To secure your position as a dynamic communicator and leader of people, it is worth investing the time to listen carefully to experts, internalize what they teach, and use it daily. The world is overloaded with information, but learning how to engage people can change everything.

Communicating well is the key to empowering yourself. Some people follow, others lead, and the difference often comes down to leaders knowing how to propel others into action.

What is the secret?

John Bates stopped by Finland to inspire hundreds of people at an Amcham event, and afterwards we met at the Amcham offices for an informal session with staff. “Never tell a story without a point; never make a point without a story,” John quoted Les Brown as saying. So, he opened with a story:

Walking to a party, he stopped to buy coffee, which he then spilled on his shirt. He arrived at the party, nervously covering the coffee stain and washed it in the bathroom. Now, with water-stained shirt, he anxiously entered the party. Did people notice? No! They were too busy worrying about their own stains, bad hair and garlicy breath to notice his. His anxiety, meanwhile, was making theirs worse. He decided to try to make people feel good by emanating interest and suddenly, those he spoke with became more engaged.

The lesson learned? People mirror your emotions: give them something positive to mirror! Enter smiling and interested in others, and your emotions will spread.

This also goes for public speaking. Presenting logic without first establishing an emotional connection with your audience means your message will bounce off. Showing that you are human, that you have some emotional investment in what you are going to say, makes the audience receptive to actually hear what it is you are saying. There are trillions of words and numbers out there: why do yours matter to you?

If you are given the opportunity to speak to an audience, what process can help to ensure that the audience is engaged and eager to ‘buy what you are selling’?

John Bates used to speak without planning so that it would come across as natural. Sometimes he succeeded, other times the talk was a disappointment. He wanted to be great all the time. Here is his current method for creating a great talk:

First, he writes one idea per sticky note and puts it on a wall without editing or limiting himself. Later, he moves the points that are absolutely necessary to another wall, creating an order for the talk. From bullet points, he goes over the talk three or more times, changing the order, ironing out transitions, and making sure the framework is solid. Once it is, he is ready to start practicing.

Practice is the key to good public speaking. Steve Jobs made time to practice his talks one hour for every minute of speech. Speakers at TED Talks or important corporate events will regularly practice for one year or more for their 12 to 18-minute talk. Greatness takes practice, not innate skill.

Invest the time. Also remember that written text is very different from speech. A great piece of writing will not make a great speech. Tweak it so that it sounds just like you speaking at your most engaging.

People often say that speech is 75% non-verbal, 25% verbal; others argue that it’s more like 80-20. One of John’s most powerful quotes is: “Your non-verbal communication sets the context for everything you say.” If your non-verbal context says you’re nervous, or you don’t look at the audience in the eyes, this will skew everything that you say negatively.

Remember: your audience of hundreds or of one will mirror your emotions. When you are confident, open and engaged, they will be too.