Speech making is a tool sadly neglected among executives. By Geoff Kelly
What should you do to harness speaking as one of the most potent techniques available to inspire, lead and achieve your business results? Here are eight points to start.
1. Recognise that you can make a big business impact as a speaker.
Fear of failure, or simply not knowing how, holds many talented people back from using a leadership tool that is a consistent winner.
Sir Arvi Parbo lost most of his family in World War II and came to Australia at the age of 23. He spoke no English, had little education and little money. He went on to became an excellent speaker. Few can aspire to his achievements, but many can follow his example and develop their speaking skills.
2. Give it priority.
Make the time to assess the audience, decide your theme, research and structure your content, and rehearse.
3. See speaking as an experience, rather than an information channel.
Your passion and ability to personalise your speaking performance are what will make your content memorable.
Former US presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan knew that connecting with people gave their words resonance. Similarly, former prime minister Bob Hawke, although a Rhodes scholar, never forgot the lesson that personality beats information every time.
4. Integrate your personal themes with your business mission.
Even when they don’t agree with you, most people will respect your sincerity if you allow personal themes to come through.
Hugh Morgan, long-time chief executive of WMC, believes passionately in the free market. His speeches on issues such as the environment, indigenous land rights, and the proper role of government have been controversial but have influenced debates important to his industry and company.
5. Deal with important content.
Develop a theme around something important to your organisation, industry or society in general.
After September 11, US President George Bush said that his response to the attack and terrorism generally would define his presidency. Since then, almost all his major speeches have focused on this issue, making it a big global theme. Together with his actions, these speeches have positioned him as a more effective leader than many initially believed and positioned the US and its allies with a unified and determined purpose.
6. Point the way forward.
Discuss what you personally are doing or will do with regard to the issue, and suggest possible steps for members of the audience to take on the issue.
7. Bring your speech to life with stories, examples, metaphors and quotations.
Two powerful examples are former British prime minister Winston Churchill’s 1946 description of the Soviet Union’s annexure of Eastern Europe as the descent of an “iron curtain,” reinforced in 1983 by Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire”. Both metaphors exerted strong influence over public perceptions.
Relate at least one personal story to illustrate your main theme. This sets a distinctive tone, is highly memorable, and builds strong audience rapport.
8. Reinforce your message with the audience and extend your reach to wider groups.
For your audience, consider developing a handout of the key points, perhaps with some supporting material and a transcript of the full text.
For wider audiences, consider issuing a media release with an abstract of your speech. Direct mail important groups and individuals. Your organisation’s Web site, staff media and other channels are all available.
The typical executive speech is at best a lost opportunity. Compounding this, a forgettable or sub-par performance may showcase the speaker’s failure to influence the listeners, a critical test of leadership. Help is available for executives to learn, through the art of oratory, how to win over those whose support they need for business strategies.
How not to
How not to know your own business
The prize for how not to do your tax goes to Sir Nicholas Montagu, chairman of Inland Revenue in Britain. Sir Nicholas was left red-faced when asked a question on value-added tax during an appearance on the BBC2 quiz show University Challenge. Asked to calculate 17.5% of a given figure, he was left floundering. Someone else buzzed in with the correct answer, much to the amusement of host Jeremy Paxman.
“I thought you would get that, being head of Inland Revenue.”
Ever the good public servant, Sir Nicholas replied: “Actually, that’s a different department.”
How not to plan a bank robbery
A gang of thieves in Bosnia takes out the award for poor planning. When they broke into a bank in the north-western town of Prijedor, they discovered it had gone bankrupt. Bosnian police said the bank was empty except for a few paintings, a telephone and a machine for counting banknotes. Not a good return on investment. The ill-gotten gains were estimated to be worth only about 2000 convertible marks ($A1690).
How not to research the resistance of waves to a ship’s hull
Prize for the worst piece of R&D goes to mathematics professor Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck. He has spent the past 17 years doing research on ways to stop teapots from dribbling tea. His research gets government backing because the mathematics that explains the flow of tea also applies to the resistance of waves to a ship’s hull.
“It is a bit like Russian roulette every time you have a cup of tea,” he told a journalist. “Theoretically, my calculations should be able to work out the optimum type of teapot to make dribbling a thing of the past.
“But it will take time; you’ve got to take into account the heat of the water, size of spout, angle of pour, and shape of teapot.”
How not to relieve stress
First prize for creative and lateral thinking goes to Kathryn Jane Olson, a US mathematics teacher. Olson was arraigned in Michigan’s Crawford County Court after she allegedly made a bomb threat at her school because she wanted the day off.
Crawford County Sheriff Kirk Wakefield said Olson called Grayling Middle School during the early morning hours of Monday, March 11, to say there was a bomb in the school and officials cancelled middle school for the day. After police and troopers failed to find a bomb, they obtained search warrants for the school’s phone records and discovered that the call had come from Olson’s home.
Wakefield said Olson told officers she was under a lot of personal and job-related stress and wanted the day off.
How not to lose weight and make capital
The award for making your lawyer happy goes to Meredith Berkman of New York, who is suing a snack food company for $US50 million, saying that its label on Pirate’s Booty corn and rice puffs foiled her diet.
Ms Berkman claims she suffered emotional distress because the snack contained three times more fat than its label advertised and that it caused her weight gain, mental anguish, outrage and indignation.
Pirate’s Booty, manufactured by Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc, was recalled in January after the Good Housekeeping Institute found it contained 147 calories and 8.5 grams of fat, while its label said it contained only 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. The company claimed that the discrepancy was a result of new machinery that changed the nutritional information on three of its snacks.