Archive for the ‘Q&A’ Category

John Mattone’s Expert Interview: Jeff Porro on Speechwriting

mattone logoMy 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.


“Secrets of a Fortune 500 Speechwriter” at the Tower Club

rotary circleMy thanks to the terrific members of the Tyson’s Corner Rotary Club for inviting me to speak to them last month. They heard me share my “secrets of a Fortune 500 speechwriter,” and we had a great discussion sparked by thoughtful questions. Special appreciation to Program Chair Ingrid Parris-Hicklin and President Richard Lanier

Great CEO Speeches: An Interview with Jan Fox

Jan Fox

Jan Fox

Simply put, Jan Fox – speech coach extraordinaire, four time Emmy winner, author, and keynoter – is a dynamo. If you get a chance to hear one of her presentations, do NOT miss it! She’s amazingly engaging and informative. I recently had the chance to talk with her about the changing role of CEO speeches in the business world.

JP: How important is public speaking for an executive?

JF: Research shows that public speaking is the number one way to grow business. I think that’s especially true for a local business. The best advertising is face to face, so a CEO has to find a platform where he or she can speak to an audience. If a CEO is or wants to be a thought leader, it’s all the more important to be seen and heard.

JP: There have been a lot of changes in business and in communications technology in recent years. What impact have they had on CEO speeches?

JF: Sequestration, the ups and downs of the economy, smaller staffs, bigger workloads…when there is so much change going on, how a top executive speaks about change will determine how the people will follow – employees, investors, customers.

At the same time, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media have changed the way people respond to words. Now leaders have to be able to speak so their audiences can visualize what they’re talking about quickly. They have to speak in 12 -15 word sentences. Active voice. If they want the audience to remember anything they say, they have to use more stories. That can be very difficult for executives who are used to speaking in statistics and charts.

JP: As you know better than anyone, many CEOs are not only poor speakers, they are scared to even stand in front of an audience. How do you help them change?

JF: For me, the key is to find a starting point, to get my foot in the door. I never talk about the need to “get over your nerves,” I never use the phrases “self-confidence” or “self-esteem.”

Instead, I often coach from the outside in, looking for the small ways speakers are holding themselves in – clutching their elbows to their rib cages, crossing their hands over their belly buttons, their faces down as if to drool on their shoes. We make a few simple changes, they see themselves on a simple iphone video, and they start to feel more relaxed and confident.

JP: How do you build on those first small changes?

JF:I might have them throw away their script, and just write down a few words from each paragraph of the presentation. I’ll say, “Now just tell it to me.” I’ll show them how to build a visual power point – all pictures or graphics. They can look at the visual and say the whole speech without memorizing anything. They’re shocked that they can do it!

I’ll ask them, “What happens if you take a couple of steps to the right or left of the podium, and just tell people what you know, as if you were chatting with friends at a bar or in your living room?” They become “one of the group” – not alone at the front of the room.
At some point in the process — and you can never tell exactly where it will be – a light bulb comes on. They start to get it — to get comfortable with speaking. Once that light is on, everything else in the coaching process flows very smoothly. They won’t go back to being stiff, stilted, scared, and quickly forgotten.

To learn more from Jan Fox, check out her Web site, and her books and articles.

FAQ: What should I know about my audience?

FAQMy smart-alecky answer to this question is: “Everything.”

My more serious answer is: when you’re preparing a speech, it’s not enough to write carefully crafted sentences and phrases, or to present elegantly worded talking points. A successful speech is one that engages the audience. To do that, you must discover what audience members are most concerned about. What is worrying them? What are their hopes? What are they curious or confused about?

Sometimes, when a CEO is addressing his or her organization’s employees for example, that kind of research is fairly easy. (Although CEOs have been known to ignore their employees’ concerns. They are usually not around too long.) In other cases, you simply have to do the research.

When I have a client who is speaking to large meeting, for example, I’ve found that the meeting organizer is an invaluable asset. Get in touch with him or her and ask lots of questions about who exactly will be in the audience, what they’re probably thinking about, what speakers they have heard in the past (or have heard earlier in the meeting), etc.

And then go online to research the sponsoring organization, check recent news stories, and social media. Anything that will help you understand the folks who will be listening to you is valuable.

Remember: A generic speech given to a unique audience is almost always a speech that fails.

FAQ: About Q&A’s [Part 2]

FAQIn an earlier post on how to handle Q&A sessions, I warned that they can be risky, and I offered a couple of suggestions on how to cope.  But the fact remains,  if you finish with Q&A’s, the last words the audience hears from you will be out of your control. And as Angela DeFinis, a true industry expert in professional speaking, once told me, “That last question can lead your whole speech down a rat hole.”

No executive wants that to happen.

How to prevent it? DeFinis has a great suggestion: Be sure to reserve a little time for yourself after answering those pesky questions. Then step to the podium and deliver your final, final remarks. The last words your audience hears will be the ones you want.