NextGen Know-How: Increasing Leadership Influence Through Intentional Language

manager speaking confidently to camera
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence LLC

5 minutes

Four strategies for speaking with clarity and confidence

Two months ago, I was on a flight from Washington D.C. to North Carolina to work with a client. Just before takeoff, the pilot announced over the intercom, “Um, so unfortunately, we're showing a lot of bumps on in the forecast here—there's bumps all around us. I'm hoping it's not as bad as what the forecast is showing, but we're hearing from some other aircraft that it's a very unpleasant ride. So, ah, unfortunately it’s not going to be a great ride today. So ... I'm going to put the seatbelt sign on here for the duration of the flight."

His words and tone were very tentative and negative, and they didn’t make me feel calm or reassured but rather more anxious and uncomfortable.

He might have confidence and great skill as a pilot (the plane did land safely!), but he didn't convey that with his language.

I've been on other flights where a pilot comes on and says, “Folks, we're getting a weather forecast today that says we might see some bumps on our ride so we're going to put the seatbelt sign on for the duration of the flight. We're going to take off here in a few minutes and we'll get you on the ground safely in about two hours.”

Simple, confident and to the point. The same information was conveyed with clarity and reassurance. I felt at ease because the pilot communicated with certainty.

Every day as leaders, in big and small moments we have an opportunity to convey confidence and certainty—or confusion and uncertainty—with the language we use.

Are you concise and to the point? Or do you bury your message in confusion, tentative language and too many details? In most cases, less is more.

The next time you communicate with your manager, a team member or member, be thoughtful and purposeful with the language and tone you use.

Here are four strategies for speaking with clarity and intention.

1. Use language that displays confidence and certainty.

Have you ever called your cable company with an issue and get the sense that the customer service representative is not going to solve your problem? You're telling the person your issue, and they say things like “Um, well, I don't know, that's not really my department,” or “I'll have to look into this and have someone get back to you.”

You hang up the phone and think to yourself, “I will never hear from that person again.”

Contrast that with when you get someone on the phone who instills a sense of urgency and competence. You feel at ease knowing they will solve your problem. For example, “I'm so sorry this happened. I'm going to research this issue, and I will call you back by five o'clock today with an answer.”

Words like absolutely and definitely instill a sense of certainty with others. This is especially true if you work in a member service position. Tentative or vague language like, “I’ll try to get this to you by tomorrow,” or “Let me look into it,” does not convey a sense of urgency or certainty. Be clear and specific in your language. For example, “I will look into this issue and call you back by 5:00 today,” or “This is the first priority on my list today, and I will send you the report by noon,” convey accountability and ownership and a sense of trust that you will follow through.

2. Be concise in speech and emails.

Whether in a presentation or an email, state your points clearly and concisely. In emails, use bullet points to make the message easier to read. Think about the main point you want to convey and distill it to a few short bullets. When giving an update or speech, state up front the three main points you will cover in your presentation. For example, “My presentation today will be focused on the financial performance of the company. I will cover three main points: a budget update, our current return on assets and our current loan growth.” This gives the audience a preview of what to expect and organizes your information and data so it’s easier to understand.

3. Don’t bury the lead.

There is a concept in journalism that you “never bury the lead.” In a news story, the first few sentences should convey the main points of the story so you capture the attention of the reader. The same is true in our communication. Instead of starting your message with minute details that lead to your main point, start with the main point and then include supporting details, if necessary. I find this the best way to communicate with most leaders and executives. Going to your manager and saying, “Here is what I am recommending and why” is much more persuasive and concise than going to your manager to explain your month-long process and all the details for how you came to your conclusion. Most leaders want only the most important information and will ask follow-up questions if they need more.

4. Practice your points.

Particularly for important presentations, build in time to practice. This is one of the best ways to work out the flow of your presentation, organize your ideas and clarify your points. It’s one thing to have information in your head and another to verbally communicate with clarity and confidence. Practicing a few times will also retain information in your memory so you don’t need to rely too much on slides. (And don’t put too many words on your slides!) This allows you to be in the moment and engaged with the audience, create connection, and speak with confidence and competence.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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