Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Elements of a Good Speech

When charged with giving a speech to a business or professional audience it’s often tempting to go with your first instinct. For some, this instinct is to try to be funny and use your time at the podium to tap your inner stand-up comedian.  Needless to say, try to resist that urge.

For others the temptation is to try to impress the audience with your gravitas on a particular topic, or to do your best imitation of Winston Churchill, laying out your grand vision of a better world.  Again, not a bad idea to resist those urges.

Usually the best starting point is simply to really focus on why you were invited to speak in the first place and to center on your purpose for being there.  If you are invited to speak before a community group to talk about your organization’s social responsibility activities, the bulk of your preparation should be to gather all of the information on what your organization is doing for the community through its social responsibility program, and then to work to organize it in coherent fashion.

Of course, that does not ensure your speech will be a good one.  In fact, if that’s all you do, chances are you will bore your audience terribly.

That is why once you have the substance of your speech in place, and you completely understand your purpose for being there, the craft of speechwriting can begin.  Here are four tips that may help you bring your thoughts to life for your audience.

Find your passion – Identify aspects of the topic and the material you plan to cover which taps your own personal passion. Don’t be afraid to reveal this in your words and in your demeanor when you speak.  If you can think of any personal examples or stories that illustrate your passion, consider using them in your open, your conclusion or the body of the speech.

Edit yourself – Make every word count.  Even if you don’t script your speech, make sure your reference notes are well organized and follow a precise flow that carries you smoothly from beginning to end.  When you begin to speak, work hard not to get side-tracked on topics that may only come to mind in the middle of your speech.  As we say in media training, stay on message.

Consider props – While not every speech lends itself to the effective use of props, there are occasions where you can use something as simple as a wrist-watch to illustrate a point you want to make about the value of time, or a cell phone to illustrate the rapid pace with which communications technologies are changing.  You don’t need to belabor use of a given prop, but the value of props is simply to get and keep your audience’s attention.

Don’t rush your open or conclusion – Take your time in the beginning to set up your remarks.  Your audience wants to listen to you and will be patient with you as you get to your main point.  The worst thing you can do with your open, other than put your audience to sleep, is to rush through it so fast that at least half of the audience has no idea what you just said.  In such cases, they spend your entire speech trying to catch up, and usually they never do.

At the end of the speech, it’s important not to be redundant, while at the same time it is equally important to recap your main points.  But the purpose of your conclusion is to leave your audience with that singular thought you want audience members to take with them when they leave the room.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

SEALs Offer Lesson for Communicating Health Benefits Changes

Brent Gleeson, a Navy SEAL combat veteran and chief marketing officer at Internet Marketing Inc., recently wrote a blog post on LinkedIn under the headline, “These 7 Motivational navy SEAL Sayings Will Kick Your Butt Into Gear.”  I liked the piece so much, I re-sent it on my social media platforms, but there was one SEAL saying that stood out from the standpoint of internal communications and change management.  The saying was, “Have a shared sense of purpose.”

Perhaps the reason it stood out for me at that moment was that I had been working on something tied to the continued rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its impact on employers.  Any time you communicate change, and the ACA represents tremendous change, it’s important to remember some of the basic tenets of effective communication, and that SEAL saying came long at just the right moment.

For context, in the coming months, thousands of employers will be making some tough decisions on health benefits enrollment. Under the ACA the "employer mandate" will go into effect on January 1, 2015.  This means that organizations with 100 or more full-time equivalent employees, and which administer calendar-year health insurance plans, must offer health care coverage to full-time employees and their dependents or face tax penalties under the employer shared responsibility rules of the ACA.

Employers with 50 to 99 full-time equivalent employees will need to comply in 2016.

Keep in mind that while nothing in the ACA requires an employer to offer employees group health coverage, the tax penalty is one provision designed to incentivize employers to provide insurance.  It is anticipated that some employers will elect to provide that insurance, while others will decide that paying the penalty and directing employees to state and federal exchanges is more cost-effective.

There are many reasons employers would make such decisions.  Those who offer insurance may find that it is the most effective way to retain workers while factoring any cost impacts into their larger compensation models.  Other employers, however, might find that the notion of providing health insurance coverage to all eligible employees is so cost-prohibitive it could drive them out of business at worst, or seriously harm their competitive position at best.  Paying the penalty may not be the best way to go, but it could be the only way to go to remain in business.

Regardless, even among those employers offering health insurance, many will likely have to make changes to the plans they offer, asking employees to pay more in terms of a share of the monthly premiums, co-pays and deductibles.  And that’s just the financial side.

On the care side, some plans employers may introduce may not offer the same healthcare providers that employees have relied upon until now.



From both a management and a communications perspective, it’s never too early to begin to educate and communicate with employees on the kinds of issues the organization and its people will face in the coming months.  The worst thing you can do is surprise people, give them the bare minimum of information, not provide adequate support with access to information should they have questions, and then not give them enough time to absorb the impact of the change to make clear-headed decisions come enrollment time. 


It is with that in mind that the Navy SEAL mantra of having a shared sense of purpose is so important.


When you communicate change, one of the most important things you must do is remind everyone why we are here. Why we come to work, what we are out to achieve each day as an organization, as manager, as employees, as a team.  Too often left unsaid is that without this shared sense of purpose, the organization cannot function efficiently and can fail in its mission.  If it fails, the whole organization suffers and could eventually fail completely, causing everyone who depends on the organization to lose their jobs. 


As Gleeson describes it, “…it’s critical for the leadership to always be communicating the reality of the situation and what the “win” will look like when you get there. And, most important, what everyone’s role is in helping the team achieve that goal.” 


In a change-management setting then, the role of communications is to communicate the reality of the changes to benefits, why those changes may be necessary and what they mean, not only to the organization but to everyone who works there.  Equally important is the need to paint a picture of how this change can best be managed to ensure the viability and competitiveness of the organization, so that jobs and salaries can be preserved.  And no communication would be complete without making sure that each employee understands his or her role in helping the organization manage its way through this time of change.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

When PR Firms Go, "Yada, Yada, Yada"

Seinfeld (the sitcom) is known for its many classic catch phrases and plot lines, but one that has been on my mind lately when hearing other PR firms pitch their services is the old “Yada, Yada, Yada” episode.

In the Seinfeld scenario, Jerry’s sidekick, George, meets a woman who draws him in through intrigue created when she skips over the best parts of her stories and descriptions of herself with the words, “yada, yada, yada.”  He decides to fight fire with fire and does the same. Before you know it, the two are a hot item, that is until, she “yadas” George one too many times and leaves his trust of her in the balance.

PR firms sometimes “yada, yada.”  Only they don’t use those words.  Usually, they describe their firms and their services as new, never been seen before, reinventing the old “agency-client model,” or “turning the agency-client relationship on its head.”  In PR speak, it’s all “yada, yada.”

In other words, the words mean nothing but they create just enough intrigue to draw clients in further.  Here’s how I saw one new agency describe itself:
  • “We offer a model that, to (our) knowledge, no other agency offers…” Yada.
  • “Our firm believes every stakeholder group responds most effectively to content that’s consistent, clear, and memorable…”  Yada, Yada
  • “We get clients in front of the right audiences…This approach works well now and will work more effectively in the future, as PR continues to grow...”  Yada, Yada, Yada

This new firm described PR and what it has been doing for the past 100 years in various ways.  It really isn’t saying anything new, and while perhaps, it may add its own twist and style to the practice of PR, it’s certainly not going to break new ground in such a way that it will transform the field.  In other words, the firm isn’t the game-changer it wants prospective clients to believe.

Beware of firms, particularly newer ones, who present themselves as something totally new and different.

So how should agencies present themselves?

Each should have its own style and build its model around that. But all should speak clearly in plain English with the understanding that while we all may promise different things, provide service in different ways, bill our clients according to different scales, and measure and evaluate performance differently, at the end of the day it’s about communication, words, trust, connection.

If we want our clients’ messages to matter, they need to be clear. If we want our clients to connect with us, our messages need to matter, they need to be clear.  No “yada, yada” about that.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Region's Brand Can Trace Part of its Roots to Noll's Steeler Defenses

A few years ago, I had the chance to go to a Notre Dame football game in South Bend, where a good Fighting Irish team faced Army. The event was rich in football tradition.

As a fan, I loved everything about the day with perhaps one exception.  Any time Notre Dame’s offense left the field and the defense took over, the crowd became noticeably more muted.  Even when the team made huge defensive stops, the applause was so polite it sounded like the halftime baton twirler just finished a performance.

I couldn’t believe that in the house Knute Rockne built, Notre Dame, a football mecca, defense would be given such short shrift.

Then I considered that maybe it’s not the other fans, but rather my own predisposition towards defense because  I’m from Pittsburgh.  In Pittsburgh defense matters.

Even the most casual fan in Pittsburgh, the one who only watches the games because that’s where the party is, knows not to look away from the action when the defense is on the field.  This is not the norm in other places.

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to see numerous football games at all levels.  I’ve seen games far away from Pittsburgh, and more than my share in this region.

I’ve found that the closer you get to Pittsburgh, the more intense the fans are when it comes to defense.  Pittsburghers know good defense when that defense is near the ball, away from the ball, from the home team or the away team.  They appreciate third-and-long defense in ways the people of Vienna know a good Baroque number when they hear one.

Why?  I’m about to get to that, because the answer is in a name.  But before I do, I think there needs to be some background.

In the game of football, defense starts with a desire and a will to be aggressive, to stop the other team by taking the ball back. Sometimes that means an interception, a fumble recovery, or just ripping it out of the other guy’s arms.  To make these things happen, the typical strategy is to overpower and body slam just about every player in an opposing uniform until you render the ball available. If that doesn’t work, you prevent a first down and get the ball back from a punt.  That’s defense.

This all requires a certain level of self-sacrifice.  Because football is a rough, physical game, effective defense demands tough, physical players.  It demands that these players have the strength, speed and knowledge of the game to anticipate offensive strategies, and pre-emptively or reactively meet force with overwhelming force.

The major advantage the offense has over the defense is presumably, the offensive players know where the ball is going in advance.  The defense doesn’t.  This means that the defense must commit completely with 100 percent adrenaline-powered exertion on every play.

A simple thing like a tackle at the line of scrimmage is a major victory for a defense.  Pittsburghers know this.  They can relate.

So, why are Pittsburghers so sophisticated in their appreciation of good defense, something people across the country, including Notre Dame fans seem to lack?  The answer is simply Chuck Noll.

The game has a long and storied history in Pittsburgh.  It didn’t take a Chuck Noll to teach the region about the game and why people should embrace it. The region had already contributed favorite sons Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas and Mike Ditka to the national football stage even before Noll arrived here.

But when Noll took the helm of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, he set about building the organization around good defense, and in the process, he created an entirely new relationship between the region and the game, and the glue to that relationship was defense.  Or more particularly, a defensive mentality.

He showed Pittsburghers what defense could accomplish on the field.  He showed Pittsburghers defense in its highest form.  In the process, his defenses held a mirror up to the region.  Through those defenses, Pittsburghers saw themselves.

Tough. Ruthless.  No excuses.  Play through pain and injury. Get knocked down and get back up, and knock the other guy down harder.  Win through dominance and force.  Not finesse.  Inertia.

Pittsburghers saw players play defense the way they would if they could. Chuck Noll found prototypes of the Pittsburgh mentality, and their names were Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Homes, Dwight White, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Jack Hamm, Mel Blount, Mike Wagner, Donnie Shell.  This group comprised the "Steel Curtain" defense.

These men took the field and took no prisoners, and in doing so, they met the expectations of their coach, Chuck Noll, who had a plan. They fit into it. They executed it, and no other team has matched their level of success before or since.

The region’s football brand merged with its character and created, or perhaps amplified, its tough steel town image.  Even when the steel mills closed and the region’s service economy took over, there was always a blue-collar work ethic just beneath the surface.  An honest, unapologetic, can-do spirit that may have always been there, but people were never more conscious of it until after the Chuck Noll defenses came to epitomize the Steelers and the region.

Ever since the 1970s, there has been little confusion about the region’s brand.  We are a lot like a good defense.  Anticipatory, opportunistic, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to win. And the roots of this attitude go all the way back to the hiring of a relatively unknown football coach by one of the most under-performing NFL franchises up until that time.

The rest, as they say, is history.  It’s not an overstatement to say the region owes at least a little bit of its brand evolution to Chuck Noll and his Steelers' defenses.  In a much more obvious way, however, the region owes him its gratitude for helping instill a tradition of passion for the game of football that transcends what happens on the field a few Sundays in the Fall.  Thanks, Coach.