Apple’s Tim Cook
Running any Fortune 50 company is hugely complicated and difficult. But the CEO of Apple faces a challenge that is uniquely daunting. He or she must not only ensure the company remains profitable and that Apple stays at the forefront of innovation. Apple’s CEO must also try to try to live up to the standards of charismatic communication set by the legendary Steve Jobs.
The reviews of Tim Cook’s performance to date as manager-in-chief have been mixed. How is he doing as communicator-in-chief?
He has certainly done some things very well. I described in an earlier post how he made effective use of a personal story to announce Apple’s renewed commitment to corporate social responsibility. He also got great reviews for his testimony before Congress last year on a very difficult subject, how Apple avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes.
But the venue where Jobs cemented his reputation as a master communicator was at Apple’s premier event, its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). If you take a look at Cook’s performance at the 2013 event, it’s clear he’s trying hard and has learned important lessons from Jobs.
Cook kept his remarks pretty short, used wonderful slides and other multi-media elements. Like Jobs, he acted as a master of ceremonies, bringing out speakers from inside and outside the company to make their own slick presentations.
Still, the fact is — as a speaker– Cook simply doesn’t achieve the charismatic control of an audience that Jobs did. At the same time, WWDC made clear than one other Apple executive is a world class communicator from the podium.
Carmine Gallo is a well-known communications coach who has written several excellent books on Jobs’ presentation techniques. He praised the WWDC presentation by Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. Gallo noted that Cook introduced Federighi as “Superman.” “Cook may have been referring to Federighi’s presentation skills,” Gallo wrote. “Federighi commanded 70 percent of the entire presentation and clearly stole the show, given the reaction he attracted in the audience and among bloggers who covered the event.”
Giving Federighi such a prominent role is a gamble for Cook. Cook knows he’ll never be the presenter Jobs was, but he can give Apple fans and customers the razzle dazzle they expect by relying on Federighi and possibly other executives. The risk is that Cooks most important audiences might start thinking that Federighi not Cook should be the executive filling Jobs’ shoes.
My smart-alecky answer to this question is: “Everything.”
My more serious answer is: when you’re preparing a speech, it’s not enough to write carefully crafted sentences and phrases, or to present elegantly worded talking points. A successful speech is one that engages the audience. To do that, you must discover what audience members are most concerned about. What is worrying them? What are their hopes? What are they curious or confused about?
Sometimes, when a CEO is addressing his or her organization’s employees for example, that kind of research is fairly easy. (Although CEOs have been known to ignore their employees’ concerns. They are usually not around too long.) In other cases, you simply have to do the research.
When I have a client who is speaking to large meeting, for example, I’ve found that the meeting organizer is an invaluable asset. Get in touch with him or her and ask lots of questions about who exactly will be in the audience, what they’re probably thinking about, what speakers they have heard in the past (or have heard earlier in the meeting), etc.
And then go online to research the sponsoring organization, check recent news stories, and social media. Anything that will help you understand the folks who will be listening to you is valuable.
Remember: A generic speech given to a unique audience is almost always a speech that fails.
My basic advice on using statistics is: tell stories instead. But I’m actually not a statistic abolitionist. Statistics can be effective in a presentation, under two conditions.
First, use them sparingly.
Second, find a way to describe the human impact of the statistics you use.
The first condition is pretty straightforward. I find that executives as a group really love statistics. That’s understandable, because statistics are vital when you want to know how your organization is performing. But putting too many statistics in a speech is a sure way to make audience members’ eyes glaze over.
While it’s okay to use a few statistics, don’t just drop numbers on the audience. Present the well chosen stats in ways humans can relate to.
For example, if you say that roughly 45,000 people die each year in automobile accidents, that number is so big, it doesn’t really register. But people will be moved if you make it more dramatic, by saying that is the equivalent of a fully loaded passenger jet crashing…with no survivors …every day for a year.
Or you can paint a word picture to illustrate the statistic: “The energy saved by this simple measure would be enough to power all the homes and businesses in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia for the rest of the 21st Century.”
Check out It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It by speech coach Joan Detz for additional ways to make statistics resonate..
In an earlier post on how to handle Q&A sessions, I warned that they can be risky, and I offered a couple of suggestions on how to cope. But the fact remains, if you finish with Q&A’s, the last words the audience hears from you will be out of your control. And as Angela DeFinis, a true industry expert in professional speaking, once told me, “That last question can lead your whole speech down a rat hole.”
No executive wants that to happen.
How to prevent it? DeFinis has a great suggestion: Be sure to reserve a little time for yourself after answering those pesky questions. Then step to the podium and deliver your final, final remarks. The last words your audience hears will be the ones you want.
Stories give your audience a direct experience of whatever it is you want your speech to convey.
Ian Griffin, Silicon Valley technology speechwriter supreme, recently posted an excellent piece on Professionally Speaking, his great blog. Griffin reported on a presentation at the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association that analyzed the benefits of taking a “Hollywood approach” to writing and delivering presentations.
Hall of Fame keynote speaker and executive speech coach Patricia Fripp joined Hollywood story expert and script consultant Michael Hauge to discuss the importance of story telling in speeches. In particular, they demonstrated how vitally important stories are when it comes to eliciting emotions in an audience.
The whole post is a must read for speechwriters and executives, especially Hauge’s 10 Essential Elements of Every Great Story.