Posts Tagged ‘Executive speeches’

But Can Satya Give a Great Speech?

nadellaUnless 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.

But Can Mary Barra Give a Great Speech?

GM CEO Mary Barra

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.

A Jew, a Muslim, and a Speech

clear empty podiumAs you can tell from it’s title, “A Jewish Comic And A Muslim Researcher Walk Into A Party …”, was a charming NPR story earlier this month that showed how people from very different backgrounds can work together. It’s also worth a listen because it offers some great advice to executives who want to become better public speakers.

The piece told the story of Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim policy analyst who has advised the White House, and Judy Carter, a Jewish comic and author who teaches people to make use of humor in public speaking. Through a combination of circumstances, they met, managed to overcome misunderstandings, and wound up working together as Judy helped Dalia become a better speaker.

Judy’s challenge was that, as a professional policy analyst, Dalia was most comfortable using statistics, PowerPoint, graphs, and more statistics. But Dalia came to realize she needed to connect with audiences in a more human way.

Judy worked with Dalia, helping her unleash her sense of humor and fold it into a presentation. (Note to readers, I generally advise speakers to be very cautious about humor. But if you use it, it doesn’t hurt to work with a humor professional.)

In addition, Judy said, “But humor is only part of the formula needed to captivate an audience.  [Dalia] also needs to reveal of herself some personal heart stories that dig deeper into her life.”

Dalia was reluctant to do that, too, but eventually came around. When she spoke to a huge meeting, in front of 7,000 people, Dalia not only included humor, she told the story of being warned not to go to the mosque the day after 9/11, because it would be too dangerous. But when she got there she found “half the mosque was filled with members of other faith communities” who had come to demonstrate support. At that moment she realized that in that mosque she was face to face with America’s promise.

Every speaker can learn from Dalia and Judy:

  • Cut way back on the statistics
  • Use humor (carefully)
  • Find personal stories that connect with your topic and the audience.


Million Dollar Tips

Carmine Gallo

Carmine Gallo

A couple years ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an article, The Gift of Gab, which began with these words: “Give a speech. Win a client.” It was a terrific piece that described how sales people were discovering speeches could be a much better way to win business than traditional sales calls.

Earlier this month, presentation guru Carmine Gallo wrote a piece for Forbes that adds another dimension to that argument. Gallo describes how “a manager for one of the world’s most recognized technology companies” dramatically improved his presentations to the company’s potential customers. As a result, he put himself on track for a promotion to “country manager,” a position that carries with it bonuses and salary of $1million. Not too shabby.

Gallo also describes the techniques the manager has used (based on tips from Gallo) to take his presentations to the next level:

  • His presentations are visually engaging. (No bullets on his slides.)
  • His presentations obey the rule of three.
  • His presentations introduce heroes and villains.

I can’t guarantee those techniques will earn you a million bucks, but I can promise that they will beef up any speech or presentation.

How to Succeed as an Exec? Use the Spoken Word…

leadership arlJan 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.