One of the reasons I watch Wimbledon is that John McEnroe's commentary goes right to the heart of what's happening. When a big-time player in the finals or semis gets off his or her game, McEnroe blasts the player for letting the opponent define the game -- forcing the player into a defensive (read losing) position.
When you speak, you need to define your game. Set the agenda early in your speech. The bigger your agenda, the more influential your speech can be. Nobody gets noticed (or respected) for a humdrum, laundry list speech numbed with copious PowerPoint, the Novocain of public speaking.
When you get the chance, go for the big moves. Don't be tentative. Shake up -- and wake up -- your audience by stating big problems and proposing big solutions. Your audience wants to know where you stand on your topic. Tell them in no uncertain terms what you think should be done.
Our new president may be about to redefine the game with big moves.
I read a provocative piece in the New York Times last week. The lead was, "President-elect Barack Obama’s aides say he is considering making a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office." The whole article was about "where." The consensus was Cairo. But not a word about "what."
For me, the tantalizing part is the "what." Clearly his audience will be the worldwide Islamic community. Will he bridge to his audience by bringing into play his Muslim heritage and name? Will he tackle the "great Satan" argument by talking about how Muslims routinely prosper in the USA -- largely free of open and obstructive prejudice? And how U.S. armed services, along with NATO troops, fought and died in Bosnia and Kosovo to save Muslims from ethnic cleansing?
And in the biggest potential move of all, will he ask why Muslims around the world don't rise up to condemn and thwart the evil of Islamic terrorism? Does President-elect Obama intend to make really big moves that can begin to change the game? I, for one, hope he does. He stands astride two belief systems often at odds. He is uniquely positioned to be a bridge.
The lesson for senior executives who speak is this. More than ever, there are opportunities to define the game and make big moves. Read the headlines. The U.S. and world economic games are redefining themselves anew on a daily basis. We have big problems that are getting bigger. We need bigger solutions at every level.
As a speaker, your opportunities to define your game and make big moves are out there. There's no time like the present.