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The language of leadership


Are you in a leadership role? Do you sometimes struggle to find the right words? Language is an essential tool for leaders. The ability to speak well can mark the difference between leadership success and failure. Martha Leyton and Martin Shovel of CreativityWorks specialise in helping people in leadership roles become engaging, persuasive and inspiring speakers - and they're here to answer your questions. So if you have a question about the language of leadership, read on, help is at hand…

Q I sit on the board of a large international pharmaceutical company. Every quarter, in my role as HR Director, it's my job to present a report to my fellow board members comprising detailed information about employment trends within the company. It is essential that the other board members understand this data, because it has an important bearing on decisions they will have to make in areas such as strategic planning and employment policy.

The challenge I face is how to present this technical - somewhat dry - information in a way that will make it palatable, and meaningful, to the other board members. My task is made even more difficult by the presence of one or two board members who have no technical background whatsoever - it's never too long into one of my presentations before I see their eyes begin to glaze over. Can you give me any tips on how to bring my presentations to life - and how to make their content easier to understand?

A Bear in mind that the spoken word is a very inefficient medium for sharing large quantities of information - think of those memory tests in which we struggle to recall a list of objects that has just been read out to us. Even if you have the good fortune to find yourself speaking to an audience that is fascinated by the information you are about to share with them, there is still a strict limit on how much of it they'll be able to absorb in one go – and it's considerably less than you might think.

Photo of Martin Shovel"Bear in mind that the spoken word is a very inefficient medium for sharing large quantities of information."

So our first tip would be to reduce the amount of information you present as much as you can. Give them the figures in a written form (they can look at them in detail later if they wish) and use your presentation to point up the issues you want them to grasp.

Photo of Martha Leyton"Begin your preparation by looking for the story behind the statistics."

The best way to make your figures come alive for your audience is to cut straight to the chase. So our second tip would be to begin your preparation by looking for the story behind the statistics, then set out to tell that story, using the figures to illustrate it where it's helpful. Resist the temptation to include all the details; be bold and keep it simple – your audience will be able to ask for any details they need when you've finished.

For Martha and Martin's advice on a leadership-related communication issue, send a brief email to [email protected]. To ensure confidentiality contributors names will be withheld and any recognisable details will be removed before publishing questions.

Martha Leyton and Martin Shovel are co-directors of CreativityWorks, a consultancy that specialises in helping organisations and individuals get their message across more effectively. To find out more visit; telephone 01273 249813; or email mailto:[email protected]

Martin is the presentations expert on and has a popular, regular column on site called Free Thinking

To read last month's Language of Leadership column click here

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