Leading Voices: Mike Daniels, Tech Pioneer, Former Chairman and CEO of Network Solutions

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

In this space, we profile top executives who use the spoken word effectively as part of their corporate communication strategy.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Mike Daniels, the former chairman and chief executive of Network Solutions, the Northern Virginia-based domain registration company. Daniels, a true pioneer of high tech in the Washington, D.C. area, currently sits on the board of directors of Blackberry, CACI International and Mercury Systems, all publicly traded technology companies.
When I talked to Daniels, he was vehement about vital link between the spoken word and the success of a CEO.
“It’s remarkable,” he said. “If you have two growth companies headed by equally smart guys, where one can deliver an enthusiastic speech, lay out the mission of the company and encourage people to work smarter and harder and the other can’t…it makes a world of difference to the success of the company.”
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Daniels shared more great insights about the role of public speaking in corporate success.
“Many of the technology people who are very smart and great technologists are not able to communicate their ideas,” Daniels told the Post. “They tend to be introverts focused on the technology. You need to lift your head up, see the strategic picture.” But the ones who became successful leaders, he said, “have had the skill to communicate their message and the mission to their employees.”
Daniels knows what he’s talking about, since he’s known just about all the technology greats: Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Jeffrey P. Bezos, the late J. Robert Beyster, (founder of Science Applications International) and of course, the late Steve Jobs — “the best I ever saw in Silicon Valley in 40 years.”
Daniels shared with the Post that his own public speaking skills date back to his schoolboy days, when he won first prize and a cool $50 cash in the local Rotary Club’s debate contest. After that, he entered every oratory contest he could and became skilled enough to win a debating scholarship to Northwestern University.
When I interviewed him, I asked him whether most companies realize how important a CEO’s communication skills are.
“Based on my forty year business career,” he said. “I’d have to say it’s an underappreciated asset. While many organizations recognize how important speeches are, many others don’t.”

Leading Voices: Ian Altman, International Keynote Speaker, Multi-Bestselling Author, and Growth Strategist

gmr_logo_invertedIn this space, we profile top executives who use the spoken word effectively as part of their corporate communication strategy.

 

Ian Altman is the CEO of Grow My Revenue, as well as an in-demand keynote speaker, bestselling author, and growth strategist. Speeches and presentations have always been a critical part of his business outreach.

While he says “I’m fortunate that I’ve always been comfortable speaking in front of an audience,” he’s also worked hard to develop his natural talent. By investing in training, seeking feedback, and analyzing each of his presentations, he’s learned some powerful lessons. One of the most important can be summed up as: make it about them, not about you.

It’s very easy, Altman says, for a speaker to focus on him or herself: trying to find just the right words and searching for ways to make sure the presentation will benefit the speaker.

This leads to two big problems.

First, if the speech is all about you, the chances are you’ll get nervous, because you’ll feel judged every second you’re speaking. If instead you concentrate on what the audience wants and needs, you take the focus away from yourself and tend to relax.

In addition, shifting the focus away from yourself makes it much more likely you’ll be able to engage and even capture an audience. Presentations that deliver benefits to the people in the audience are much more powerful than those that describe all the great things a speaker can do.

Another major lesson Altman’s learned is that, for executives, a speech or presentation is not “just talk. It’s a performance.” This is a perspective that Altman credits to Michael Port, author of Steal The Show and one of the most respected performance coaches for top speakers.

That means, first, that a presentation should use stories. Why? “Our brains work differently when we hear stories,” Altman says. “Stories make it easier for audiences to focus on what a speaker says, understand it and remember it.”

In addition, to be an effective performance, most speeches or presentations should have “an arc, like that of a three act play.” The overall talk and each module within that talk should lay a foundation, build a conflict, and then deliver on a resolution.

Altman uses that structure to set up conflict in the presentation – a successful approach to sales that suddenly didn’t work, a triumph over great odds, etc. “An element of drama really gets the audience engaged,” he says. Ultimately, the performance has to be genuine. You can’t fake authenticity.

And finally, Altman reminds us that the key to any great keynote is ensuring your audience takes away information they can apply to their lives, businesses, or future. To accomplish that, the speaker has to put in the time necessary to research the audience and the host organization. “Make sure the message is not generic, but hits the listeners at their core.”

Once you have those elements, Altman says, you have to do three simple things…”rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.”

 

The 10 Commandments of Effective Executive Communications

10 commandments tabletLooking for ways to make your CEO the best “corporate communicator in chief” possible? Take a look at a recent blog post by Tim Fiala, SVP at Text100, an NYC based communications firm. He’s put together a really useful list of “commandments” for public relations pros who want to make the most effective use of their CEOs. The whole list of ten is worthwhile, but I thought these three were especially powerful.

Commandment #7. Populate your remarks with stories and examples that add a human element to your communications. Also, avoid overuse of data and technical terms that can be difficult to visualize and distract from your narrative.

I could not agree more, though it can be tough to get CEOs to back off from overuse of data. Fiala also points out why stories of actual humans are so important: “the typical audience processes less than ten percent of the words they hear from a speaker or presenter. What they do remember are colorful or humorous anecdotes that they can relate to their own condition or situation.”

#6. Have a vision for the future you are invested in that wins converts to your cause

In particular, Fiala says, a leader has to make clear “that you know where the market is headed, you understand the trends that are important drivers, you have a strong grasp of what it will take to get there and that you understand what it will take to win.”

#2. Understand your audience’s WIFM. Connect with every audience by identifying with their wants and needs. What’s in It For Me is about showing empathy and giving people a reason to care.

This would be MY Commandment #1. I like to say that preparing an effective presentation starts long before fingers touch a keyboard. As Fiala puts it, “the best CEO communicators identify beforehand [my emphasis] what their audience’s triggers are and address them directly in subtle and not so subtle ways.”

My only reservation about Fiala’s list is his Commandment #1:Speak extemporaneously whenever practical.

I’ve found that not all CEOs speak well off the cuff. In fact, as I’ve written in a piece on Ragan.com, some can be disastrous. What is important is that CEOs work with their speechwriters and presentation coaches so they can come across to an audience as relaxed and genuine.

The Spoken Word: A Vital Tool for EA’s

WE-2Earlier this month I had the chance to speak WashingtonExec’s Executive Assistant Committee Dinner. My topic — “Improving Your Public Speaking Skills.” I shared some tips on how the EA’s could improve their own presentations (tip #1: writing for the eye is fundamentally different than writing for the ear.) I also shared my thoughts on ways they could help their principals improve their speeches (Start by making sure his or her speech is not generic, but instead fine tune it to resonate with a specific audience.)

My thanks to EA Committee Chair Jana DiCarlo, Founder & Principal of Backbone, LLC, for the invitation. A terrific group of listeners, armed with great questions and comments.

January 21st: Porro at the Mic in Arlington, VA

rotary circlePlease join me on January 21, when I speak to the Arlington Rotary Club on “Communicate Better to Boost Your Business — Secrets of a Fortune 500 Speechwriter.” The meeting is from 12:00-1:30pm at Washington Golf & Country Club, 3017 N. Glebe Rd, Arlington, VA. You can learn more here.

I hope to see you!