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Leading Voices: Cardinal Bank President Kevin Reynolds

Cardinal BankWith this post, we begin a new feature of the blog: every month or so we’ll profile top executives who use the spoken word effectively as part of their corporate communication strategy.

Kevin Reynolds serves as president of Cardinal Bank and as a member of the executive management committee of Cardinal Financial Corporation, one of the largest financial institutions in Virginia. He says he had the good fortune to learn about the importance of public speaking long before he became a business executive. “My dad had thousands of people working for him, and he knew that leadership communication was extremely important to his job,” Reynolds says. “I learned a lot from watching him in action.”

In particular, “My dad believed strongly that you should always prepare carefully, focusing on the outcome you want from a speech right from the start.” His father also worked hard to convey to each audience the importance of what he was saying, and to leave his listeners with a clear call to action.

These lessons were reinforced when Reynolds went to college. “Some of the best classes I took at William and Mary were speech and debate,” he recalls. “And when I worked as a waiter at Colonial Williamsburg, I had to learn a new ‘script’ every day and deliver it persuasively.”

As Cardinal’s President, Reynolds speaks often to both internal and external audiences. “My goal when I speak to our team members is to motivate them, and especially to leave them with the feeling they are on the front line of our company, and the most important connection to our customers.”

In preparing a speech, “I am an outline person,” Reynolds says. Several weeks before he is to give a presentation, he starts to develop his key messages. Then he puts together a detailed outline highlighting the messages. “Where I can, I also like to lace my speeches with some humor,” he adds,” and if possible I try to relate a personal story to the topic.”

Once the outline is complete, he memorizes it, so that when he’s at a podium he doesn’t have to depend on a script or even notes.

While presentations are now a vital part of his job, he admits that in his early days as an executive, he was “pretty nervous” when he had to speak in front of a group. But, with experience, he has relaxed. And now, “I find public speaking uplifting and exhilarating, which I hope energizes the audience, too.”

End with a Bang not a Whimper

FFC big1445168_origMy thanks to the editors of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce’s blog for publishing my piece on strong endings.
As I note in the post,
What too many business leaders don’t realize is that, when it comes to motivating an audience, the ending is the most important part of an engaging presentation. Why? Because all of us tend to remember the last thing we hear a speaker say. A weak ending, therefore, usually means your presentation won’t have much impact, even if the beginning and middle are well done.

Unfortunately, I hear far too many executives finish up their remarks to an audience by saying something like this:

“Well, that’s about all I have to say, and I see my time is about up.”

“So now I’ll answer any questions.”

No listener is going to be moved by that kind of an ending.

You’ll find the complete post, including advice on endings that do grab audiences, here.

Remembering Yogi: A Speechwriter’s Tribute

Yogi-1024x721When Yankee great Yogi Berra died last week at the age of 90, the tributes and reminiscences were certainly not limited to people from the sports world. Berra, a three time MVP, was one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, but as the New York Times’ Bruce Weber noted, “[he] may be more widely known as an ungainly but lovable cultural figure, inspiring a cartoon character and issuing a seemingly limitless supply of unwittingly witty epigrams…” It’s no surprise, then, that in addition to sportswriters he was warmly remembered by entertainment writers, language analysts, political columnists, and others.

To which I have to add: he was also beloved by speechwriters everywhere. His “yogi-isms” –those great non sequitur quotes (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it….”) are a wonderful resource.

To be sure, as Yogi said put it, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” So it’s often safest to “attribute” the quotes to him.

Still, the quotes can be pure gold,  not just because they’re funny, but also because they appeal to everyone. I can’t think of an audience they would offend, and invoking a beloved figure like Berra can help get even the most jaded listener on your side. Moreover, their folk wisdom quality is a subtle way for a speaker to let the audience know that, though I’m a CEO or world-class expert or earn lots more money than you, we can connect through Yogi.

One of my favorite clients was the head of a giant trade association. He liked to have two kinds of quotes in his speeches — quotes from famous philosophers and scientists, and quotes from Yogi. That told the audience that he was a deep thinker, but one of them, too.

Yogi’s life may be over, but his words and warmth live on.


Too Many Wrong Kinds of Speeches, Too Few of The Right Ones

CW imagesDavid Murray — editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association, and a friend– has a great piece in  IABC’s Communication World Magazine. He argues that leaders are “giving far too many of the wrong kinds of speeches, and far too few of the right ones.”

The problem is that CEOs and other top executives don’t yet realize role of a leader’s speech “has changed as much during the last decade as it did during the last several centuries.”

The advent of modern communications technologies means it is no longer necessary for a leader to go in front of a group of people simply to convey information. YouTube, blogs, on Twitter, and other social media channels can do that really, really well.

Instead, Murray says, leaders should stand at the podium only when they have an urgent message to convey to a crucial audience. Sadly, most leaders don’t take that approach, which is why we’ve all had to sit through boring presentations, rambling on-stage interviews, and deadly PowerPoint talks.

Interestingly, master communicator Lee Iacocca understood the difference between the right kind of CEO speech and the wrong one, long before the social media age.  In 1994 he wrote, “In every speech I give the object is to motivate. You can deliver information in a letter or tack it on a bulletin board.”


Three Great Pieces on How to Use PowerPoint [Well]

powerpointAlmost every time I give a presentation on how to “Communicate Better to Grow Your Business,” someone asks for advice on how to use PowerPoint effectively. My basic response is, think about all the terrible PowerPoint presentations you’ve sat through, and don’t do what those presenters did.

More seriously, I tell people that there are a ton of excellent articles, posts and even presentations on the Web describing the good and  bad ways to use slides and other visual elements. Here are three I find especially useful:

  • My friend and true “trade show magician,” Charles Greene, wrote this terrific blog post a few years ago. He offers very clear, pointed advice on how to avoid “death by PowerPoint” and instead take your audience with you on a pleasurable road trip through your presentation.
  • It makes sense that the American Speech Language Hearing Association would know a thing or two about effective presentations. Here they boil their PowerPoint advice down to a terrific list of Do’s and Don’t’s.
  • Finally, you should definitely read this e-booklet by marketing guru supreme, Seth Godin. With witty prose, and plenty of examples, he describes how to avoid “Really Bad PowerPoint.”