Real Leaders

For Your Best Speech Ever, Know Who You’re Speaking to

Each week, speech coach and leadership mentor James Rosebush will answer a question on how to improve your public speaking

L. Clay Parrill, President and CEO, Electrocube Inc. asks: “How should I change my speaking style and delivery when speaking to different types of audiences, such as employees, peers and customers” 

Dear Clay,

This is a terrific question, and one shared by many CEOs. Since your primary style of communication comes from your authenticity and self-knowledge, a unique way you communicate would not be affected by your audience. After all, you are already steady and consistent in all your personal relationships each day. Developing a degree of honesty and integrity about who you are, relative to those you communicate with, is a crucial element in effective public speaking. Your audience — employees or the general public — can immediately sense whether you are comfortable with yourself, your content or message. There exists a perfect trifecta — speaker, audience and message. All three are interlinked and support the other.

Once you have mastered this essential skill, you can move on to knowing your audience. This can result in changing your strategy for each: inflection, patience with speaking, the degree of teaching or encouragement. These factors may vary depending on your audience. After finding your authenticity you’ll want to understand more about an audience — what they need, who they are, what their concerns might be. This shows you care about them, and if you do, they will care enough about you to respond with respect and thoughtfulness.

An excellent example of how you might change your manner of speaking is to recognize a familiar scenario for many executives. CEOs and people in authority often come home from work and bark orders at their spouse and children! They have forgotten their audience, and it can prove costly at a speaking event as much as it can ruin family life. This example is a poignant reminder of how each audience is unique, and should be treated that way.

Let’s say the subject of your speech is how to safeguard lives against a terrorist threat. Talking to your peers, you might approach this as a shared learning experience, trading helpful suggestions and more than likely being in listening mode. With customers, you might take a more knowing, informative, and favorable disposition when speaking. With employees, you might show your concern for their safety, while conveying preventative actions that should be implemented — your tone will be more direct and clear.

I would love to hear about how other leaders have handled this challenge. Comment below.

Have a question you’ve always wanted to ask about public speaking? Email James at and your answer may feature here.

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