Posts Tagged ‘employee communications’

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.

 

Leading Voices: Mike Daniels, Tech Pioneer, Former Chairman and CEO of Network Solutions

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

In this space, we profile top executives who use the spoken word effectively as part of their corporate communication strategy.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Mike Daniels, the former chairman and chief executive of Network Solutions, the Northern Virginia-based domain registration company. Daniels, a true pioneer of high tech in the Washington, D.C. area, currently sits on the board of directors of Blackberry, CACI International and Mercury Systems, all publicly traded technology companies.
When I talked to Daniels, he was vehement about vital link between the spoken word and the success of a CEO.
“It’s remarkable,” he 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.”
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Daniels shared more great insights about the role of public speaking in corporate success.
“Many of the technology people who are very smart and great technologists are not able to communicate their ideas,” Daniels told the Post. “They tend to be introverts focused on the technology. You need to lift your head up, see the strategic picture.” But the ones who became successful leaders, he said, “have had the skill to communicate their message and the mission to their employees.”
Daniels knows what he’s talking about, since he’s known just about all the technology greats: Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Jeffrey P. Bezos, the late J. Robert Beyster, (founder of Science Applications International) and of course, the late Steve Jobs — “the best I ever saw in Silicon Valley in 40 years.”
Daniels shared with the Post that his own public speaking skills date back to his schoolboy days, when he won first prize and a cool $50 cash in the local Rotary Club’s debate contest. After that, he entered every oratory contest he could and became skilled enough to win a debating scholarship to Northwestern University.
When I interviewed him, I asked him whether most companies realize how important a CEO’s communication skills are.
“Based on my forty year business career,” he said. “I’d have to say it’s an underappreciated asset. While many organizations recognize how important speeches are, many others don’t.”

The 10 Commandments of Effective Executive Communications

10 commandments tabletLooking for ways to make your CEO the best “corporate communicator in chief” possible? Take a look at a recent blog post by Tim Fiala, SVP at Text100, an NYC based communications firm. He’s put together a really useful list of “commandments” for public relations pros who want to make the most effective use of their CEOs. The whole list of ten is worthwhile, but I thought these three were especially powerful.

Commandment #7. Populate your remarks with stories and examples that add a human element to your communications. Also, avoid overuse of data and technical terms that can be difficult to visualize and distract from your narrative.

I could not agree more, though it can be tough to get CEOs to back off from overuse of data. Fiala also points out why stories of actual humans are so important: “the typical audience processes less than ten percent of the words they hear from a speaker or presenter. What they do remember are colorful or humorous anecdotes that they can relate to their own condition or situation.”

#6. Have a vision for the future you are invested in that wins converts to your cause

In particular, Fiala says, a leader has to make clear “that you know where the market is headed, you understand the trends that are important drivers, you have a strong grasp of what it will take to get there and that you understand what it will take to win.”

#2. Understand your audience’s WIFM. Connect with every audience by identifying with their wants and needs. What’s in It For Me is about showing empathy and giving people a reason to care.

This would be MY Commandment #1. I like to say that preparing an effective presentation starts long before fingers touch a keyboard. As Fiala puts it, “the best CEO communicators identify beforehand [my emphasis] what their audience’s triggers are and address them directly in subtle and not so subtle ways.”

My only reservation about Fiala’s list is his Commandment #1:Speak extemporaneously whenever practical.

I’ve found that not all CEOs speak well off the cuff. In fact, as I’ve written in a piece on Ragan.com, some can be disastrous. What is important is that CEOs work with their speechwriters and presentation coaches so they can come across to an audience as relaxed and genuine.