How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Tips for bosses in The King's Speech

January 10, 2011: 1:13 PM ET

by Patricia Sellers

Of three movies that I saw this weekend (a record cine-immersion for me), True Grit was disappointing, The Fighter was thrilling, and The King's Speech was inspiring -- my favorite of the bunch.

The King's Speech is about King George VI, Queen Elizabeth's father, and his determination to cure his paralyzing stammer at a moment when England is at the brink of war and in desperate need of inspiration. The movie, sure to be  in this year's Oscar contest, is surprisingly exhilarating, and it is also relevant to anyone in the business world. We all have to present to an audience somewhere, sometime...and don't you dread it? The King's conquest of his speech impediment and his fears of being judged harshly, offers lessons to take note of.

Photo: David Snyder

Mary Civiello, a media and presentation coach, decided to offer her perspective after she saw The King's Speech. Mary, who has written for Postcards before, works with executives at such companies as Morgan Stanley (MS), American Express (AXP), DreamWorks Animation (DWA), Merck (MRK) and MetLife (MET). In terms of business folks finding their voice, here are four lessons that she took away from The King's Speech:

1) Focus on your audience. Like many CEOs, the King didn't mix with his audience. It was like a sea of faces. The King's coach had "Bertie," as George VI was known, look at him and speak directly to him when he was addressing England's millions. It's always easier to speak to someone you know and like. So, if you are speaking on a phone, paste a few pictures of your employees on your desk. If you're on stage, pick three encouraging faces in different parts of your audience. Speak directly to them.

2) Pause. You've heard the saying, "Take it one step at a time." The King slowed down and began to take his speech just a few words at a time vs. scanning an eternity of copy. He marked his script for frequent pauses, using slash lines for breaks. Frequent pauses allowed him to breathe regularly. That helped calm him. Pausing can help you become a smoother and more effective speaker. Pausing adds gravity. And it gives your audience time to digest what you're saying.

3) Project. The King's coach would provoke him and rile him until he shouted or even swore. The provocation prompted the King to project. It tapped the energy he was holding inside. It smoothed the King's speech and improved his breathing. Before taking the stage, many professional speakers will stand in a room, speak loudly and do a few push-ups instead of sitting quietly mouthing words. So speak up. You'll speak better.

4) Practice. I know you've heard "Practice makes perfect," but who has the time? Well, the king of England knew that to lead effectively, he had to speak like a leader. He committed to daily practice, speaking more slowly, pausing, and projecting. His father lamented, "We kings used to have to simply look good and wave." Then came radio.

Now we have 24-7 TV and social media. All the more reason to strive to become a communication king.

Mary Civiello's previous Guest Posts on Postcards include "How to Capture a Crowd" and "How to Hold a Crowd."

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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