If you want to be respected and appreciated as a leader, you’ll need to unify your team through communication. Speaking effectively and consistently is the key to making sure your ideas are expressed clearly, ensuring your team is under a collective understanding, and addressing problems quickly before they escalate. For many people, strategic thinking and productivity come naturally, but this efficiency in communication is a major obstacle.

Fortunately, there are a handful of speaking hacks that can turn almost anyone into an effective and approachable communicator.

1. Simplify Your Language

First, work under the assumption that nobody is an expert and nobody is going to know what you’re talking about. This will force you to simplify the language you use. You’ll start using a lower-level vocabulary, and you’ll start explaining ideas in broader, simpler contexts. Don’t think of this as dumbing your ideas down; think of this as cutting out the unnecessary fluff. The simpler you’re able to present your ideas, the more easily people will catch on to them. You can also dig into more detailed specifics later on.

2. Speak Slowly

Too many speakers make the mistake of talking too fast; it’s a natural nervous habit, born of an unconscious urge to fill empty space with language. Don’t fall for this gut instinct. Instead, take your time articulating exactly what you mean, and add pauses between your words for dramatic effect. This will give you more time to think through your choice of phrases, and will make you seem calmer, more confident, and more in control. This works especially well in contrast with fast talkers.

3. Plan Ahead Whenever You Can

You won’t always get a chance to prepare for a speech or talk beforehand, but whenever you do have the chance, take it. Do background research before attending meetings, addressing the group, or meeting someone new for the first time. Read the news, pay attention to what’s going on in the industry, and have a constant finger on the pulse of the company (or your individual projects). The better informed you are for any conversation, the smarter and more put-together you’re going to seem.

4. Don’t Overthink or Over-rehearse

Practice can make perfect when it comes to delivering a presentation, or even addressing a group. You’ll overcome speaking obstacles in advance and sound more confident when you do deliver. However, practicing too much can be equally problematic; you’ll sound like a robot, and people won’t value what you’re saying. No matter how much you practice, always try to speak from the heart.

5. Use Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful strategy for more than one reason. People are naturally drawn to narratives, and weaving a narrative into your ideas can instantly make them more relatable and more memorable. Plus, it makes you seem more creative and forward-thinking. The next time you have a complex idea to convey, try to use a story to illustrate or otherwise present it.

6. Don’t Just Speak, Engage

Remember that speaking is only half the equation. If you want your audience to remain engaged, you’ll have to give them a reason to stay invested. In small groups or one-on-one conversations, that means inviting others to speak, ask questions, and respond to your prompts. In larger groups, that usually means some method of participation, like a group experiment or “show of hands” type prompt.

7. Speak to Everyone, Everywhere

The best way to get better at speaking is by practicing it wherever you go. Talk to random strangers at the bus stop, at networking events, or anywhere else that you choose to go. Eventually, speaking will come naturally to you, and you’ll get better at improvising in a conversational context. Don’t shy away from small talk either; any type of speaking can make you better in some way.

When you start executing these strategies consistently, you’ll naturally become a better speaker over time. You’ll be able to communicate your ideas clearly, resonate with your audience, and establish mutual trust and respect within your team. Don’t be fooled—it takes practice and time to become a better leader through effective speaking, but as long as you put the effort in, it’s yours for the taking.

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Photo of speaker courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020