Leadership and Rhetoric: With Conviction and, perhaps, with Humour [Part 4 of 5]
The case I am making: effective organizational leadership requires the capacity for rhetoric – that is, the ability for public speaking or for oral presentations or communication. If you wish to be a leader who shapes the civic life of a community or the organization or church of which you are a part, it is essential that we cultivate this capacity, this skill; we learn the art of oral communication.
In this posting, I will highlight two qualities or features of effective public communication – whether it is a sermon, or a presentation or even if a brief set of remarks as part of a larger event. First, consider that good communication is without doubt a matter of conviction: a speaker is confident in her or his remarks or comments. This confidence is not – an important caveat – a matter of dogmatism that presumes to be the final or only word on this topic. And yet, there is no avoiding that those who are effective communicators come to their topic or theme with the capacity to speak with at the very least a minimal level of confidence. Sure, there will some level of “stage fright” or nervousness and it is likely best that we never get so presumptuous that we never lose some fear of failure. But once we move to the podium or the microphone or as we sit across the board table we have to come with some measure of confidence that what we have to say has to be said. It has to be said and it is our responsibility to say what needs to be said.
And yet an important caveat: we speak with confidence but without being dogmatic. What I have found in my own speaking is to speak with confidence – those who hear me have no doubt about my own convictions – and yet, I ask: “could it be that . . . ?“ . . . not as a way to diminish or discount my own views or the importance of the issue at hand, but as a way to invite the hearer into the topic or theme at their own speed. That is, can we speak with confidence – the confidence of our convictions, of our consideration of the issues at hand – but do so without being dogmatic in the sense that we discount any potential objective or any other perspective. We do not need to dismiss other views or perspectives; we can and we must speak with confidence but perhaps invite the other to consider our perspective rather than demand that the other agree with us.
Second, when it comes to effective public communication we also need to consider the place of humour in our remarks or comments. First, to stress: there are solemn occasions in which humour is completely inappropriate. And, further, humour is not essential to effective communication. And yet, it can be an important element in a sermon or presentation; it can keep us from taking ourselves too seriously, even if the issue is so very important. It can ease any emotional tension we might be feeling about the topic that is the focus of the presentation and lift our spirits. It can humanize the speaker and build an emotional link with the hearers. All good, but with these caveats. You are not a stand-up comic; humour is never the primary agenda; avoid any propensity towards gratuitous humour that is not integral to the topic at hand – such as the joke at the beginning of the speech that clearly has no link to the theme but is merely there to get a laugh. And, if it cannot be done well, then do not do it at all.
So, to summarize the six points I have made so far . . . effective public speaking is marked by:
- Autobiographical, without it ultimately being about the speaker;
- Passionate, but with the caveat that this is not about either hype or an angry rant;
- Informative, without being pedantic;
- Confident, without being dogmatic;
- Anticipating objections, without being defensive;
- Humour, as appropriate, but not gratuitous humour – a joke for the sake of a joke.