Communicating to influence – Rules for election campaigns and business success
Feb 2nd, 2024
With the UK and US elections looming, we are set to be bombarded by messaging from political leaders seeking to gain our trust and influence us. Whether from party leaders themselves, or their top teams, the way they communicate could have an impact on who we put our faith in and vote for.
Under the glare of an election is extreme, but for business leaders, the way they communicate can impact the success of their businesses.
Brilliant ideas alone don’t guarantee impact or success. The most influential leaders take the power of communication seriously, they immerse themselves in its mastery. They hone their writing, speaking, and presentation skills with relentless dedication.
Here I look at ten ways leaders can increase their influence and communicate effectively.
1. Know the mind-set of your audience
Feeling known is key to building trust and engagement, so get to know the biggest concerns and hopes of your audience. Whether you are a supporter of Trump or not, his ability to connect with his followers and influence them, is the reason why he has a growing following.
Take time to consider where others are coming from, before trying to be understood.
What is their mind-set? What are their frustrations? What are their hopes and fears?
If you know the answer to these questions and can communicate this effectively your audience will feel heard and trust you
2. Test your messaging
Take the time to test the messages you will be delivering. Do this with a range of people including those who share different views so you benefit from multiple perspectives. Often what we expect people to hear when we speak, doesn’t match what they actually hear. It’s important to know how different people will receive what you say, so that you can change the way you say it before it is too late.
I recall the founder of LinkedIn sharing whenever he had a new idea for a business he would always begin with “What don’t you like about this”? as he considered this to be the most important question that would save them months of improvement following the launch.
3. Be ready to stand up to tough questioning
At some point every leader is going to face a situation where they have to answer tough questions. It is common to see politicians on our screens avoiding giving answers to direct questions and instead repeating the message they want to get across. This breeds distrust.
There have been recent examples where people’s lack of preparation for the potential questions being asked has led to car-crash interviews where their credibility has been shattered, and you are left asking ‘why did you do this interview’?
Consider the worst and most uncomfortable questions that you could be asked and be prepared to answer them.
4. Three is the magic number
Indra Nooyi, the former PepsiCo CEO who was once listed as one of the 100 most influential women in the world, said: “If you cannot simplify a message and communicate it compellingly, believe me, you cannot get the masses to follow you.”
Research has found that we find things easier to follow when we can break it down and remember three key things. Using the power of three enables you to come across as succinct, prevents you from waffling, and people know what to expect so they listen and retain interest.
I observed the Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch in a recent interview with Laura Kuennsberg using this as she responded to questions which aided the clarity of her message.
Ask yourself “what three key messages do I want to convey”?
5. Actively gain support before an important meeting
It is recognised that many important decisions are made outside the boardroom so it is important to actively gain support before key meetings.
A senior executive shared her frustration that although she had the CEO’s input on a paper she presented on proposed changes she had underestimated the strong views held by many of the stakeholders around the table who showed considerable resistance. Many of those were risk averse who needed more time to consider the impact of change.
Engage and understand the majority of views before presenting your proposals so you have confidence it will be agreed. Actively invite input from your supporters if resistance is shown.
6. Always add value
Influence does not just come from one event or communication. Trust and influence is built on consistency. Trusted advisers are interested in long-term relationships instead of short-term transactions and their advice is continually sought because of the value they bring.
Be known for adding value. This takes preparation and rigour when preparing for meetings, however its impact has a lasting effect and will influence your personal brand in an authentic way.
I encourage people to show generosity in business. When you have a meeting with new contacts there is a tendency to think about what you can get from it, however, always ask yourself ‘what can you give?. Spending more time on this question will give you greater influence.
7. Keep your commitments and be accountable
Actions speak louder than words, so make sure you under promise and over deliver. On occasions when you can’t keep a commitment, take accountability and redefine what you can commit to. It takes courage to be honest, admit fault and say sorry. If you are going to miss a deadline, let the person know as soon as possible and agree an acceptable alternative so you manage expectations.
Missed deadlines and broken promises shatter trust and credibility.
8. Align your team
How you influence your team will influence your success as a leader. This can be often be reflected by their behaviours when you are not in the room. So often you hear inconsistent messages from within the same team. This can arise because of a lack of understanding or worse where people don’t feel able to challenge an idea or decision. From here discord begins and performance and success will inevitably be compromised.
In service industries particularly it is an important to put ‘market messages’ on the weekly meeting agenda so everyone is clear and in agreement on how they communicate to customers and clients about the current state of the market and how it affects them. This builds trust and credibility.
Create a culture where challenge is encouraged, and once a decision is made there is agreement of the message that everyone will commit to and why.
9. Show your character
US President Roosevelt said “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” Before presenting we often spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to say, and can neglect to think about the personality we portray.
Let people see the person behind the words, show vulnerability, humour and let people in. We know story telling makes a difference so share stories about your success and failures.
A CEO and imminent speaker shared that in a recent talk to a group of educators he quoted comments from his former school report where one teacher wrote. “I fear he is deemed to end up in Borstal” (a school for delinquents and young offenders). This not only made his audience laugh but it gave an insight into his background and character that enabled them to relate to him more.
10. Keep learning
Good communication isn’t just something you learn once and keep repeating. Great leaders are always learning and adapting how they talk to match the situation and audience, whether remotely or in person. They seek advice, ask for feedback, to help them get better at communicating all the time.
And no matter how experienced you are, the best speakers invest time in preparation. They understand that people make decisions with their emotions and when people feel known and trust you, they will choose to listen to you and take action as a result of your words.
This is where influence lies – if no action is taken as a result of your words that is all they are, just words.
If you want to continue to leverage your influence and communicate with impact to achieve your ambitions please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about what our clients have gained from our coaching we have lots of testimonials that you might find interesting.