6 steps to speaking as an authentic leader

Mastered functional skills? Now it’s time to inspire your team and build trust.


“Be yourself” 

As the Harvard Business Review published in Jan’15, “Authenticity has emerged as the gold standard for leadership.”

Do you know why something so basic has to be taught? Because most people find themselves caught in the dilemma of marketing their leadership traits or just being themselves in meetings. 

The key to successful leadership is to be self-aware and not be afraid to open up. It is hard but possible. Here are six steps to communicate as an authentic leader:

1. Know what you stand for

Authentic leaders are, as the word means, “original”. They don’t try to change themselves to meet the so-called acceptable standards. 

For instance, Douglas Conant, who served as President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company until July 31, 2011, won the respect and trust of his employees by embracing his own true self, despite being an introvert. Instead of delivering grandiose speeches to a room full of people, he walked the halls to meet his employees one-on-one or in small groups. He brought a personal touch to each conversation. 

Know what is important to you and what your values are. Use this as fuel to drive all your interactions. 

2. Find your personal style

It is always a good practice to watch the all-time favourite speeches (I’ve listed some of my favourites below): 

Steve Jobs: How to live before you die

Barack Obama: A new beginning

Richard St. John – 8 Secrets of Success

Just because these leaders spoke in a particular style doesn’t mean you have to copy it. There is no one right way of speaking. 

Before you get in front of the audience, 

  • Ask yourself what you want them to feel. 
  • Choose words that create that effect. 
  • Master your tone to create the right mood. 

Apps like speechx help you understand your speaking style and make incremental improvements that suit you.

3. Demonstrate empathy

Authentic leaders move away from speaker-centric content and shine the spotlight on their audience. Think about what your audience wants to hear from you and practice a mental dialogue to engage them.  Using more second-person pronouns helps audience to relate to your message. 

One study from the University of Southern California found a correlation between speech prosody and empathy. In the study, prosody is defined as the melody and intonation of speech involving rhythm, rate, pitch, and voice quality. It suggests that people who use more variation in their voice may be more likely to empathize with others.


4. Inject energy

Low energy when speaking is a deadly sin. When you are physically and mentally drained, it is so easy to go in an autopilot mode. Your audience can sense that. 

Energy is visible to your audience through your voice and body language. Here are five ways to add power to your speech: 

  • Speak up. If you are naturally a soft-spoken person, you need to crank up your volume. 
  • Vary the pace of your delivery and the power of your pitch. 
  • Use short sentences and powerful words. 
  • When facing an audience, most people either become rigid or make animated gestures. Use natural gestures as you do in everyday conversations. 
  • Emphasize the key points. 


5. Speak with emotion

Emotions bring a speech to life. When delivering well-prepared speeches, we tend to concentrate more on the words rather than connecting with the audience. 

Begin with thinking about what emotion you want to convey. Is it excitement, happiness, compassion, or trust? 

Maya Angelou’s quote, “people might not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel,” embodies the power of emotions when we speak. 

  • Use everyday words instead of fancy synonyms. 
  • Declutter your language by removing verbal junk. Verbal junk includes fillers like “you know” or “umm”. 
  • Sound confident by eliminating qualifiers like “I think”, “hopefully” or ‘I guess”. 

Tip: Don’t just convey information to educate others, but inspire an emotional connection.

6. Tell a story 

Authentic leaders inspire change. How? 

They don’t tell people to act in a certain way. Instead, they tell stories to shape their audience’s beliefs and reinforce desired behaviors. 

  • Share personal anecdotes, experiences, and observations. 
  • Keep it short. 
  • Make a clear connection between your story and desired behaviors.