The economy isn’t in the best shape. The bad news—job losses, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and a tanking stock market—comes, in the words of Shakespeare, “not single spies but in battalions.” Prognostications by economists (how bad will it get? how long will it last?) provide little comfort. This can easily translate into less productivity in your business and on your team, because of the distracting or downright paralyzing effects of anxiety and fear.
What’s a leader to do?
There is no easy answer, no quick fix, no single solution. But business leaders at every level can do something to address their team’s worries and to rekindle their motivation: they can give a speech.
A speech in difficult times can be anything from a formal company-wide address to casual remarks at the start of a training call. But the intent is always the same: to keep team members focused, motivated and working hard.
To give your speech additional power and motivational impact, follow these guidelines:
1. Lead with the facts. Be as open, honest and forthcoming as possible. Give a complete account of the situation as objectively as you can. If you hold anything back or if you are evasive, you will feed people’s fear and compromise your credibility.
2. Acknowledge people’s feelings. You don’t want to turn your speech into a therapy session, handing out Kleenex and encouraging people to have a good cry. But if you ignore your team members’ feelings, they will think that you’re out of touch, or worse, that you don’t care. Acknowledge their feelings in a general way, using broadly applicable words like difficulties, worries or concerns. Say, if not in words, then by your empathy, “I care.”
3. Interpret the facts. Don’t let the facts speak for themselves. It’s your responsibility as a leader to gather the facts (all the facts), evaluate them, analyze them and come to some understanding of what they mean; then share your understanding with your team members. Don’t simply tell them, for example, that sales have declined 30 percent; tell them what a 30 percent drop in sales means. Help them understand what’s going on.
4. Create a positive metaphor. “Yes, these are tough times,” a network marketing leader announced on a team-wide conference call, “but we’ve been through tough times before. We’re battle-tested veterans. We don’t give up. And we leave no one behind.” That metaphor—battle-tested veterans who don’t give up—resonated with his team members and renewed their determination. Be sure that the image you choose is one that you personally believe in and that your people can adopt.
5. Make hope sensible. You can’t counteract concrete negative images—homes being foreclosed, people losing jobs, businesses closing down—with abstract positive concepts like perseverance, resolve and dedication. If you want people to believe in hope, you have to make it sensible, which means according to the dictionary “perceptible by the senses or the mind.” The best way to show people images of hope is by telling them stories.
6. Be action-oriented. It’s counterproductive at best to say, “You shouldn’t feel this way.” You can’t change how people think or feel—only they can do that—but you can change how they act. And by changing how they act, you create the possibility that they’ll change their thoughts and feelings. Almost a century ago William James, the philosopher and psychologist, made an assertion that has been long since been proven: “Actions seem to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”
7. Don’t go overboard. This certainly isn’t the time for pep rallies and rah-rah-isn’t-everything-great celebrations. People aren’t in the mood. Tell anxious people to cheer up and put on a happy face, and they’ll be less, not more, likely to do so. Be ebullient, and you’ll be unbelievable. Instead, be confident, positive and purposeful.
8. Say what you want and explain why they want it too. Tell your team members in a short, simple sentence exactly what you want them to do. Then show them how doing what you want will help them achieve what they want. If you want them to work longer or harder or in a different way, you have to figure out how they will benefit from doing so. What’s in it for them?
9. Be the change you wish to see. The words of Gandhi are as true today in the world of business as they were sixty years ago in India. Your team members and associates don’t simply listen to your words. They filter everything you say through their experience of you. Your actions, attitude and interactions with them are more than an example for them to follow; they are also the lasting message people will take away from your talk.
10. Tell the truth. Part of why the economy is in such sad shape is that some prominent leaders have been mistaken, unreliable or downright dishonest. People aren’t as willing as they once were to take the word of their leaders. You have to prove your trustworthiness. If you say anything that your listeners doubt, they will doubt everything you say.
As a leader, part of your job is to rally your people in trying times and point them toward a better future. What better way to do that than with a well-executed speech?
If the challenge of giving such a speech—positive, inspirational and truthful—seems overwhelming, consider this: your team members are on your side. They don’t want to dwell in anxiety and confusion; they are counting on you for providing perspective and vision. They want you to help them keep hope alive.
An executive speech coach with more than 25 years of
professional experience, CHRIS WITT is author of the newly
released book Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint and founder of
Witt Communications. He helps CEOs gain board approval and
company-wide support for initiatives and enables
entrepreneurs to grow their businesses through
the power of effective speaking and presenting.