Archive for the ‘Presentation Tips’ Category

“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.

Off the cuff revisited

trump podiumAlmost 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 being 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.

Inspiration is More than Information

onion_logoIn 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.