How to Be A Powerful Leader When You Make Big Impressions on Small Audiences

How to Be A Powerful Leader When You Make Big Impressions on Small Audiences

To be a true powerful leader, you need to be able to speak effectively and harness the power of great communication.

“It is simply impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator,” observes leadership writer, Mike Myatt in Forbes magazine. As a leader, the responsibility of communicating effectively rests squarely on your own shoulders. This is true even if you are fortunate enough to have a communications department or team of speechwriters at your beck and call.

The good news is that, even if you are not a born communicator, the strategies behind powerful communication can be learned.

I was chatting with a team member of a consulting firm who said that because his organization focused on innovation, it was absolutely necessary to clearly articulate his ideas. His problem: he often found himself struggling when approached in the hall by the head of another department or a senior executive.

For him, it is much easier to speak in front of a large group than to master the “water cooler” vignette. He felt that larger venues allowed time for preparation and added that, “The impromptu meetings really catch you off guard.”

As he was spearheading a new department at his firm, he had many new opportunities to make lasting impressions of his business acumen on his colleagues and superiors at the water cooler. He usually walked away from these impromptu meetings wondering if he had left them thinking more about his rambling communication skills than his brilliant ideas. He asked me,

“How should I handle these moments appropriately?” This is what I told him:

Outside your home, ALL speaking is public speaking. There is no such thing as private speaking.

You’re not alone if your someone who feels it’s less intimidating to deliver a prepared speech than to communicate off the cuff in a more informal setting. However, conversations on the elevator, or at the water cooler, can do as much to boost your career as giving a formal presentation. 

So, how do you master your communication for impromptu meetings and on-the-spot interaction?

Effective Communication Tip to Be a Powerful Leader 1: Have something to say that is of interest and topical.

Keep up with the news, and peruse your corporate report or newsletter regularly. Have two or three relevant things to say at all times. You can even “rehearse” with a trusted friend for those chance encounters with CEOs.

Effective Communication Tip to Be a Powerful Leader 2: Focus on others.

The silver bullet in business and politics is the Like Factor, but it’s easy to concentrate so hard on what others are thinking of you, you forget that even VIPs care what others think of them. Know what is going on in your company so you can congratulate people on their achievements or refer to a previous conversation. For example, “How was that trip you took last week?” Your sincere interest in people will make a lasting impression.

Effective Communication Tip to Be a Powerful Leader  3: Ask questions to start a conversation.

A bright but introverted friend of mine has a gregarious wife who often drags him to parties where he doesn’t know anyone. He used to sit in a corner with a drink in his hand, inspecting the carpet. Then I showed him the question-asking technique. At the next gathering, he asked the hostess about her work. “I’m an emergency room nurse,” she said. “What is your average day like?” he responded. They talked for an hour. As the couple prepared to leave, the hostess told my friend’s astonished wife, “Your husband is the most scintillating conversationalist I’ve ever met.”

Moral: When you make people feel important, letting them talk about themselves and sharing what they know, you earn a reputation as a brilliant conversationalist, even if you’ve hardly said a word.

Effective Communication Tip to Be a Powerful Leader 4: Praise others.

For example, be sure to boast about your entire team rather than your own communication efforts. Say how proud you are of them and offer highlights of their accomplishments. It makes you much more likable, and the unavoidable implication is that you are a good leader.

Effective Communication Tip to Be a Powerful Leader

5: Overcome shyness.

When you find yourself in an elevator with a VIP, forget the power plays and do what would make your mother proud. Be cordial, smile, breathe deeply, and take the initiative. Say, “Good morning Mr./Ms. Big Shot. I don’t know if you remember me. I am Patricia Fripp, and I work in the communication department.”

Then congratulate them on a recent success – a speech, published article, award, or contract. Or mention very briefly an achievement in your department: “Did you hear how we saved the company a quarter of a million dollars?” You’ve got seconds to connect, so don’t try to pin Big Shot down.

Perhaps Big Shot will stop to continue the chat when you reach your floor, but more likely you’ve planted the seeds for future conversation.

My challenge to you is to apply these tips to your next conversation and then when you are preparing for your next presentation, use my free  FRIPP Speech Model cheat sheet to structure your presentation so your words will have the most impact.

Be remembered and repeated,

Patricia Fripp


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XTRAcredits is the yellow pages for everything and anything continuing education and professional development credit related. offers a catalogue of on-demand professional development courses available at anytime. Anywhere. And are accredited for CE Credits when you need them. About Patricia Fripp
Hall of Fame keynote speaker, executive speech coach, sales presentation skills expert, and author, Patricia Fripp ( simplifies and demystifies the process of preparing and presenting powerful, persuasive presentations. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance identified her presentation training as one of the best investments you can make in your career. Called “one of the 10 most electrifying speakers in North America” by Meetings and Conventions, Patricia delivers high-content, entertaining, dramatically memorable presentations. The first female president of the National Speakers Association, she is now virtually everywhere with ( Learn essential new skills and accelerate your career while maintaining your professional accreditation.

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