The Most Powerful of All Success Skills

In any organization, power moves inexorably to those who have mastered the art of persuasion. Whether you express yourself online, on the phone, or in person doesn’t matter much. What counts is your ability to convince people that your ideas are worthwhile.

Think about the world’s richest and most inspiring people. Think about Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama. Yes, they have intelligence, ambition, and good instincts. And, yes, they work hard. But they are also articulate speakers. And that, above all else, is the source of their power.

“Speaking well is considered the number one reason for career advancement,” Virginia Avery asserts in The Power of Your Speech. “Every time you meet with a client or make a presentation, your image is affected – for better or worse.”

Woodrow Wilson, Avery points out, understood the importance of communicating effectively. He began his career as a reserved political science professor with a stilted speaking style. When he decided to go into politics, he set about becoming a skillful orator. By the time he delivered his inaugural address as the 28th President of the United States, it was said “not since Lincoln has there been a president so wonderfully gifted in the art of expression.”

Lincoln’s prowess as a speaker is beautifully illustrated by a story told by Peggy Noonan in On Speaking Well.

“When the famed orator Edward Everett spoke before Lincoln at Gettysburg, he went on for more than two hours and pulled out all the stops with poetry and pleading and stentorian phrases. Then Lincoln got up and offered a masterpiece of compression, two or three minutes on the meaning of war and the meaning of the day. … With great grace [Everett] wrote Lincoln, ‘I shall be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.’”

Persuasive speaking skills helped most of America’s most influential presidents “get their most cherished programs through Congress and leave their stamp on the future,” wrote Michael Kazin in the Washington Post. Every modern president “who left office with his popularity intact” – from Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – said Kazin, was a masterful speaker.

If skillful speaking can get you to the top of your field, clumsy speaking can get you into trouble.

Consider these common problems that are caused by poor communication:

• Being passed over for a job or a raise you deserve
• Being rejected by someone who doesn’t understand you
• Being treated as invisible by your boss
• Being treated with disrespect by your spouse or children
• Getting into unnecessary verbal conflicts

There is no question about it, being able to communicate persuasively is an important life skill.

So my question to you is this: What are you doing about it?

What are you doing, right now, to become a more powerful speaker? What books are you reading? What programs are you following? What lessons are you taking?

If speaking well is the single fastest way to succeed in any field, why aren’t you learning to be better at it?

No doubt your answer to that is “I don’t have enough time.” But this is the same argument that Stephen R. Covey poked holes through in Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. In the rush to get everything done that we are given to do every day, he said, we tend to take care of the urgent tasks first and push off the non-urgent ones. Yet, it is the important-but-not-urgent tasks – like improving your speaking skills – that will make the greatest long-term difference in the quality of your life. So you have to make them a priority.

The key to becoming a more powerful speaker, explains Timothy Koegel in The Exceptional Presenter, is practice.

“Everyone I’ve ever studied who has made himself exceptional – Churchill, Reagan – has worked at it,” says Koegel. “Most people don’t have any idea what they look and sound like when they’re presenting, whether they’re sitting at a conference table or talking to a group. … Since they don’t think of themselves as presenters, they don’t realize the impact of these skills. But [speaking well] is the easiest way to fast-track a career.”

It is impossible to overestimate the value of speaking well. Whether you are negotiating a lease on a car, presenting an idea at a business meeting, having a conversation with a powerful person you’ve just been introduced to – what you say and how you say it matters.

Although I consider myself a writer first and foremost, my skill at speaking has been responsible for most of my most important accomplishments.

• Saying the right thing got me a 25 percent share in the first information product I created. That stake in the business made me a millionaire in less than two years.

• Speaking well landed me additional partnership deals in the years following that first one. As a result, my share of the business grew to include one-third of a group whose yearly revenues exceeded $135 million.

• Less than two years after I first retired at 39, I talked my way into a high-paid gig with a client that has generated a substantial seven-figure income ever since.

Speaking persuasively continues to help me form partnerships and make alliances that are both pleasurable and profitable. So I’m a big advocate of developing speaking skills. And that’s why I recommend it to you.

“If all my talents and powers were to be taken from me by some inscrutable Providence and I had my choice of keeping but one,” Daniel Webster once said, “I would unhesitatingly ask to be allowed to keep the power of speaking, for through it I would quickly recover all the rest.”

Next Monday, I will give you three steps to becoming a powerful speaker. You’ll discover how anyone can change, as Woodrow Wilson did, from a hesitating bumbler to a polished master of the spoken word.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.