Posts Tagged ‘CEO speeches’

How Do You Follow Steve Jobs? Part 1:The Power of a Story

COOK imagesSteve Jobs may well have been the best CEO speech maker ever. (Check out Carmine Gallo’s book  for an excellent analysis of the reasons why). So imagine the pressure on the guy who came after him to perform well at the podium. That guy, of course, is Tim Cook, who took over as Apple CEO in 2011. In the next couple of posts, I’ll take a look at how Cook is doing.

Cook has clearly decided to make corporate social responsibility a much higher priority for Apple than it was in the past. He has done a wonderful job of highlighting that new commitment through the power of… a story. At a speech in December accepting an award from his alma mater Auburn University, he told the audience about a day growing up in his small Alabama home town. He was a kid, cycling home on a new 10-speed, when he passed a huge cross, burning in front of a house that belonged to a black family.  Klansmen circled the cross chanting racial slurs.  Cook heard glass break; He yelled, “Stop!”

One of the men lifted his hood — it was a deacon Cook recognized from a local church. Startled, Cook pedaled away.

“This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever,”  Cook said.  ‘For me, the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred and a fear of anyone different than the majority.”

That is simply one of the best uses of a story by a CEO ever — it’s personal, it has drama, it’s linked to America’s historic struggle for racial justice. I guarantee no one in that audience, or anyone who has watched the video, will ever forget that day in Cook’s life.

And of course, after telling the story, Cook drew a direct connection Apple’s commitment to social responsibility.  He said the cross burning convinced him no matter what you do in life, human rights and dignity are values that must be acted upon. And the conclusion:  Cook’s Apple is a company that believes deeply in “advancing humanity.”


Steve Ballmer’s Still Got It

Ballmer at UW

Steve Ballmer at UW

Keep talking, Steve.

Steve Balmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, may have had some problems as leader of the software giant, but he was always high energy, and he showed that speeches by top executives definitely don’t have to be boring.

Case in point: this spring he gave the commencement speech at the University of Washington’s graduation ceremonies. It was vintage Ballmer.

After being introduced, he announced that so far it had been a “little low-key in here today for my taste.” Then he tossed his graduation cap and started stomping around the stage.

At the top of his lungs, he announced, “If you ever told me, in my wildest dreams, that I’d be in the end zone at Husky Stadium, lower bowl full of 40,000 people, I would have told you, ‘no way.’ So, I have exactly two thoughts for you. One — touchdown, Washington! And two, go Dawgs!”

He kept up that level of energy for fifteen minutes, but it wasn’t just verbal fireworks. He brought a very inspiring and focused three-part message to the grads.

First, “Carpe diem.” “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You know what you can do if you grab the wrong [opportunity]? Drop it and pick up another one. It’s OK. Seize the day.”

Next, “Have a point of view.” He illustrated that advice with the  story of Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey. “He developed a point of view that allowed him to create both Twitter and Square,” Ballmer said. “Point of view creates opportunity. You need to be a person who takes a point of view with the opportunities that you’re given.”

And finally,  he called on the graduates to “be hardcore,” which he defined as being tenacious, determined, patient, industrious, and thinking and working long-term.

Ballmer used two examples: Microsoft and Nelson Mandela. “Think of Mandela and his constant, non-stop, long-term fight against the apartheid that finally paid off,” Ballmer said. “Opportunity is about seizing what’s there, it is about having a point of view — but it’s also about patience and determination.”

Ballmer wrapped thing up by turning to two earlier speakers seated on stage. “The two of you guys said you are respectively 22 and 30 and don’t what you’re doing [after graduation]?… . “I am 58-years-old and I, too, don’t know what I’m doing again!”

Great stuff!

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.

FAQ: About Q&A’s [Part 1]

FAQWhen executives are invited to speak, they are usually asked to take questions after the formal presentation. Q&A sessions are always a little risky, because they are out of your control. You decide exactly what you want say in your speech, but what listeners wants to ask is (usually) their choice. The good news is you can manage that risk and make Q&A time work for you, but only if you prepare. In the next couple blogs, I’ll offer some thoughts on how to do that.

The most obvious way to prepare is to work with staff or friends to try to anticipate possible questions (especially tough ones), come up with good answers, and then learn those answers cold. If you’re writing for an executive, make sure he or she is never “too busy” for that kind of advance work. If you’re the exec, make time to prepare.

At the same time, keep in mind that sharing your knowledge or opinions is only one of the goals of answering audience questions. Another important goal is showing that you’re a leader, someone audience members should take seriously. The best way to do that is to stay calm under pressure.

That’s true even if you’re asked a question that stumps you. Mark Ein, CEO of Venturehouse Group, LLC, a long-time Washington, DC investor and entrepreneur told me the way to handle a stumper is to keep cool, acknowledge that the question is a good one, you don’t have answer right now and but will give it more thought.

Above all, don’t fake it! I guarantee that giving a phony answer will come back to haunt you.

FAQ: How Should I End My Speech?

FAQTo paraphrase Lee Iacocca, the object of every speech is to motivate, which makes the last words your audience hears from you critically important.

Here are some ways to end with a bang, not a whimper. (You’ll find more in my book, Words that Mean Success.)

Bookend. One of the classic and most effective ways to end a speech is to circle back to the beginning of the presentation at the end. President Obama does this a lot.

Do Something out of the Ordinary. Look for an unusual quote (I found one from daredevil Evel Knievel), a little known event in history, a case of strange bed fellows, etc. Use anything that makes the audience sit up and take notice. One warning: be very careful about using humor. (You’ve heard this from me before.) In particular, it is very risky to end with a joke.

T.A.P. (Talk About People). Try to end your speech by humanizing the larger point you’re making. Find an evocative story or vignette that involves an actual human being doing something. The more specific you can be (“Engineer John Smith is on the front line of the data security revolution…”) the better.