Posts Tagged ‘employee communications’

What CEOs Should Learn From Commencement Speeches

Spring is my favorite part of the work year, because I really enjoy writing commencement speeches. Working on one last month, and thinking about what makes these speeches special, I realized that a good commencement address can do more than inspire graduates and their families. Commencement speeches can also teach most CEOs could learn a lot about public speaking from too. In particular:

Know Your Audience

The best commencement speeches are closely attuned to the concerns and interests of the audience. Good speakers not only connect with the graduating class but their parents and other loved ones, as well. In fact, the best speakers (or their writers) research the graduating class so they can highlight at least a couple of key events that happened during the school year.

CEO’s who want their speeches to have an impact should also take the time to learn what their audience is thinking. And, they should make sure key parts of their speech resonate with what’s on the minds of their listeners.

Make it Personal … and Funny

If you scroll through any list of best commencement speeches, you’ll find that the speakers shared personal details from their lives. Moreover, every one of them used humor — most of which was self-deprecating.

For CEOs, getting personal is a great way to connect with audiences, to show them you’re a human being just like they are. Granted, humor can be risky, but with a little work and practice, making gentle fun of yourself can be an effective way to get the audience on your side, too.

Inspire ‘Em

And in conclusion…. every, and I do mean every, good commencement speech ends with a bang! A rousing close that calls on the graduates to do great things, be the best they can be, refuse to let haters hold them back, and so on.

CEOs should remember that every audience wants to feel inspired at the end of a speech. Every corporate leader should try to end each speech with a vision for the company, a call to action for all employees, a dramatic new proposal for change, etc.

Try to be as inspiring at the best commencement speakers, and your speeches will get the results from the audiences most crucial to your success.

Executive Presence 2018

Executive presence is one of those terms that can mean a lot of different things, but I’ve always like the way John Beeson, principal of Beeson Consulting, defines it: “your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.”

In a column I wrote a while back for the Washington Business Journal, I explored with a couple of master executive coaches how executive presence is linked to public speaking. Late last year, Executive Coach Paul Geiger, author of Better Business Speech, offered some new perspective on the topic in an insightful CEOWORLD article.

His  “5 public Speaking Tips to Exude Executive Presence” are darn good. Two, in particular, stand out.

“Master the pause,” Geiger says. Terrific advice far too many executives ignore. “[T]he very best speakers know how to “play the silence in between.” … The interesting thing is that listeners really do pay attention to a deliberate gap in your spoken words. They perk up, anticipating what you’ll say next.”

In addition, Geiger counsels executives to “learn from the experts.”  When you know the leader you’re listening to has executive presence, watch closely what he or she does. Chances are you’ll observe several of the following characteristics:

  • Deliberate breathing
  • Full and varied gestures
  • Varied intonation (pitches are high and low, rhythms are fast and slow)
  • Purposeful and sweeping cadence
  • Appropriate eye contact
  • A clear, concise summation of the message (repeated often for emphasis)

Geiger’s article confirms that, while executive presence has many aspects, the key to projecting “mature self confidence” is the spoken word.

Learning from Great Commencement Speeches

microphoneI admit it, when it comes to the use of analytics, I’ve been a skeptic. I know the use of sophisticated statistical analysis has yielded important insights in many fields. But in some areas, like being a sports fan, it seemed to squeeze out the fun, and in other areas, like speechwriting, I was convinced it really didn’t have much of a useful role.

Well, I may have to give up some of my Luddite ways. Quantified Communications is doing really interesting work to (in their words) “combine data science and human expertise to improve the way people communicate.”

One blog post in particular caught my eye. QC used a proprietary analytical tool to see what CEO’s could learn from the 13 best commencement speeches of all time (as selected by Business Insider.) In particular, key characteristics of the commencement speeches were compared to important elements of the average executive keynote.

Every CEO and speechwriter for a CEO should pay heed to the findings.

First, the outstanding commencement speakers were much better at building trust through confident, authentic language than the average CEO. The commencement speeches came “across as 42% more authentic and 15% more confident.”

However, where the CEOs really lagged behind was in using “clear and engaging language to keep the audience’s attention.”  The great commencement speeches were a stunning 81% clearer and 86% more engaging than the average executive keynote.

Now, as someone who has heard and read a lot of executive presentations, I must say this finding doesn’t surprise me. I just hope these analytics will give communication pro’s ammunition they can use to encourage clients to do a lot more to build audience trust and engage listeners.

Adventures in Leadership

adventure-bookI can say for certain that I’ve never before written a post about somebody who has spent twenty years crisscrossing the continents to climb the world’s highest mountains. Seattle’s Matt Walker has done just that, but what makes him of interest to “The CEO at the Mic,” is the insight he gained at 24,000 feet during one moonlight in the Himalayas: that the essence of adventure could be a powerful tool to connect people with their leadership potential.

Now Matt helps people make that connection, strengthening their leadership qualities through keynotes, workshops, and team building adventure exercises. On his blog he also profiles experts who could be helpful to leaders looking to step up their game. Recently he was kind enough to include me. The interview was a great experience, and I think you’ll find it useful.

Here’s a preview:

Okay… is it really possible to improve a speech simply by using different words?

Absolutely. Speechwriting is writing for the ear. That is much different than writing for the eye, which is what you do when you produce an article or an annual report.

The complete interview is here.

My thanks to Matt.

“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.”