course, still waiting, and after checking it out I didn’t duck into the skyway. I took the long way back and enjoyed more of the festivities.
It’s hard to miss a group of people in kilts playing on bagpipes. But I wonder how often I’ve missed opportunities to take 5 minutes and enjoy what’s happening around me. Occasionally someone will come into the office and say something like “did you see the great sunset on the way home last night?” I try not to be the person who didn’t notice.
As leaders we are all extremely busy. But I hope we can balance that with small moments of enjoyment. They can help us return to our work refreshed and energized.
–Dee Anne Bonebright
Don’t let your compelling and articulate vision become just another dusty plaque hanging in a back hallway or a colorful PowerPoint slide that is forgotten when the “real work” begins. Successful changes are led by visions that come to life in the day to day work of the people in your organization.
A wise leader I know always used to remind us, “if you haven’t said it eight times, eights ways, then you haven’t really communicated.” We are all busy at work and have multiple priorities in our lives, plus we all have different communication styles, values, interests and motivations when we are at work. These realities mean that leaders must plan and utilize repeated and multiple communication methods when sharing a vision of the future state.
The response to the question, “haven’t they been listening?” is actually to ask, “what communication methods haven’t I used yet?” Or, “when and where can I repeat the vision, again?” Dan Olson, a Change Guru from the Star Collaborative, has created a communication tool that you can use to think broadly about the types of communication vehicles you use to articulate and share your vision: Communication vehicles
When you hear yourself asking, “Do I have to say it again?” The answer for a successful change is, “Yes!”