The usual rules go out the window when you’re planning a CEO speech, writes Ian Whitworth.
Meetings people love a good acronym, and our industry presents more opportunities than most for the CLM (Career-Limiting Move). Most happen in the alcohol-soaked months we’re approaching right now, where long evenings of cheap party wine will turn you into the UMC (Ultimate Management Consultant) with frank and fearless advice for all senior executives on exactly where they’re going wrong.
But there’s another CLM minefield that operates all year round: planning presentations for the CEO, or Minister, or whoever rules your particular work world. The critical ‘nothing must go wrong’ speeches when they face media, appease analysts or present a GFV (Gleaming Future Vision) to staff. The shows where you’re the Smithers to their Burns, where a planning or execution error means ritual sacrifice of all your suppliers, followed by your transfer to the Snowtown branch office.
There’s No ‘I’ In ‘Speech’
Managing these speeches is a subtle art, given that CEOs didn’t get where they are today by taking orders from people lower down the slopes of Seniority Mountain. There are complex psychological factors, mainly ego and competitiveness. Ironically those are the parts that you’re usually trying to hide in their speech, specifically their love of saying ‘I’ at least twice in every sentence. Any executive speech can be improved 100 per cent simply by changing every ‘I’ to ‘we’.
What Would Casanova Do?
Try surprise tactics to steer your CEO. Casanova, a man more thoughtful than his sleazy shagmeister reputation suggests, advised ‘praise the beautiful for their intelligence, and the intelligent for their beauty’. Translated to CEO talk, they’re used to people telling them how powerful and great they are, so surprise them with praise for their unnoticed warmth and approachability. These are the characteristics that separate a presentation from just reading something aloud.
Time Is Money
CEOs hate a rehearsal, because they’re very busy. I once saw a CEO walk off a two-metre stadium stage into an orchestra pit in the dark, purely because he had rejected all requests to come in early to rehearse. So the simpler the stage layout and AV, the better. CEOs have a tight schedule, so you can’t kick off 10 minutes late like they’re a party band. They want to start on time, finish on time and get to the next thing.
For the same reason, CEO speeches should use hot back ups of key technology. Second laptops and projectors run in parallel with the show machines so if something locks up, you switch over straight away. Time passes very slowly with a CEO chillin’ on stage while a sweaty tech tries to reboot.
Throw Out The AV Rules
You can cast the standard AV rules aside for CEO speeches. You want them to look authoritative. But the standard event setup is screen in the middle, lectern at the side. The speaker is subservient to the screen images. Does the President of the United States of America use PowerPoint? No, because he is too powerful. The absence of screen images says Look Directly At Me, I’m In Charge of This Situation.
Have a look at what I rate as the finest boss speech in recent years, Chief of Army Lt General David Morrison on unacceptable behaviour. Even on YouTube, it carries a terrifying laser intensity. Watch and consider how much weaker it would be with slides.
A lectern is normally a clunky communication barrier. For a big boss, however, it says power. Put it right in the middle of the stage. For centuries, emperors, archbishops and dictators have held this position, so our subconscious mind says: listen up, because if I don’t, maybe they could have me killed.
Major CEOs generally bring an entourage to keep things on track, including a PR wrangler, who will often want to send the CEO instructions mid-speech during Q&A. Remember to arrange a video foldback monitor in front of the stage. It saves a lot of arm-waving.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
If you have a female CEO, you’re done with this column, move on to the next page.
Still here? As a general plea to CEO minders, could you encourage them to get a haircut? There’s a current major trend back to the comb-over on business – ahem – bigwigs. The federal government is currently advised at the highest levels by two particularly wispy comb-over guys.
It’s not acceptable even under sympathetic lighting, but stage or TV conditions really show how far the tide has gone out. High wattage lamps light up the scalp, and backlighting creates a nightmare halo like a 90s spun-sugar dessert.
Cameras pick up heads from angles their owners never see in the bathroom mirror as they lacquer down each precious strand.
And let’s not even discuss the spectacle of backlit ear hair. Yes, it’s a thing. Gentlemen, you have the great fortune to be alive in a time when being bald is cool. Clip it all off. You’re in business, not American Hustle.