When you become a boss, you not only need to know how to be a leader, you need to learn how to communicate like one, too. Language that was fine for you to use as an underling in the shadows is no longer appropriate when you’re in the spotlight making decisions.
Here are tips on how to ease the transition from employee to boss, and talk like the boss you need to be, so that you can project the confidence in your abilities that you need to succeed:
1) Get to the point
To command a room, you need to make your case compelling, and you do that by being upfront about what you’re arguing and keeping your words concise. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of “Executive Presence,” says that leaders need to “let go of the notes, the very long PowerPoints. Let go of the podium and make eye contact.” When you let go of your communication crutches and your canned speeches, you come across as more authentic and you telegraph your executive presence more clearly. You don’t confuse or waste your audience’s time with jargon; you want to hook their attention from the start.
To get to the point, you can drop polite introductory qualifiers that signal hesitance like “hopefully ” or “perhaps” in your correspondences. Employees often use these qualifiers to pad their requests and signal deference to people above them. As the boss, you set the tone and make the final decisions.
To talk like a decision maker, you need to use clear, active language that proves you call the shots and can think outside of specific functions or roles. Visionary leaders don’t just talk about what the company is doing today, they paint a picture of what the company will be doing in the future.
2) Speak in threes
If you want to convince people as a leader, break down your message into three points: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” That’s what Simon Lancaster, a top speechwriter to politicians and CEOs, recommends in his TEDx talk on the subject.
Speaking in three parallel words, phrases, or clauses is known as tricolon, an ancient Roman rhetorical device that leaders still use to this day.
“You put your argument in threes, it makes it sound more compelling, more convincing, more credible,” Lancaster said in his talk. It’s a rule that CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs have used regularly in their public speeches. You can apply this to any business communication, and start using it in your emails, presentations, and meetings.
There’s a limit to what our working memories can remember. By speaking in threes, you force yourself to choose the three most important reasons you’re making a point, and you use a narrative structure that we have been conditioned to follow since nursery rhymes.
As improv coach Kristin Schier notes, the rule of three also teaches your audience to see your words as an argument worth following: “The first time you say something, it’s an incident, the second time you say something, it’s a coincidence, but the third time you say something, it becomes a pattern.”
3) Know when to speak up and when to listen
It’s not just how you speak like a boss, but when you choose to do so. Strategic leaders don’t just blurt out their ideas; they read the room and see when would be the best time to speak for maximum impact.
Understanding context and picking up on social cues are what Harvard Business Review argue is key for people to develop their executive voice. “Knowing or finding out in advance what your expected role is in a group forum or event can guide you in determining the kind of voice you need for that particular venue and can help ensure that you understand the context before you speak up,” HBR states. When employees notice that you don’t know your expected role, you come off as unprepared and this undercuts your leadership.
Putting it all together
Putting your executive voice into action means knowing ahead of time what kind of conversation you’re going into, so you’re not caught off guard about what your expected role is. If you’re in a room of other executives, that may mean staying silent and listening intently. If you’re speaking at an all-hands to your company, that means taking the lead role and speaking your vision.
With these three changes, you can learn to command and hold the attention of your employees, so that people don’t just know you’re the boss, they hear you as one, too.