Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article for Ragan.com, “Should you let your CEO go unscripted?.” It was prompted by the fact that one of the reasons Donald Trump was doing stunningly well was that his presentations were ad-libbed. As a result, a lot of pundits said, he was coming across as much more “genuine” and “authentic” than typical politicians.
I warned, however, that most CEO’s should NOT follow Trump’s example. Instead, they should work with a speechwriter and presentation coach to deliver prepared speeches in a convincing, natural sounding way.
Well, it turns out going unscripted doesn’t even work for Trump himself. Much of the recent analysis of the campaign has highlighted attempts by Trump’s team to keep him on message. They’ve even got him using a teleprompter during his presentations. And sure enough, he seemed to be doing his best and closing the gap with Hillary Clinton when he followed a disciplined approach.
Unfortunately for Trump, he returned to “off-the cuff” big time, starting with first Presidential debate. How the Washington Post described a recent speech tells it all.
Donald Trump’s campaign announced Saturday evening that the candidate would soon deliver a nine-sentence critique of comments Hillary Clinton made months ago about many of the millennials supporting her primary rival, Bernie Sanders… It didn’t work. It took Trump nearly 25 minutes to read the brief statement because he kept going off on one angry tangent after another — ignoring his teleprompters and accusing Clinton of not being “loyal” to her husband, imitating her buckling at a memorial service last month, suggesting that she is “crazy” and saying she should be in prison.
There is no doubt that eing genuine is now costing Trump votes, lots of votes.
Both politicians and CEOs should remember that those who live without a script can just as easily die that way, too.
In a recent blog post, Pete Weissman, award-winning speechwriter and speaker who is founder of Thought Leader Communications, uses an Onion headline to make a great point about CEO communication.
The headline: “Jim Caldwell Provides Lions Players with Printouts of Inspiring Halftime Speech.” Weissman notes that while using a printed speech to inspire a football team would be a ridiculously terrible idea, CEOs often do something almost as bad: they try to inspire by overloading their audience with information.
“[H]ow many times have you sat through a presentation where the speaker filled every inch of the PowerPoint slide with text and expected to somehow inspire you?” he asks. The answer, of course, is `way too often.’
To inspire, a CEO has got to go way beyond assembling facts and reciting statistics. To give a speech that fires up employees and staff, Weissman recommends CEOs start by asking themselves three questions:
Does my speech have a good balance between appealing to the head and appealing to the heart?
Will delivering this speech “rally the troops” much more than just handing them a printout of the text?
Does the conclusion of my speech lift up the audience’s spirits?
If the answers to these questions is “no,” the chances are better that your speech will wind up in The Onion than in Vital Speeches of the Day.
At the White House, even the most rudimentary speech is read by about a dozen people (if not more). This is also a terrible process for any writer since their words are invariably dumbed down by some political operative or second-guessed by some literal-minded lawyer, or rewritten by some staff person with a literary bent who has the great American novel in his desk drawer.
Matt Latimer, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush,
Politico, July 16, 2016
When the insider books about the Trump campaign start popping up late this year, it will be fun to find out exactly how those lines from Michelle Obama’s speech made it pretty much verbatim into Melania’s. My guess is a Trump speechwriter or researcher started off with a great idea – Let’s look at past speeches by would-be first ladies that were well received. But somehow the writing and vetting process got so messed up that what should have been background research became lines in final script.
I’m sure that whoever worked on the speech is scared to death of hearing “You’re fired!” from The Donald himself. But for the speechwriting profession as a whole, I think the Melania flap is very good news.
Why? Because it underscores that fact that – even in an age when new forms of communication seem to pop up every minute – the prepared speech remains critically important. Social media, of course, has become an extremely powerful tool. But when people are deciding whether someone has what it takes to be a leader, they want to see and hear how that person does at a podium. That’s why the speeches of aspiring leaders (and even their spouses) are scrutinized so closely. And that’s why they should be.
Business executives and political leaders who want to inspire audiences should be sure to include strong speechwriters, and great presentation coaches on their communication teams. Oh yeah, and you should invest in some good plagiarism detection software, too.
My thanks to John Mattone for profiling me as part of the “Expert Interview” feature of his blog. Mattone is a powerfully engaging, internationally-acclaimed keynote speaker and top-ranked executive coach. He is also widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on corporate culture, culture transformation and leadership. (You can learn more about Mattone’s experience and publications here.)
His interviews highlight experts who help executives take their leadership skills to the next level. It was a great interview to do, and I hope you find it useful.
Here’s a preview:
When should leaders and executives consider hiring a professional writer?
Whenever executives find they are not engaging their key audiences — inspiring them, moving them to action, persuading them — it’s time to hire a pro.
You’ll find the whole interview here.