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.
In this space, we profile top executives who use the spoken word effectively as part of their corporate communication strategy
Rohit Bhargava is a man of so many talents and accomplishments that listing them all would fill this entire blog entry. The short version is that he is a “non-obvious” trend curator, founder of the Influential Marketing Group, and an expert in helping brands and leaders be more influential. He is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of five books, has advised hundreds of global brands and teaches marketing at Georgetown University.
AND….he is the first executive featured in Leading Voices who not only uses the spoken word as a corporate communication strategy, but also generates revenue through his speeches.
Bhargava says that he “sort of fell into” the professional speaking part of his business. . “Over time, it was like going from waiting tables to starting a restaurant,” he says. He began his career as a writer, a pioneer branding and marketing blogger in the early years of the century. As the audience for his blogging grew, he started getting invited to be on panels – giving short presentations for free. After a few panel presentations, he realized “I had to find a way to stand out. Otherwise I was just wasting time by being forgettable.”
Once he got a reputation as a good speaker, he went from being a panel member, to being a panel moderator, to being asked to give solo presentations.
At first, these weren’t paid, but they were always an effective marketing tool. Moreover, the presentations gave Bhargava the chance to learn some important lessons about the spoken word. “I realized I had to tell more stories,” he says. “I learned to introduce complex themes at the start of my talk, and then come back to them. And I started to control my own visuals.”
As he developed his craft and his reputation continued to grow, instead of giving solo presentations for free he was delivering keynote addresses for pay, which is now an important income stream for him.
Among the keys to his current success as a speaker, Bhargava says, is that he insists on having an in-depth preparatory meeting or phone call with the organizers of each event. “I want to learn as much as possible about the audience.” In particular, he wants to hear from organizers, ‘What would you want the people listening to think or do differently as a result of hearing me speak.”
He also asks if there are sensitive topics or events he should stay away from. And he makes sure to ask what the audience might have heard before, and especially “what sounds clichéd to them.”
He enjoys the speaking part of his business, and is often asked by other executives or writers for advice on becoming speakers. First and foremost, Bhargava says, “Speaking leads to more speaking. If you have a chance to get in front of an audience – paid or unpaid – grab it.” Gradually, you’ll build a reputation, which can lead to for-pay opportunities.
He also strongly advises, “Get some good video of yourself. Not everyone can see you in person, but anybody who is thinking about booking you will want to see video.”
He emphasizes that he does mean good video. “Because it is so easy to get video these days, people who book speakers expect you to provide high quality video. So definitely avoid low quality phone photography.” Instead, invest in a professional videographer.
The spoken word is an important communication tool for every executive. Bhargava’s experience shows that for some it can be a key part of their business offerings, too.