“Pay attention to what I’m saying not how I’m saying it”, said Margaret Thatcher to one of her detractors after he accused her of being shrill and emotional. But style is as important as substance.

Margaret Thatcher

I saw The Iron Lady last night and was truly amazed by Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher and particularly inspired by the scenes where Streep was reenacting Thatcher’s speeches. The movie shows how Thatcher’s speaking style was carefully practiced to maximize the impact of her words. In particular, she was coached to lower the pitch of her voice and fine tune her physical presence. It’s an understatement to say Thatcher did turn out to be one of the most powerful woman speakers, and leaders, of our times.

What can we learn from this? We learn that carefully chosen words, spoken clearly and with conviction can inform, inspire and move people to action. We learn that we should spend as much time honing our delivery as creating our content. We do this by practicing in front of a friend, colleague or spouse and being open to suggestions. We should also pay careful attention to speakers who inspire us to get ideas how to take our skills to the next level.

Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up that have helped me along the way. I hope they help you too.

  • Stand up tall
  • Be calm
  • Use the ‘presidential pause’ for effect
  • Control the emotion in your voice
  • Control the cadence of your speech, not too fast or slow, but lively enough to hold attention

How do you prepare to make sure you perform your best?