Why CEOs should shun their inner introvert and step into the spotlight

Not fond of the limelight? It’s time to stop nurturing your inner wallflower and embrace the benefits of public speaking.

by Mark Pollard
Last Updated: 18 Sep 2023

Public speaking is not the natural domain of every CEO. However, it can be learnt and honed with time, training and tenacity, and once mastered, furnish myriad rewards that will enhance an executive career. Every CEO will have spoken in public, but doing so on a regular basis will maximise the benefits that come from taking centre stage.

Speaking publicly can be a virtuous cycle that enables a chief executive to think and express ideas better, as they gain a deeper understanding of what audiences will react to over time.

Public talks can have a magnetic pull factor, attracting new collaborators, projects and book proposals, while increasing company recognition. They don't just prolong a leadership career by ensuring an individual maintains influence in their sector, they can offer a lucrative income stream once it’s time to retire.

Regular speaker engagements help to build a leader’s public persona. They provide a platform for sharing ideas, beliefs and values, in both personal and business terms. Hearing from the CEO can cement a company in people’s memories, helping a business to survive and thrive.

At a time when many companies are struggling to attract and retain talent, public talks offer a way for chief execs to promote their business and find potential employees. They might also help internal teams to unite around their leader.

CEOs naturally have the ability to persuade, attract talent and push ideas, products and services out into the world. They communicate on behalf of the company, whether or not giving speeches and public talks is a regular occurrence. Every CEO must have a way with words, even if the idea of speaking on stage is dread-inducing.

Developing a brand voice

The concept of building a ‘personal brand’ will make many executives squirm. But ⁠— as you move into the public eye ⁠— developing a unique persona will happen naturally, and it’s the best way to be remembered. Draw on personal insights and anecdotes to stay in an audience's memory. I’ve interviewed multiple business leaders and it’s rare that someone doesn’t have an interesting personal story to call upon.

Finding a unique voice is about not reverting to the idea of what a CEO should sound like, but building on how a person actually speaks instead, and learning to advertise both personal and company values in tandem.

Preparation thought-starters:

- Find small ways to stand out and take risks with the topics that are shared
- Reveal personal insights in entertaining ways
- Highlight themes and stories that feel urgent to share with an audience
- Think about using unexpected anecdotes to share ideas
- Ask audiences to take part in a task rather than just being inactive bystanders
- Preempt how every other speaker is likely to approach their talk and then deliver a presentation in a different format to avoid duplication

The better the presentation, the more likely a CEO is to build connections and nurture new business opportunities. Of course, there are many ways to get public speaking wrong: by being forgettable, using too much jargon, and referring obsessively to a company without sharing anything personal. Every talk is worth taking a risk for, and learning to fail sometimes will drive progress. Remember, public speaking is not something a CEO either can or can't do, it’s a learnt skill that improves over time.

Mark Pollard is founder and CEO of global training company Sweathead.

Picture credit: Jacobs Stock Photography via Getty Images.