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  • Writer's pictureJim M. Morgan

Executive Communications: Frequently Asked Questions


Having developed communications for executives working both globally and locally, I’ve encountered all manner of questions regarding the ways in which I approach my work. In some cases, these questions are tactical: how best to structure a 20-minute speech, for example. In other instances, the questions are more strategic, such as how to help a busy CEO adhere to a regular employee communications cadence. Here are a few of the questions I get most often, and how I generally respond.

 

“I’ve been asked to introduce a colleague at an awards ceremony (or other event). How do I do that without reading a boring biography?”

 

Personalize it. Bios are readily available online for anyone who cares to read them; no need to try to outdo LinkedIn. Presumably you’ve been asked to do the intro because you have some tangible connection to the colleague. Make that connection clear to the audience, and do that through one memorable story. If you graduated from the same university, reference the time you both pulled an all-nighter studying. If you work at the same company, describe the time your colleague won the ugly sweater contest. Bring your colleague’s bio to life by helping the audience see them through your eyes.

 

“How many key points is too many for one speech?”

 

Generally speaking, I try to limit key points to no more than five. My personal preference is for three. When I begin the process of drafting a speech, I look for opportunities to structure the content around three key points if at all possible. Three elements is a recurring theme in much of life: stories have a beginning, middle and end; we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner; our days are morning, noon and night. My experience has been that an audience can easily follow – and subsequently recall – three main points. Beyond that, comprehension and retention both tend to decline.

 

“I would never use that word. Can we change it?”

 

Not only can we change it, we should change it! Whether for a speech, an op-ed, or some other communication, word choice is a personal matter and must reflect the speaker or author. Just because I would use the word “frivolity” does not mean someone else would. In all communications, authenticity is paramount. Without it, you have nothing. To maintain authenticity, be sure the words in use are an accurate reflection of the person using them.

 

“Can I refer to notes during an on-camera interview?”

 

You can, but it will impact the way the audience sees you. In my opinion, it’s better to speak directly – even if what you say is a little less polished – than to read from notes. Few people expect perfection in an on-camera interview (especially a news story), and the virtues of a direct, authoritative response will outweigh any slight imperfections in delivery. Besides, as a subject matter expert, you are expected to be able to talk about topics within your area of expertise at the drop of a hat without prompting notes. If needed, refer to talking points before the lights go on, but not during the interview itself.

 

“What do you not like to hear in speeches?”

 

I never like to hear a speaker start by downplaying what’s to follow. My teeth grind when a speech starts with, “Now, I’m not a professional speaker, but I’ll do my best here today…” Or, “I didn’t sleep well last night, but I’ll try to make it through this…” If you are at the microphone, the audience assumes it’s for a good reason, and that you have important things to share. They are doing their part by listening to you. Don’t do anything to minimize your effort or to devalue their time.

 

“How can I become a better communicator?”

 

Whew! That is a million dollar question, and it begs another. What do you want to accomplish? Knowing what you are trying to do will dictate what communication tactic is most appropriate. For example, are you trying to inform, persuade or entertain? Are you speaking to professional colleagues who know your topic well, or complete strangers who must be brought up to speed? Clarity of purpose goes a long way toward achieving clarity of messaging. Also, think about how other communicators have impacted you, and then consider if emulating their style will make an impact on your audience. Remember, authenticity is key, so study the work of others, but don’t abandon your own personal style. In the end, knowing your goal and staying true to yourself is your most powerful communication strategy.

 

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