Posts Tagged ‘Executive speeches’

How Do You Follow Steve Jobs? Part 2: The Charisma Challenge

Apple's Tim Cook

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.

FAQ: What should I know about my audience?

FAQMy 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.

“Job Number One for a CEO….Spokesperson-in-Chief”

what ceo must doClick on the web site of the Albright Group, a leading reputation management firm here on the East Coast, and you’ll find this great statement by co-founder J.R. Hipple: “Job number one for a CEO is to serve as spokesperson-in-chief, as the behavior and tone from the top set expectations for employees, and tell customers what they should expect from the company.”

Hipple is a much sought-after advisor on leadership communications, as well as issues and crisis management. When I asked him about the quote recently, he explained what years of working with corporate, nonprofit, and academic organizations and executives had taught him: the principal responsibility of the CEO is to be the one who communicates the vision and values of the organization.

“While most leaders understand that at a certain level,” he added, “too often leaders are not intentional enough about making communication a major part of their job.”

And that can be a big problem, especially when a leadership team is trying to execute a new strategic plan. “The number one reason strategic plans fail,” Hipple said, “is lack of execution. And typically that is because of a communication failure.”
Hipple noted that, “When CEOs are sitting in the parking lot before they go into the office, most are not thinking about communication as a top 5 priority. But they should be.”

Part of the problem is lack of preparation. “The typical CEO comes up through finance, or sales and marketing, or a technical division,” Hipple said, “where they don’t have much need to communicate to a far flung organization.”

Interestingly, Hipple also believes that, when it comes to communication, some CEOs are too dedicated to teamwork. “Teamwork is great, and some CEOs get their jobs by always putting the team first,” he said. “But when it comes to major initiatives like a strategic plan, or when it comes to dealing with a crisis, the CEO must step to the front. He or she has to be the spokesperson-in-chief.”

FAQ: How Should I Use Statistics?

FAQMy 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..

How Do You Follow Steve Jobs? Part 1:The Power of a Story

COOK imagesSteve Jobs may well have been the best CEO speech maker ever. (Check out Carmine Gallo’s book  for an excellent analysis of the reasons why). So imagine the pressure on the guy who came after him to perform well at the podium. That guy, of course, is Tim Cook, who took over as Apple CEO in 2011. In the next couple of posts, I’ll take a look at how Cook is doing.

Cook has clearly decided to make corporate social responsibility a much higher priority for Apple than it was in the past. He has done a wonderful job of highlighting that new commitment through the power of… a story. At a speech in December accepting an award from his alma mater Auburn University, he told the audience about a day growing up in his small Alabama home town. He was a kid, cycling home on a new 10-speed, when he passed a huge cross, burning in front of a house that belonged to a black family.  Klansmen circled the cross chanting racial slurs.  Cook heard glass break; He yelled, “Stop!”

One of the men lifted his hood — it was a deacon Cook recognized from a local church. Startled, Cook pedaled away.

“This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever,”  Cook said.  ‘For me, the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred and a fear of anyone different than the majority.”

That is simply one of the best uses of a story by a CEO ever — it’s personal, it has drama, it’s linked to America’s historic struggle for racial justice. I guarantee no one in that audience, or anyone who has watched the video, will ever forget that day in Cook’s life.

And of course, after telling the story, Cook drew a direct connection Apple’s commitment to social responsibility.  He said the cross burning convinced him no matter what you do in life, human rights and dignity are values that must be acted upon. And the conclusion:  Cook’s Apple is a company that believes deeply in “advancing humanity.”