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High Impact Communication part 1 of 3: Saying it with Substance

***UPDATE: Click here for posts two and three of this series.

What you say has high impact when listeners:

  •  Remember your message beyond the conversation or presentation
  • Have a change of heart brought about by the message
  • Take action as a result
  • Influence others to join forces with you

In Lead Positive, I talk about the three assets you can leverage when you speak: substance, sizzle, and soul. Each is important and distinct enough to call out as a separate element, but in reality, they overlap and reinforce each other.

Substance is the content of what you say. It is the intelligence quotient of your message.

Sizzle is the color and detail. It is the emotional quotient, the true, heartfelt expression of the feelings—your feelings—about your message.

Soul refers to the why—why the message is so important to your listeners, your mission, and you. Think of it as your meaning quotient.

In this first of three posts on high-impact communication, I will explore how to “say it with substance.”

Substance: Your Credibility Card

All too often leaders speak from scripts and slideshow decks into which they had little or no input. It is obvious when this occurs, and it radically shortchanges the speaker’s impact. No matter how accurate or elegant your talking points may be, you must engage with the material and make it your own before you say it.

The strong substance of your words and your delivery can create a magnetic pull that draws listeners in. When you speak, people know that you have done your homework. Your wisdom shines through loud and clear. Use this credibility as an asset to move your team forward.

How to Say it With Substance

Use the following Self-Others-Situation framework from Lead Positive to craft a substantive leadership message.


Ask yourself: What do I want to accomplish with this message? Inform? Convince? Reinforce?

As you craft your message, ensure that the substance reflects this goal, or what I call your “speech act.” Substance-oriented speech acts give you a strong platform and frame your point of view. They help you create a through-line for what you want to make the listener understand.


What do you want from those who are listening to your message? Always be sure you have a clear call to action—even if the action is a change of heart or shift in attitude rather than an actual step to be taken. One good way to establish your call to action is to fill in this sentence:

“As a result of hearing my message, I want you, my listeners, to…”

The call to action is one of the most overlooked aspects of saying it with substance, yet it is vital to your leadership effectiveness. Providing a clear call to action gives your listeners something to do. You want your listeners to own your substance as if it were their substance.


The situation framework helps you communicate the context, timing, urgency, and feasibility of your message. Think of it as your case for change.

Take these lines in Winston Churchill’s famous “The Finest Hour” speech:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.

This is a great example of how important establishing the overall context and case for change can be. You don’t need to speak volumes to describe the situation. Say just enough to ensure your call to action and positive vision for the future make sense in the minds of your listeners.

Can you think of any other great leaders whose messages are full of substance?

Stay tuned: Next week, I will discuss how to make your leadership message sizzle in the imaginations of your listeners!

Photo by: Cschamber

Dr. Kathy Cramer

Kathryn D. Cramer, PH.D.
Founder and Managing Partner, The Cramer Institute