Lucidity CEO Michele Gilliam Morrissey Talks Tips for Communicating Competence

Knowing how language and relatability correlate with your skills is vital

Michele G. Morrissey,  CCC-SLP (Image: DASH Coordinating and Marketing/Stephen Miller)
Michele G. Morrissey, CCC-SLP (Image: DASH Coordinating and Marketing/Stephen Miller)

Ever wonder how becoming a top-notch communicator could boost your career? Enter Michele Gilliam Morrissey, CEO of Lucidity, a corporate communications and consulting firm.

Morrissey is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington, DC., but, for those who know her, she is an important catalyst for helping leaders to elevate their public image platforms and expand their global reach. Clients call on Morrissey for all things communication, including event-specific preparation for high stakes media appearances such as the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Caucus and the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Providing expert advice on how to become a powerful, persuasive and effective communicator, Morrissey helps individuals and organizations to effectively use verbal and non-verbal communications skills to maximize their impact.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders from Hampton University and a master’s degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a corporate speech-language pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) and a certified P-ESL Certified Accent Modification Instructor. caught up with the Maryland native to discuss all things communication, including strategies for expressing competence and confidence. You teach leaders to become extraordinary by harnessing the tenets of effective communication. What does it mean to communicate competence, whether from the platform or boardroom?

Michelle Gilliam Morrissey: Well, the term competence connotes skill set. Communicative competence, whether speaking from the platform or in the boardroom, is one’s ability to make their message relatable and accessible in a manner that paves a road to change, transition or transformation. I don’t feel satisfied as a speaker if I have not brought change in some way. I want to be effective, not merely tolerated.

Communicative competence is critical to your work as a speech-language pathologist. What prompted you to begin your career in this specialized field?

I was fortunate enough to be raised in an environment that facilitated discovery of self-awareness. I knew I wanted to be in a profession that allowed me to serve. My mother was a speech-language pathologist, hence my introduction to the profession. Many of our successes or failures in life are secondary to our ability to communicate effectively.

Additionally, I’ve always been inspired by the fact that some of the best of the best have overcome communication disorders and gone to accomplish great things. Actor James Earl Jones, golfer Tiger Woods, as well as chief national correspondent for ABC News and Emmy award-winning journalist Brian Pitts all had challenges with communication.

Speaking of communication challenges, what do you consider to be the biggest mistakes you’ve observed from public speakers?

I find the biggest mistake to be preoccupation with audience perception. I encourage clients to just be. Audiences find transparency to be refreshing. When people can relate to you, they are more open to your message. Another mistake that yields similar consequences would be to present yourself as The Great Pontificator. What I mean by that is that you must present yourself with a balance of having expertise and knowing you have good news to impart— more like a facilitator, not the long-awaited problem solver.

That makes sense, which leads me to a related question: What’s the connection between competence and building rapport with your audience?

The research is becoming increasingly clear on this simple truth: We are literally created to connect. So many communicative situations, both simple and complex, go awry when we perceive rejection. To avoid the distraction of listener perception, establishing rapport is critical. It is part of the life-force that ignites the creative genius in a speaker.

When rapport is established, the needs of the listeners join with preparation and knowledge of the speaker. The result is a prescriptive and transformational message. Establishing rapport makes way for an “advanced deposit” of credibility that provides the benefit of the doubt. Rapport buys you time until competence is firmly established. It also allows the speaker to gain familiarity with the audience’s current knowledge base.

What’s the biggest barrier to effective public speaking?

I would have to say that a lack of confidence is secondary to lack of preparation—that is a hard state to overcome. It is beginning of an avalanche of unfortunate events. When a speaker is ill-prepared, it creates a transferable and contagious sense of anxiety. The speaker will either aggrandize the audience or attempt to overcome with devises such as overuse of humor, defensiveness or addressing something other than the subject at hand, all of which compromise competence from the platform or as the case may be, the boardroom.

Sometimes speakers think that confidence is linked to doing what other people do—or even trying to be just like them. Do you think speakers should aim to simply be themselves?

When someone aims to be like another, they not only forsake the gift within, they set themselves up for failure. It is simple, yet hard for some to grasp. Not only are we created to connect, we are created to influence and be influenced. We are continuously imbibing our surroundings. Through life, we definitely are drawn to those with common likes and attributes. If we are true to who we are, we certainly find ourselves with those who are like us. If I like me and you are like me, then I am likely to have a sense of value, connection and fondness for you, too. That is the perfect atmosphere for individualism, not duplication.

However, trying to be someone else is the best way to craft an inauthentic, not convincing, and ineffective presentation. People admire transparency and authenticity. It inspires others to self-acceptance and authenticity. I seek to deliver this one thing: That which is in me that the world should not do without. Everyone should seek to deliver to the world that which is in them that the world should not do without. It’s not arrogance; it’s awareness of your value. It’s actually an act of gratitude and service.

Being authentic doesn’t mean that you won’t get nervous while presenting. How do you deal with nervousness?

I enlist audience participation. When I feel nervous, it is a result of feeling disconnected somewhere. Once I can find a few to connect with me, contagion and excitement are just around the corner.

That’s great advice. Expanding a bit on the last question, what’s been your Achilles’ heel, so-to-speak, in mastering the craft of public speaking?

What comes to mind first is anything that affects delivery. For me, it is being behind a lectern. The barrier of a lectern is very disconcerting and disconnecting for me. Also, monitoring my use of sarcasm, which I am unfortunately fluent in!

Thank you for your insight on this important topic. You’ve given us a great deal to digest and several key concepts to consider. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring speaker?

Know yourself and have intimate knowledge of your subject matter. Work both of those until you find a sense of joy. Don’t wait for perfection. Perfecting is a process. Do your thing and let it go. And, ultimately you should desire to be effective, not merely tolerated.

To keep up with Michele, visit LuciditySpeaks.

Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq. is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm specializing in professional development. Follow her on Twitter: @wsrapport or visit her website,