Well, that honeymoon didn’t last long. Less than two months into her new job as CEO of GM, Mary Barra is face-to-face with a huge crisis: GM has admitted that the company knew for more than a decade about a defective ignition problem that cost motorists their lives, but it began recalling vehicles only in the past month.
Barra has yet to give a speech about the problem, but she took on the crisis in a short video to GM employees, and has given a press conference. (She is due to testify before Congress soon.)
She did a pretty good job in those early remarks. In the video, she made very clear that she understood how serious the problem is. “Terrible things happened,” she said. And she got personal, saying that the loss of life “hits home to me as a mother.”
She also said that, while GM had apologized, she knew that was just a first step. In her press conference she added, “I take full responsibility for the work going forward. Our goal is something like this never happens again.”
To be sure, she never quite said, “This is GM’s fault. We did wrong, and we’re going to fix it.” I suspect that’s because of influence of company lawyers.
Still, she’s made a good start. I hope she gives a major speech, and keeps moving in the right direction.
Unless you’ve been literally hibernating, you know that the Microsoft board has chosen Satya Nadella to become the software giant’s new CEO.
To re-energize the mammoth company, Nadella is going to have to restore the confidence of Microsoft customers, employees, and investors. And to get that done, it will help a lot if he can give great speeches and presentations.
So…can he or can’t he? The final answer will come only after Nadella’s had the chance to work with speechwriters and presentation coaches, but early indications are…mixed.
The good news: if you look at his past speeches and presentations, he has a pretty lively presence (especially for an engineer). He doesn’t drone. He speaks clearly, with good pauses and emphasis in the right places. So good potential there.
The not so good news: he’s very devoted to statistics and jargon and doesn’t like to talk about human beings much (himself included.) It’s easy to find phrases like “topline growth was 2X,” “inflection point,” etc. It’s very hard to find any stories or drama.
I cut him some slack because he’s been the head of very technical divisions and his audiences have been pretty specialized. Still, he’ll have to work hard if he wants to be able to rally the troops.
GM CEO Mary Barra
Very exciting news out of Detroit that General Motors has chosen Mary Barra as its new CEO, making her the first woman to head an automaker. The reaction to Barra’s appointment has been enthusiastic, with almost every analyst making the point that Barra has done a terrific job as a GM executive, and should be a great CEO.
Having taken a look at a couple of her speeches, I’d add that she has the potential to be excellent at one of a CEO’s most important roles – using speeches and presentations to engage critical audiences (internal and external). For example, give a listen to her commencement speech at Kettering University (formerly GM Institute), from which she graduated in 1985. She connects with the new graduates in the audience well– praising their Millennial generation, while also gently teasing them about short attention spans and devotion to social media.
She also shares some personal stuff very effectively: She talks about her own time at Kettering (and pokes fun her generation’s technological backwardness), and she mentions her own teen-age kids, saying she’s learned a lot about Millennials from them.
All great stuff. Unfortunately, when she comes to the five pieces of advice she wants to share with the new graduates, they are the fairly standard exhortations you can hear from almost any commencement speaker: “Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard” … “Address challenges head-on”… “Change the world” …and so on.
Still, I know how hard it is to say anything fresh in one of these speeches. I hope she continues to connect with audiences, use humor effectively, and share some of her personal story. If she does, I’m betting she’ll be one of the best CEOs at using the spoken word powerfully and effectively.
Jan Day Gravel is a super executive coach, who also edits “Leading Edge,” the online newsletter of Leadership Arlington, a great organization that inspires and encourages leaders in Arlington, Virginia. She was nice enough to ask me to do a piece for her in the November issue. You’ll find it here, where you can see what I have to say about everything from strong starts to powerful finishes.
After I was on a panel with Karen Bate (PR guru and social media consultant), we got to talking about writing an article on how speechwriters could make better use of the impact of social media. We approached the folks at the Ragan Communications‘ website, and they were interested. Karen’s and my effort just appeared on the Ragan home page. Take a look. I think you’ll find some interesting tips on how speechwriters can incorporate social media into the speeches (especially keynotes) they write.