When I was a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School, I took it personally when another student referred to public speaking as an afterthought, as if it were simply about how to move your hands or how much to smile. They’d sometimes refer to it as superficial window dressing, as opposed to involving strategic influence.

Having spent years studying leadership, negotiation, and communication, as well as coaching leaders on their speeches and presentations, I’ve realized the incredible power wielded by those who are able to harness their voice effectively.

Yes – it’s important to use our nonverbal communication and tone of voice effectively. Before that, we need to develop a powerful message. Then, we ensure that every part of us is communicating the same thing. 

Your voice matters. Your ability to enter a room with presence and speak from a place of purpose that commands your audience’s attention and inspires them to take action is a critical way to mobilize people around a shared goal. 

As an opera singer, I already knew how to use my voice to entertain. However, using it to inspire people to take action was something I didn’t learn until working in the field of diplomacy, where I studied persuasion, influence, and stakeholder analysis. 

This realization led me to develop a new keynote speech, Lead With Your Voice, which focuses on the intersection of communication and authentic leadership. 

Here are 5 steps inspired by my Lead With Your Voice keynote:

1) Look inward.

The path of leadership starts by looking inward. Ask yourself, why are you called to lead? What drives you to speak up about a particular issue or on behalf of a specific cause? Use that sense of purpose to provide fuel to help you craft language that is authentic and concise. The most powerful leaders use their sense of conviction to propel them forward in the act of leadership.

2) Sharpen your communication skills.

Assess your current communication skills. How comfortable do you feel speaking up about this issue? Why or why not? What skills would help you feel more comfortable? Whether it’s learning the craft of persuasion and influence, speaking off the cuff, or managing your nerves so you can strengthen your voice, look for ways to hone your skills.  

3) Identify your target audience.

Who are the people you seek to influence and what information do they need? Where are they currently in their decision-making process and where do you want them to go?  At Global Public Speaking, we teach a thorough stakeholder analysis that helps you put yourself in your audience’s shoes to craft a message that will resonate and motivate them to take action.

4) Find allies.

None of us can achieve a leadership objective by working on our own. The act of leadership requires bringing together resources and individuals – whether it’s working across silos in your organization or finding like-minded individuals in your community who can lend their support. What relationships do you need to build so that when you do speak, you do not speak alone?

5) Speak up.

Put your passion into action and speak up: look for occasions to speak, both virtually and in person. Start by asking a probing question at a conference or offering to lead a meeting on a topic you care about. Look for alignment between your organization’s priorities and your personal passions to see if you can give a presentation on a topic you care about on behalf of your organization. You are surrounded by opportunities to speak up

Once you take action, determine what you can learn from your experience. What worked and what didn’t? The best leaders debrief, request feedback, and continue to iterate and grow. 

Today, I am unapologetic about my work teaching public speaking and about the deep-seated connection between communication and leadership. 

Each one of us has something powerful to say on behalf of ourselves or others. When we tap into our sense of purpose, build our communication skills, and bring people together to work toward a shared goal, we lead with our voice.