Posts Tagged ‘corporate speeches’

“What kind of people are they working for?”

Vital Speeches' David Murray

Vital Speeches’ David Murray

David Murray’s official titles include Editor, Vital Speeches of the Day and Vital Speeches International, as well as Executive Director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. But for me, his most important role has been as the kind of observer and critic every profession needs – offering good humored but pointed praise, prods, advice and critiques of the work we scriptwriters-for-others do.

While I was working with a client who was hesitant to begin giving speeches to employees, I stumbled across a blog post David did a while back, modestly titled Murray’s Manifesto.

What exactly, Murray asked, do employees want to know from their top executives?
Murray made his answer pretty darned clear.

“They want to know what kind of people they are working for.
Let me repeat: They want to know what kind of people they are working for.
That’s all they want to know: What kind of people they are working for.”

In particular, they want to know how smart their leaders are, how honest, empathetic, forward looking, and committed to their employees.

The challenge, of course, is that it is not enough for top executives simply to have these qualities, they must also convince key audiences that they do.

Which brings me back to one of my all-time favorite quotes, which I trot out at least once a year. It’s from Mike Daniels, the former chairman and chief executive of Network Solutions who sits on the board of directors of CACI International and many other technology companies.

“It’s remarkable,” Daniels said. “If you have two growth companies headed by equally smart guys, where one can deliver an enthusiastic speech, lay out the mission of the company and encourage people to work smarter and harder and the other can’t…it makes a world of difference to the success of the company.”

Speaking vs. Talking: Lessons for CEOs

82097_the-battlestar-galactica-presidential-podiumAs expected, President Trump’s inauguration speech was followed by an avalanche of analysis from former presidential speechwriters and other pundits. For CEO’s and their speechwriters, one of the most interesting pieces was a New York Times OpEd by John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia.

McWhorter pointed out that Trump communicates at the podium by “talking” rather than “speaking.” That is, in his speeches “Mr. Trump talks the way any number of people would over drinks.”

This conversational, informal approach to speeches certainly worked for candidate Trump. “Mr. Trump’s come-as-you-are speaking style was part of his appeal, making the scion of a wealthy New York family seem relatable to someone in the rural Plains,” McWhorter argued.

It’s far too early to predict whether the new president’s “talking” style will work from the White House bully pulpit. But should corporate and nonprofit CEO’s try shifting from speaking to talking?

The short answer, based on my experience, is… “It depends.” The chat-with-folks-the-way-you-would-in-a-bar approach can work well on some occasions, especially when introducing speakers, or presenting awards. But when a leader is articulating a vision, or making an argument for change, it’s critically important to be clear and concise and–above all–inspiring.

For most CEO’s, I’ve found the best way to do that is to start with a prepared script. Without one, CEO’s can be tempted to go off on tangents, losing the audience’s attention (and even respect).

However, even though I write speeches for a living, I know all too well that a prepared script is not a guarantee of success. A leader who glumly recites his or her text can lose the audience just as quickly as the leader who goes off on tangents.

That’s why I strongly recommend CEO’s work with a writer to develop a strong script, and work with a speech coach to practice ways to deliver that speech naturally and persuasively.



Worst Business Cliche’s of 2016

clichesOne of the joys of January is the appearance of the “Annual List of the Worst Business Clichés,” compiled by PR pro Rob Deigh. Deigh produces his list every year to encourage every writer to get rid of “those fetid phrases that dull our otherwise-brilliant conversations and writing.”

I have to admit that the list also usually makes me feel a little embarrassed. You see, every once in a great, great while a couple of those clichés crept into speeches I wrote. I’ll blame the client for that.

You can find the full 2016 list on Deigh’s website, but here are the some of the ones I see popping up all too regularly these days. (Deigh’s punchier, clearer alternatives are in parens.)

  • It is what it is (the facts are)
  • Circle back (discuss again)
  • Touch base (contact)
  • Close the loop (tell everyone involved)
  • At the end of the day (ultimately)
  •  Mission critical (essential)

Seeing these clunky words and phrases compiled in a single list makes me want to add another resolution to my New Year’s goals:

Work harder to stamp out cliche’s in my work.

After all, it’s a no-brainer, right?


Check out Robb Deigh’s book, How Come No One Knows About Us?

AT&T CEO Tackles Race in America….Pretty Darn Well

Few speech topics are more difficult to handle well than race in America. Audiences are polarized; it’s hard to avoid cliché’s and platitudes without setting off a fire storm; and choosing even a single wrong word can offend. This year, of course, giving a speech about race has become orders of magnitude more daunting because of the killings of African Americans by police, deadly attacks on law enforcement, and a presidential campaign tinged with charges of racism.

Last month, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson stepped up to the challenge when he spoke in Dallas to his company’s convention of Employee Resource Groups. I thought he did a terrific job – offering some fresh thinking, heartfelt reflection and powerful ideas.

The speech also demonstrates once again how strong speech writing techniques can boost the impact of the spoken word. For example:

Storytelling. The core of the speech is the story of Stephenson’s close family friend Chris, an African American doctor who  served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a powerful recounting of the slurs, slights and injustice Chris had to endure throughout his life, simply because of the color of his skin.

 Making it Personal. In addition to sharing the story of his close friend, Stephenson very frankly discussed his own ignorance of what it is like to be black in America, and how much he had to learn.

Surprise! I’m sure Stephenson surprised (and more likely shocked) a lot of people when he said, “Being tolerant is for cowards.” Yikes! And I’ll bet it made everyone in the audience pay attention to his explanation: people must go beyond passive tolerance and instead work hard to “move into uncertain territory,” establishing mutual understanding and respect.

A Call to Action. Stephenson called on more companies to launch tough decisions about race, and more leaders to speak forcefully against injustice.  “If this is a dialogue that’s going to begin at AT&T,” he said, “I feel like it probably ought to start with me.”

Off the cuff revisited

trump podiumAlmost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article for, “Should you let your CEO go unscripted?.” It was prompted by the fact that one of the reasons Donald Trump was doing stunningly well was that his presentations were ad-libbed. As a result, a lot of pundits said, he was coming across as much more “genuine” and “authentic” than typical politicians.

I warned, however, that most CEO’s should NOT follow Trump’s example. Instead, they should work with a speechwriter and presentation coach to deliver prepared speeches in a convincing, natural sounding way.

Well, it turns out going unscripted doesn’t even work for Trump himself. Much of the recent analysis of the campaign has highlighted attempts by Trump’s team to keep him on message. They’ve even got him using a teleprompter during his presentations. And sure enough, he seemed to be doing his best and closing the gap with Hillary Clinton when he followed a disciplined approach.

Unfortunately for Trump, he returned to “off-the cuff” big time, starting with first Presidential debate. How the Washington Post described a recent speech tells it all.

Donald Trump’s campaign announced Saturday evening that the candidate would soon deliver a nine-sentence critique of comments Hillary Clinton made months ago about many of the millennials supporting her primary rival, Bernie Sanders… It didn’t work. It took Trump nearly 25 minutes to read the brief statement because he kept going off on one angry tangent after another — ignoring his teleprompters and accusing Clinton of not being “loyal” to her husband, imitating her buckling at a memorial service last month, suggesting that she is “crazy” and saying she should be in prison.

There is no doubt that being genuine is now costing Trump votes, lots of votes.

Both politicians and CEOs should remember that those who live without a script can just as easily die that way, too.