In 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.
At the White House, even the most rudimentary speech is read by about a dozen people (if not more). This is also a terrible process for any writer since their words are invariably dumbed down by some political operative or second-guessed by some literal-minded lawyer, or rewritten by some staff person with a literary bent who has the great American novel in his desk drawer.
Matt Latimer, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush,
Politico, July 16, 2016
… the timeworn method of repeating a clear message can still, over time, change minds and then outcomes.
Jeff Shesol, Five Myths About Political Speechwriting, Washington Post, July 2016
When the insider books about the Trump campaign start popping up late this year, it will be fun to find out exactly how those lines from Michelle Obama’s speech made it pretty much verbatim into Melania’s. My guess is a Trump speechwriter or researcher started off with a great idea – Let’s look at past speeches by would-be first ladies that were well received. But somehow the writing and vetting process got so messed up that what should have been background research became lines in final script.
I’m sure that whoever worked on the speech is scared to death of hearing “You’re fired!” from The Donald himself. But for the speechwriting profession as a whole, I think the Melania flap is very good news.
Why? Because it underscores that fact that – even in an age when new forms of communication seem to pop up every minute – the prepared speech remains critically important. Social media, of course, has become an extremely powerful tool. But when people are deciding whether someone has what it takes to be a leader, they want to see and hear how that person does at a podium. That’s why the speeches of aspiring leaders (and even their spouses) are scrutinized so closely. And that’s why they should be.
Business executives and political leaders who want to inspire audiences should be sure to include strong speechwriters, and great presentation coaches on their communication teams. Oh yeah, and you should invest in some good plagiarism detection software, too.
My 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.