My goal in these Leading Thoughts is to help you be a better leader, and in our age being a better leader is a lot about communication. I’ve apologized to you before for not emphasizing this enough here, since my firm does speaker training and we know the value of it.

I particularly felt convicted about not stressing speaking skills when I heard Warren Buffet say that a person could double their value by learning to speak better. He once took a Dale Carnegie speaking course and it changed his life. Learning to become a skilled speaker can change your life too.

One of the most important upgrades I can stress for your speaking is to change the way you structure your speech. An enhanced structure is probably the simplest way you can take your speaking to a new level. So, here are some principles to make your own.

Open Strong

You can establish who you are, set the tone for your speech, win your audience, and establish a trajectory toward success all with your opening. Don’t dither. Don’t use your opening lines just to shake off nervousness. Aim high and hit hard. I have a young friend who made a graduation speech lately. He had written a fine speech but his opening was slow. I urged him to put a humorous but meaningful quote about Churchill at the start. He did and executed perfectly. He had his audience in the first half paragraph. The starting lines need to win people and tell them who you are. Don’t waste that space.

Observe the Steve Jobs Rule

Steve Jobs, the ingenious founder of Apple, did something in his talks that you should emulate. Ten minutes into a talk, he launched a surprise. It was a product announcement or a video clip or a dramatic moment of some kind. I’m not asking for confetti and magic tricks, but if you can plan to do something surprising that furthers the message of your talk ten minutes in, you’ll take your speech to new levels.

Use Story

Remember what we’ve been discussing recently about the power of story in your branding and communication. This is another tool Steve Jobs used brilliantly. Steve didn’t just announce a product. He’d say, “We thought such and such in 2006. We were wrong and so we failed in 2008. We learned such and such a lesson in 2009. That’s why now I can announce today that we are going with so and so. It will change the world.” See, with a brief story, even about a piece of technology, he made his point more interesting. He broadened Apple’s brand. He educated. He also made a small piece of technology the symbol of decades of innovation. He won followers as well as customers. True genius.

Number Your Points

This is vital. Number your points. Never have more than three. Review them after you’ve described them. People will remember them long after if you do.

Close Strong

Don’t dither way your last sentences either. Plan a strong, staccato, challenging close. Ramp up your voice. Capture the spirit of the talk and the moment. People will remember. They will be moved. They will rally to what you’ve said. Close strong.

Be Brief

You’ve got eight minutes, maybe more if you are a gifted speaker. Eight minutes. That’s the attention span of your level of listeners. And eight minutes is being generous. Be brief. Be powerful. Be strategic. Be done. You can actually do more with less.

We are heading into a great age of organizational leadership. Communication will be at the heart of success in this age. Devote yourself to mastering the skills of great speaking.