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Business Leadership

Keeping your mouth shut may be the most effective way to influence people

One thing I absolutely hate about public speaking is that it puts the speaker on a pedestal, making them appear way more intelligent and valuable then they really are. Not that I despise public speaking or the skill of speaking — I enjoy it myself. But I think it’s overrated.

You don’t have to deliver rousing speeches to make an impact, create meaningful change, and influence people. In fact, the best leaders I know spend a lot of time forming groups, brainstorming ideas, facilitating discussions and decision-making. And then they shift gears to focus on performing while keeping a close tab on results and its analysis. Rinse and repeat.

Nowhere in the above process does public speaking make an appearance. That’s because the function of speaking to the masses has a purpose — to amplify successes or communicate vital information that affects the audience. Apologies, if that sounds like an oversimplification. But it’s an important distinction nonetheless.

Someone who facilitates a meeting talks less. Way less than the others in the room. And that’s precisely why they are able to “work” the room, extract and discuss ideas and concepts that people wouldn’t have come up with by themselves! Now, that’s so precious not just for the leader, the team, but the organization at large!

Unfortunately, people are sold on the idea that the skill of public speaking is going to make them successful. And they’re quick to quip that the skill of speaking has been Warren Buffet’s best investment so far. Now who would disagree with that? But Buffet himself speaks a whole lot less than the tens and thousands of “influencers” and “vloggers” out there! (In other words, he’s not “yappin” all the time!) He didn’t become successful because of his skill of speaking but due to his philosophy as an investor, how he communicates with his company’s stakeholders (through his annual letters) and most importantly how he’s facilitated ideas and discussions among his band of leaders and board members.

If you’re over-invested in the skill and practice of public speaking, power to you! I just want to encourage you to back off a bit and understand that speaking wouldn’t magically transform you, the audience, or make you a leader. I’ve said this countless times, leadership is a practice. It’s what you do that matters. Not what you say.

And the best leaders work with their teams to facilitate ideas, discussions, and arrive at decisions that enable practical implementation. That’s the hard stuff nobody wants to talk about. If you’re a developing leader or already are holding a leadership position, I encourage you to consider mastering the art and science of facilitation more than speaking to the masses.

It will help you be more influential than you ever can be with just the skill of public speaking.