Posts Tagged ‘CEO speeches’

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.

Thought Leadership on CEO Presentations from “smartCEO”


smartceo_logoYes, I’m now officially a “Thought Leader,” at least on smartCEO the web and magazine community for business leaders. You can read my first post on how great CEOs can give great presentations here. And you’ll find a ton of other useful information for CEOs on the site and in the pages, too.

How Do You Follow Steve Jobs? Part 2: The Charisma Challenge

Apple's Tim Cook

Apple’s Tim Cook

Running any Fortune 50 company is hugely complicated and difficult. But the CEO of Apple faces a challenge that is uniquely daunting. He or she must not only ensure the company remains profitable and that Apple stays at the forefront of innovation. Apple’s CEO must also try to try to live up to the standards of charismatic communication set by the legendary Steve Jobs.

The reviews of Tim Cook’s performance to date as manager-in-chief have been mixed. How is he doing as communicator-in-chief?

He has certainly done some things very well. I described in an earlier post how he made effective use of a personal story to announce Apple’s renewed commitment to corporate social responsibility. He also got great reviews for his testimony before Congress last year on a very difficult subject, how Apple avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes.

But the venue where Jobs cemented his reputation as a master communicator was at Apple’s premier event, its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). If you take a look at Cook’s performance at the 2013 event, it’s clear he’s trying hard and has learned important lessons from Jobs.

Cook kept his remarks pretty short, used wonderful slides and other multi-media elements. Like Jobs, he acted as a master of ceremonies, bringing out speakers from inside and outside the company to make their own slick presentations.

Still, the fact is — as a speaker– Cook simply doesn’t achieve the charismatic control of an audience that Jobs did. At the same time, WWDC made clear than one other Apple executive is a world class communicator from the podium.

Carmine Gallo is a well-known communications coach who has written several excellent books on Jobs’ presentation techniques. He praised the WWDC presentation by Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. Gallo noted that Cook introduced Federighi as “Superman.” “Cook may have been referring to Federighi’s presentation skills,” Gallo wrote. “Federighi commanded 70 percent of the entire presentation and clearly stole the show, given the reaction he attracted in the audience and among bloggers who covered the event.”

Giving Federighi such a prominent role is a gamble for Cook. Cook knows he’ll never be the presenter Jobs was, but he can give Apple fans and customers the razzle dazzle they expect by relying on Federighi and possibly other executives. The risk is that Cooks most important audiences might start thinking that Federighi not Cook should be the executive filling Jobs’ shoes.

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.

“Job Number One for a CEO….Spokesperson-in-Chief”

what ceo must doClick on the web site of the Albright Group, a leading reputation management firm here on the East Coast, and you’ll find this great statement by co-founder J.R. Hipple: “Job number one for a CEO is to serve as spokesperson-in-chief, as the behavior and tone from the top set expectations for employees, and tell customers what they should expect from the company.”

Hipple is a much sought-after advisor on leadership communications, as well as issues and crisis management. When I asked him about the quote recently, he explained what years of working with corporate, nonprofit, and academic organizations and executives had taught him: the principal responsibility of the CEO is to be the one who communicates the vision and values of the organization.

“While most leaders understand that at a certain level,” he added, “too often leaders are not intentional enough about making communication a major part of their job.”

And that can be a big problem, especially when a leadership team is trying to execute a new strategic plan. “The number one reason strategic plans fail,” Hipple said, “is lack of execution. And typically that is because of a communication failure.”
Hipple noted that, “When CEOs are sitting in the parking lot before they go into the office, most are not thinking about communication as a top 5 priority. But they should be.”

Part of the problem is lack of preparation. “The typical CEO comes up through finance, or sales and marketing, or a technical division,” Hipple said, “where they don’t have much need to communicate to a far flung organization.”

Interestingly, Hipple also believes that, when it comes to communication, some CEOs are too dedicated to teamwork. “Teamwork is great, and some CEOs get their jobs by always putting the team first,” he said. “But when it comes to major initiatives like a strategic plan, or when it comes to dealing with a crisis, the CEO must step to the front. He or she has to be the spokesperson-in-chief.”