Three Voices That Inspired Me To Be A Speaking Leader

“Tall Tim, how do you do it? How do you stand up in front of complete strangers, and make it seem like you’ve known them forever?”

It’s a frequently asked question. My one syllable response: Trust.

Trust is the wedge that props open the door to perspective, allowing us to recognize veiled similarities despite overt differences such as age, gender, cultural background, race, profession, beliefs, etc.

Identifying connections across multiple aspects enables a sense of foundational relevance among a group, secure in our belief of a shared purpose beyond words, gestures, or a creative slide presentation.

It wasn’t always that way.

My initial approach to speaking over-valued accuracy and efficiency. Content was delivered pro forma, establishing an emotional safe zone between presenter and presentee. The result was amicable and proficient, but far from memorable or impactful.

While I have gleaned techniques from many speakers over time, three individuals unlocked my tumblers of awareness, demonstrating the unlimited potential of a leader’s most valuable resource – their voice.     

Listening to these leaders speak went beyond technique, deeper than simple tone, grammar, or inflection. It was acoustic alchemy, transforming words and gestures into emotional resonance, inspiring trust through a powerful combination of humility and confidence.

My personal Tres Consejeros include . . .

Indra Nooyi

Former Chairperson and CEO of Pepsi

The event’s theme explored evolving the legacy of an iconic brand. It was a power packed docket, loaded with decades of influential leadership and success, along with a wealth of experience speaking to groups large and small.

Indra Nooyi was part of a speaker line-up that included both the Executive Chairman and CEO of Marriott, in addition to Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States.

Let me tell you, the lady blew the gentlemen away.

So charming, so charismatic, yet with a specific and targeted message.  

Indra’s mixture of humor and insight translated a complex challenge into bite-sized pieces the listener could easily digest.

She spoke with refreshing candor and complete confidence about lessons learned among Pepsi’s 400+ brands and products, citing customer engagement as the most important criteria in the evolution of your brand.

Although Indra’s presentation incorporated samples from Pepsi’s vast media inventory of photos, videos, and marketing collateral, it was her confidence that was most impressive. She referenced notes, but nothing came across as overly rehearsed . . . no planned pauses for applause, no walking across the stage for dramatic emphasis.

This wasn’t a performance, it was leadership.

She had a small window, 45 minutes to make us better, and wasn’t about to waste a second on something frivolous or that didn’t serve a purpose.

Keying on the value of her experience, Indra led a group of 3,000 attendees on a journey of insight and awareness. When she was finished, we all sat there wanting more . . . in a good way.

Lessons Tagged: Humor, Confidence, Targeted Message, Purposeful Actions

Bill Marriott, Jr.

Executive Chairman, Marriott International

“Every culture has a narrative, a collection of stories shared over time to preserve, educate, or instill values that inspire trust among groups and individuals within the culture. A storyteller is entrusted with sharing this narrative in a manner that will influence emotional aspects of behavior and deepen a connection to culture.”

I scribed this definition some time ago. My muse was Bill Marriott, Jr.

You will never find a better storyteller than Mr. Marriott. Listening to him speak, even in the most casual settings, is like being offered a glimpse into eternal wisdom.

His is the unique ability to speak not only from the heart, but from the depths of his soul. He willingly translates the story his mother and father began, offering generous insight into what separates success from failure, having experienced both in his more than six decades of service.

Mr. Marriott has a great sense of humor, but it is his integrity and character that engage you most. You know you’re listening to the honest truth, good news or bad.

This was a value he learned from his father, one that he enthusiastically passes on to every Marriott associate, past or present.

He is not animated . . . the only gestures you’ll notice are those involved in daily conversation. His voice transcends generations and industries, communicating a sincere belief in the potential for everyone to live a meaningful, and purposeful life.

I could have literally sat cross-legged on the floor and listen to Mr. Marriott speak for hours, like a child listening to a favorite story being read by their teacher.

Instead, I’ll remain eternally grateful for the handful of times I was fortunate enough to listen and learn.

Lessons Tagged: Honesty, Compassion, Integrity, Storytelling, Speak from Your Soul

General Pete Pace

General, United States Marine Corps (Retired), Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

I was planning the Marine Corps Ball, an annual event celebrating the Corp’s birthday, for Marines assigned to Central Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

The speaker that night was Pete Pace, a four-star General who at the time was serving as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I willingly accepted the offer to sit in on the General’s speech that night.

What an unforgettable experience . . . not only for me, but for the roughly 1,000 Marines and their guests seated in the Grand Ballroom.

My lesson began once the General was introduced at the Ball. He immediately removed the microphone from the podium and stepped down from the stage. This was a leader most comfortable in the presence of his troops . . . not on a pedestal, but boots on the ground.

General Pace shared the story of Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro, the first Marine killed under his command. He explained why he keeps a photo of LC Farinaro on his desk, to serve as a reminder of his obligation to those who follow his orders . . . what they risk in service to their country.

He moved as he spoke, venturing perhaps two tables deep into the crowd, maintaining eye contact across the room as he addressed a shared belief in duty, honor, and commitment. General Pace spoke with great conviction, a depth of compassion emanating from sincerity, integrity, and trust.

His was a common language that every attendee understood. You could have heard a pin drop from a mile away.

Watching and listening to General Pace that evening was an awakening for me. I saw him dispel the myth that a speaker must be on stage, be visible to everyone in the audience. There was no emotional safe zone.

He demonstrated the true potential of a speaking leader, the impact of making yourself vulnerable to influence the lives of others. If your light is shining bright enough, people will see you.

And they will most definitely listen.

Lessons Tagged: Passion, Sincerity, Vulnerability, Conviction

In Closing

I have a tremendous respect for anyone with the courage to stand in front of a group and speak.

What so many speakers overlook is their responsibility to lead a group through an experience. I have learned over time that leading from a speaker’s perspective carries a similar responsibility to leadership in general.

It begins with establishing trust, reflecting an inherent belief in a shared purpose beyond words, gestures, and presentations. Trust opens the door to connections based on similarities, despite differences in age, gender, culture, and industry.

These three leaders demonstrated that a sense of vulnerability removes an emotional safe zone. It’s not just about speaking from the heart but allowing total access to the qualities of your soul: passion, integrity, humor, conviction, purpose, trust.

Storytelling, detailing experiences whether good or bad for the sake of awareness, is the most effective use for a leader’s most valuable resource: their voice.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!

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