Posts Tagged ‘CEO speeches’

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.”

FAQ: How Should I Use Statistics?

FAQMy basic advice on using statistics is: tell stories instead. But I’m actually not a statistic abolitionist. Statistics can be effective in a presentation, under two conditions.

First, use them sparingly.

Second, find a way to describe the human impact of the statistics you use.

The first condition is pretty straightforward. I find that executives as a group really love statistics. That’s understandable, because statistics are vital when you want to know how your organization is performing. But putting too many statistics in a speech is a sure way to make audience members’ eyes glaze over.

While it’s okay to use a few statistics, don’t just drop numbers on the audience. Present the well chosen stats in ways humans can relate to.

For example, if you say that roughly 45,000 people die each year in automobile accidents, that number is so big, it doesn’t really register. But people will be moved if you make it more dramatic, by saying that is the equivalent of a fully loaded passenger jet crashing…with no survivors …every day for a year.

Or you can paint a word picture to illustrate the statistic: “The energy saved by this simple measure would be enough to power all the homes and businesses in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia for the rest of the 21st Century.”

Check out It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It by speech coach Joan Detz for additional ways to make statistics resonate..

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!