Posts Tagged ‘employee communications’

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.”

Inspiration is More than Information

onion_logoIn a recent blog post, Pete Weissman, award-winning speechwriter and speaker who is founder of Thought Leader Communications, uses an Onion headline to make a great point about CEO communication.

The headline: “Jim Caldwell Provides Lions Players with Printouts of Inspiring Halftime Speech.” Weissman notes that while using a printed speech to inspire a football team would be a ridiculously terrible idea, CEOs often do something almost as bad: they try to inspire by overloading their audience with information.

“[H]ow many times have you sat through a presentation where the speaker filled every inch of the PowerPoint slide with text and expected to somehow inspire you?” he asks. The answer, of course, is `way too often.’

To inspire, a CEO has got to go way beyond assembling facts and reciting statistics. To give a speech that fires up employees and staff, Weissman recommends CEOs start by asking themselves three questions:

Does my speech have a good balance between appealing to the head and appealing to the heart?

Will delivering this speech “rally the troops” much more than just handing them a printout of the text?

Does the conclusion of my speech lift up the audience’s spirits?

 

If the answers to these questions is “no,” the chances are better that your speech will wind up in The Onion than in Vital Speeches of the Day.

John Mattone’s Expert Interview: Jeff Porro on Speechwriting

mattone logoMy thanks to John Mattone for profiling me as part of the “Expert Interview” feature of his blog. Mattone is a powerfully engaging, internationally-acclaimed keynote speaker and top-ranked executive coach. He is also widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on corporate culture, culture transformation and leadership. (You can learn more about Mattone’s experience and publications here.)

His interviews highlight experts who help executives take their leadership skills to the next level. It was a great interview to do, and I hope you find it useful.

Here’s a preview:

When should leaders and executives consider hiring a professional writer?

Whenever executives find they are not engaging their key audiences — inspiring them, moving them to action, persuading them — it’s time to hire a pro.

You’ll find the whole interview here.