Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Inside Voice: Gillian Davis, author of First-Time Leader

(Editor's note: Inside Voice is an interview series in which we ask speakers, speechwriters, and storytellers to share their insights. Particularly for readers who are just stepping into their first management roles, I know you'll enjoy the insights of Gillian Davis, author of First-Time Leader: Foundational Tools for Inspiring and Enabling Your New Team She runs a coaching and training business that focuses on helping new leaders implement business strategies that enable them to create and lead great teams. She's a big advocate for women in leadership, and works with women to reach their full potential by taking a lead role in their lives. I asked her to talk about workplace speaking and her speaking now that she has a book to promote.)


Where did you learn about public speaking and presenting?

I’ve learned a lot of public speaking and presenting from watching others and taking notes on what I liked about how they presented their topics. I always adapt what I like in someone else to a style that suits me, but I’ve learned that the key to great speaking is being authentic. For example, I won’t try to crack jokes if I’m not a natural comedian. What makes great speakers is confidence in self, knowledge of topic, and delivery of the content, keeping that in mind allows me to focus on what’s important.

What are the most important parts of presenting or speaking for first-time leaders?

  • Being authentic. From experience, I think it’s key to find your feet. When I started speaking, I was in a corporate environment, and I would try to fit into the mold. This just didn't work for me. I ended up coming across being very uncomfortable and boring. It’s important to allow yourself to play around with different styles to see what works for you.
  • Letting go of notes. Technically if you’re speaking you should know your topic inside out. Let your content be your guide. Don’t rely on notes and insist on following a strict routine, be flexible and open to change, so you are better able to serve your audience.
  • Write out a draft. I took this from Denise’s talk at the Fabian Womens Network in London and applied it immediately. It made a huge difference to my delivery. Having, and practicing, your speech allows you to ensure your key points get across, when are good times to take questions, and to give you an indication of length so you stay within your allocated time. 
What's something you wish more executives would include in their presentations?

More Q&A! I am loving the style of Q&A-directed public speeches. It’s such an engaging way to run a talk. How many speeches have we sat through, and the answer to your burning question doesn’t even get covered!? I believe there is so much value for both the speaker and the audience when you use more Q&A. The audience gets what they want and the speaker gets a better understanding of what the audience wants to hear. When you apply that into a corporate environment, it’s a fantastic way for an executive to get a good understanding of their teams feelings, concerns, thoughts.

What's something you wish more executives would leave out of their presentations?

Slides! I still can’t get over the amount of content we still see on slides. When delivering in person, you want your words and content to be taking the audience's attention. It’s no time for analytics or detailed charts. I always send my presentation after my talks, and ensure the details are in there if the audience is interested.

What do first-time leaders need to do to prepare themselves for workplace speaking tasks (which could be presentations, or just speaking up)?

Being clear on what they want to get across and understanding their audience. In my first-time manager role, I was tasked to implement a lot of change within the organization. I was delivering tons of presentations, but could never get management comfortable enough to sign-off. I started to get a better understanding of my managers, and realized that they were highly detail-oriented. I, on the other hand, was much more visual. The presentations I was delivering weren’t hitting with my audience. So I adjusted my style (with help from a detail-oriented teammate) and tailored my presentations to include more details, facts and figures. It made an immediate difference, and things started to get signed off. It’s important for new leaders to be aware of other people’s styles, both in their managers, and in their team.

You're doing speaking now around the publication of your book. What have you learned from that experience?

Everyone can become a speaker! I used to be the shyest kid around, my teachers used to send notes home to my parents out of concern, asking if I was okay because I was so mute. I never raised my hand in class, and hated presenting.

When my book came out, I realized that the success of the book was now in my hands. I had to get out there and tell the world about it. It helps that I feel very strongly in the lack of leadership training for new managers, and I know my content inside and out, but getting up in front of a room full of people is never going to be easy for me.

I have learned that the key to speaking is finding your own voice. I am more laid back and casual, and that comes across in how I deliver my content. If I tried to be overly energized, or too professional, it wouldn’t come across right. You have to find the style that you’re comfortable with and own it!

Do you have a favorite speech or talk to which we can point our readers (your own, or one by someone else)? What is it and why is it your favorite?

My favorite speech is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. He explains the theory behind the golden circle, and how people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It’s an eye-opening talk, that has helped me both in business and in my personal life. I think it’s important for all of us to take the time and really understand who we are and what we are about.

If you knew you could not fail, what kind of speech or presentation would you give? Tell us about the setting, audience, type of talk, content... 

It would be to a large audience of teenage girls, filmed, and maybe a TED talk setting, where I would talk about the importance of being a leader in your own life. I had experienced bullying throughout high school and it took me a long time to recognize and remove some toxic friendships from my life. Moving away from people that were holding me back allowed me to find myself and become the person I want to be. I would call it “Letter to my 15-year-old self” and it would describe to my teenage self the woman she became once she stopped caring what everyone thought. My biggest challenge would be to deliver this without crying, but if I could touch one girl to move away from toxic friendships, it would mean the world to me.

What's your public speaking pet peeve...as someone who coaches executives? As a member of the audience?

The misconception that they can’t speak. It’s unfortunate that those with really great messages and content don’t have the confidence to speak, and those who have the confidence but lack content do it anyway.

My biggest pet peeve of an audience member is when people try to sell or promote their products during Q&A. I think it’s disrespectful of everyone’s time, and if you’re going to ask a question, ask one that benefits the whole audience.

Why is public speaking worth the effort, in your view?

Yes! Definitely, public speaking is worth the effort. It’s an amazing exercise for personal development; I can see how I improve every time I stand on stage. I love implementing new tips and tricks along the way, and watching my true style come to life. The key is to just do it! I was asked within 24 hours notice to give a talk on personal leadership, and had never delivered that kind of content before. I ended up talking about my journey, and made a big impact on the audience. I was exhausted afterwards, and it definitely not my best performance, but I did it, and I learned so much from it.  If you are given the chance to speak, and share your passion with others, definitely go for it, you can only get better!

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