Archive for the ‘Presentation Tips’ Category

Learning from Great Commencement Speeches

microphoneI admit it, when it comes to the use of analytics, I’ve been a skeptic. I know the use of sophisticated statistical analysis has yielded important insights in many fields. But in some areas, like being a sports fan, it seemed to squeeze out the fun, and in other areas, like speechwriting, I was convinced it really didn’t have much of a useful role.

Well, I may have to give up some of my Luddite ways. Quantified Communications is doing really interesting work to (in their words) “combine data science and human expertise to improve the way people communicate.”

One blog post in particular caught my eye. QC used a proprietary analytical tool to see what CEO’s could learn from the 13 best commencement speeches of all time (as selected by Business Insider.) In particular, key characteristics of the commencement speeches were compared to important elements of the average executive keynote.

Every CEO and speechwriter for a CEO should pay heed to the findings.

First, the outstanding commencement speakers were much better at building trust through confident, authentic language than the average CEO. The commencement speeches came “across as 42% more authentic and 15% more confident.”

However, where the CEOs really lagged behind was in using “clear and engaging language to keep the audience’s attention.”  The great commencement speeches were a stunning 81% clearer and 86% more engaging than the average executive keynote.

Now, as someone who has heard and read a lot of executive presentations, I must say this finding doesn’t surprise me. I just hope these analytics will give communication pro’s ammunition they can use to encourage clients to do a lot more to build audience trust and engage listeners.

Adventures in Leadership

adventure-bookI can say for certain that I’ve never before written a post about somebody who has spent twenty years crisscrossing the continents to climb the world’s highest mountains. Seattle’s Matt Walker has done just that, but what makes him of interest to “The CEO at the Mic,” is the insight he gained at 24,000 feet during one moonlight in the Himalayas: that the essence of adventure could be a powerful tool to connect people with their leadership potential.

Now Matt helps people make that connection, strengthening their leadership qualities through keynotes, workshops, and team building adventure exercises. On his blog he also profiles experts who could be helpful to leaders looking to step up their game. Recently he was kind enough to include me. The interview was a great experience, and I think you’ll find it useful.

Here’s a preview:

Okay… is it really possible to improve a speech simply by using different words?

Absolutely. Speechwriting is writing for the ear. That is much different than writing for the eye, which is what you do when you produce an article or an annual report.

The complete interview is here.

My thanks to Matt.

“What kind of people are they working for?”

Vital Speeches' David Murray

Vital Speeches’ David Murray

David Murray’s official titles include Editor, Vital Speeches of the Day and Vital Speeches International, as well as Executive Director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. But for me, his most important role has been as the kind of observer and critic every profession needs – offering good humored but pointed praise, prods, advice and critiques of the work we scriptwriters-for-others do.

While I was working with a client who was hesitant to begin giving speeches to employees, I stumbled across a blog post David did a while back, modestly titled Murray’s Manifesto.

What exactly, Murray asked, do employees want to know from their top executives?
Murray made his answer pretty darned clear.

“They want to know what kind of people they are working for.
Let me repeat: They want to know what kind of people they are working for.
That’s all they want to know: What kind of people they are working for.”

In particular, they want to know how smart their leaders are, how honest, empathetic, forward looking, and committed to their employees.

The challenge, of course, is that it is not enough for top executives simply to have these qualities, they must also convince key audiences that they do.

Which brings me back to one of my all-time favorite quotes, which I trot out at least once a year. It’s from Mike Daniels, the former chairman and chief executive of Network Solutions who sits on the board of directors of CACI International and many other technology companies.

“It’s remarkable,” Daniels 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.”

Speaking vs. Talking: Lessons for CEOs

82097_the-battlestar-galactica-presidential-podiumAs expected, President Trump’s inauguration speech was followed by an avalanche of analysis from former presidential speechwriters and other pundits. For CEO’s and their speechwriters, one of the most interesting pieces was a New York Times OpEd by John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia.

McWhorter pointed out that Trump communicates at the podium by “talking” rather than “speaking.” That is, in his speeches “Mr. Trump talks the way any number of people would over drinks.”

This conversational, informal approach to speeches certainly worked for candidate Trump. “Mr. Trump’s come-as-you-are speaking style was part of his appeal, making the scion of a wealthy New York family seem relatable to someone in the rural Plains,” McWhorter argued.

It’s far too early to predict whether the new president’s “talking” style will work from the White House bully pulpit. But should corporate and nonprofit CEO’s try shifting from speaking to talking?

The short answer, based on my experience, is… “It depends.” The chat-with-folks-the-way-you-would-in-a-bar approach can work well on some occasions, especially when introducing speakers, or presenting awards. But when a leader is articulating a vision, or making an argument for change, it’s critically important to be clear and concise and–above all–inspiring.

For most CEO’s, I’ve found the best way to do that is to start with a prepared script. Without one, CEO’s can be tempted to go off on tangents, losing the audience’s attention (and even respect).

However, even though I write speeches for a living, I know all too well that a prepared script is not a guarantee of success. A leader who glumly recites his or her text can lose the audience just as quickly as the leader who goes off on tangents.

That’s why I strongly recommend CEO’s work with a writer to develop a strong script, and work with a speech coach to practice ways to deliver that speech naturally and persuasively.

 

 

Inauguration Speech Advice Part 1: Learn from the Worst

170px-WGHardingI’m quite sure that Donald Trump’s speechwriting team will not be looking to me for advice on preparing his inauguration speech. But, what the heck, I’m going to offer some anyway, in my next couple blog posts.

Unsought bit of advice #1 … learn from Harding.

In the 1920’s, William Gibbs McAdoo a Democratic Senator from California, described the speeches of President Warren G. Harding, with these words:  “[A]n army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.”

Harding certainly got off to a really bad start, delivering an inauguration speech that is usually rated as among the worst, if not the very worst, ever given.

Just a few samples (I read it in full so you don’t have to.):

Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion, in grateful reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our confidence in the supreme fulfillment.

But America, our America, the America builded on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers, can be a party to no permanent military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.

The unselfishness of these United States is a thing proven; our devotion to peace for ourselves and for the world is well established; our concern for preserved civilization has had its impassioned and heroic expression.

With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political life, we may count upon her intuitions, her refinements, her intelligence, and her influence to exalt the social order. We count upon her exercise of the full privileges and the performance of the duties of citizenship to speed the attainment of the highest state.

The speechwriting lesson here could not be more clear: stay away from platitudes, clichés, and leaden phrasing.