How to Make an Impact Under Pressure

The spotlight is on you and now’s the time to land that critical message – are you up to it? Roundtable presenter Shane Hatton shares the secrets of delivering a message that’s remembered

A 2018 Harvard Business School study found CEOs spent 61 per cent of their work week in face-to-face interaction. Clearly, identifying how a leader uses this time can provide valuable insight into their key priorities.

As a leader, you will frequently find yourself addressing groups of people, whether at a town hall, a roadshow or a weekly stand-up meeting, to whom you must communicate an important message in a moment that matters. While the value of superior presentation skills has long been recognised, 21st century leadership demands that we aim higher and think bigger than this. We need to view every opportunity to speak, not just as an opportunity to inform, but as an opportunity to lead, inspire and mobilise.

In the moments that really matter — moments of change, transition, uncertainty and challenge — people aren’t just looking for something to inform them, they are looking to someone who will lead them. In these moments it’s vital to understand how to make your message count. Of course we want to know the tips and tricks, the tactics and tools that can help us, but it’s just as important to zoom out and understand the bigger picture. How is important, but equally critical is who you are as a leader and what you have to communicate. At the intersections of these three elements are three big obsessions for leaders and communicators.  

Positioning — the intersection of WHO you are and WHAT you say

For the digital native generation, who spend much of their time looking at the world through a screen, personal branding is at the forefront of the conversation. Branding is no longer just a conversation for the corporate marketing department, and anonymity is fast becoming a luxury of the past. Our lives are on permanent display; people are always watching us. Positioning begins with building your own personal brand, but it runs much deeper than that. Great leaders obsess about positioning because, while a great presentation may demonstrate to people what you know, positioning ultimately determines how you become known.

The word ‘position’ comes from the Latin word ponere, which means to place. You can think about positioning as how and where people place you in their mind. As a leader, if your people have not placed you well in their mind, ensuring that your message is heard will be an uphill battle. If who you are does not align with the message you want to communicate, then it will fall on deaf ears. Title may open the door for you, but trust is what gets you inside.  

Messaging — the intersection of WHAT you say and HOW you say it

There’s no point knowing how to project your voice if you have nothing valuable to say. A good leader obsesses on messaging, because great communication is more than just sharing words, it’s having something valuable to share. Everyone can talk, but not everything they say is worth listening to. Speaking without taking the time to shape and develop your message is like trying to drive a bus without a steering wheel: you’ll find yourself drifting irresistibly in the direction of the vehicle’s own momentum rather than your planned destination. Have you taken time to determine the value of your message to the people in the room? Can you articulate your key message in fifteen words or less? Does your communication take people on a journey in the direction you need them to go?

Developing — the intersection of HOW you say it and WHO you are.

Do you know how to frame your message to make sure it connects? Great communicators are constantly learning, developing, sharpening their skills. If you don’t keep growing, you won’t last. Our world is in a constant state of change, and leaders need to know how to grow with and adapt to that change. Healthy leaders are obsessed by growth and development. Developing lies at the intersection between how to deliver with the greatest impact and how to become the best version of you. These two principles are intrinsically linked, because when you become the best version of you and feel confident in who you are, you will deliver greater value. At the same time, being open and receptive to external feedback and making progress in how you deliver will also help you become a better version of who you already are. Invest in sharpening your skills and seeking out feedback from trusted sources. Know how to learn and bounce back from failure quickly.  

Communicating a message that counts in the moments that matter isn’t a skill you can learn overnight. It takes time and investment to build trust and credibility. It takes effort and energy to refine your message and delivery. It takes ownership and humility to learn how to grow and develop. But it’s worth it. Because in the moments that really matter, people don’t just want a polished speaker, they want someone to stand up, stand out and lead.

Shane Michael Hatton is a leadership and communication expert committed to helping leaders build and leverage their platform to lead, inspire and mobilise their people. Shane is the author of Lead the Room – Communicate a Message That Counts in Moments That Matter (Major Street Publishing). He presents for our Roundtable Future Leaders again on 3 August 2022.