Posts Tagged ‘Executive speeches’

End with a Bang not a Whimper

FFC big1445168_origMy thanks to the editors of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce’s blog for publishing my piece on strong endings.
As I note in the post,
What too many business leaders don’t realize is that, when it comes to motivating an audience, the ending is the most important part of an engaging presentation. Why? Because all of us tend to remember the last thing we hear a speaker say. A weak ending, therefore, usually means your presentation won’t have much impact, even if the beginning and middle are well done.

Unfortunately, I hear far too many executives finish up their remarks to an audience by saying something like this:

“Well, that’s about all I have to say, and I see my time is about up.”

“So now I’ll answer any questions.”

No listener is going to be moved by that kind of an ending.

You’ll find the complete post, including advice on endings that do grab audiences, here.

Speechwriter’s Revenge: Mark Sanford’s Former Scribe Tells All

Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford

Most books by professional speechwriters (including mine) reach a small, very small, audience: people who already write speeches, or people who want to. But a recent book by a speechwriting pro has drawn reviews and other coverage from a wide range of print and online media, including the Washington Post, MSN, The Weekly Standard, and a whole slew of blogs on politics and the media.

The book is THE SPEECHWRITER: A Brief Education in Politics, by Barton Swaim former speechwriter for Mark Sanford. Sanford, of course, was once governor of South Carolina and is now a member of the House of Representatives. The book has garnered so much press largely because Sanford became a national figure (okay, a laughingstock), when he had to confess that he had vanished from office not to hike the Appalachian trail, but for a tryst with his Latin American mistress.

The book doesn’t focus on that scandal, but dishes a lot about the harsh way Sanford treated his staff, as well as the challenge of writing speeches for a boss who didn’t have a clue about how to write or speak well. Swain found himself removing most of the good writing from the speeches he drafted and instead inserting his boss’s favorite jargon, cliché’s or historical allusions, no matter how misplaced. (Sanford loved it when Swain inserted a reference to Rosa Parks into a speech to an electric bus company.)

At one time or other, almost all of us have to suffer through  a bad boss or client. For those who haven’t  yet, Swain provides an excellent preview. For me, the book also confirms a lesson I learned long ago: don’t write speeches for politicians unless your family is facing starvation.

There are bad bosses and clients from just about every profession, of course, but politicians have a unique blend of dangerous characteristics. Most crave public approval because at their core they are insecure; add to that the fact that they are surrounded 24/7 by staff members whose entire livelihoods depend on them. Power does tend to corrupt, and powerful politicians tend to treat people who work for them like dirt.

Swain had to learn that lesson the hard way. You can learn it just by reading the book.

(More) Advice on Humor

o-STAND-UP-COMEDY-facebookI would bet that the question I get asked most often when I give a presentation is, how should I use humor in a speech? My quick answer: “very carefully.” As I noted in a post a couple years ago, using humor in speeches is risky, so proceed with caution.

But do proceed. Here are some guidelines on how to amuse.

Like just about every other speechwriter and presentation coach I know, I strongly advise against starting by telling a joke. Most jokes bomb; very few people are good at telling them; and they almost never sound natural or authentic. The result is that the first impression the audience has is that you are inauthentic at best and a phony at worst.

To prevent that from happening, keep in mind the very important distinction speech coach Christopher Witt draws between “a joke” and “humor.” “When you tell a joke, you’re trying to make people laugh,” he says. “When you use humor, you’re wanting to amuse them. You’re happy if they smile or chuckle.”  And I strongly agree with him that the safest and most effective form of humor is self-deprecating.

The late John Cantu,  who coached working comics and comedy writers as well as public speakers, thought long and hard about humor. You’ll find a lot of great advice on his SpeakerHumor site. Especially useful is his recommendation to  speakers who are just beginning to get comfortable with humor:  never use a bit of humor UNLESS it illustrates, clarifies, or specifically references the point you are trying to make.

So, proceed carefully, but do try adding humor to your speeches, talks and presentations.

A Great List of “Do Not’s”

microphoneAnother great piece in Silicon Valley speechwriter Ian Griffin‘s terrific “Professionally Speaking” blog. This one is a guest post from U.K. media coach Alan Stevens, that is chock full of excellent tips on how to give a great speech. My favorite part of the piece, though is his concise list of things speakers should NEVER do. Such as…

  • Start badly
  • Fail to understand equipment
  • Put too much on each slide
  • Patronize the audience
  • Use bad graphics
  • Turn their back on the audience
  • Speak inaudibly
  • Use jargon
  • Run out of time
  • End poorly

Lehman’s Fuld: Early Leader for Worst Speech of the Year Award

Lehman-Brothers-collapseThe year is not even half over and already we have a leader in the competition for “The CEO at the Mic’s” Worst Speech of the Year Award. In May, former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld gave his first speech since the 2008 financial crisis.  Fuld’s mistakes as CEO have been widely blamed for the collapse of the firm, which precipitated the near collapse of the economy.

Most observers were critical of the speech, marveling at Fuld’s failure to mention the thousands of Lehman employees who lost their life savings, and his total lack of remorse. “Whatever it is, enjoy the ride. No regrets,” Fuld said. One article on the speech was titled “Lehman Brothers ex-CEO Blames Everyone Else.” Fuld also lost his cool when he didn’t get the response he wanted from the audience and made clear he was angry at his listeners.

Mark Macias, who runs a global public-relations firm, Macias PR, summed up the speech this way, “In the future, I will probably use Fuld’s speech as an example of what NOT to do when trying to soften your image or reintroduce your brand to the public.”

Hollywood director Michael Bay set the bar high when he won our inaugural  award in 2014, for his disastrous “presentation” at the Consumer Electronics Show. But Fuld’s performance could be tough to beat in 2015.