I know some people are petrified when they are handed a microphone, or step up to a podium, but I’m not one of those people – at least not now.
I little over 20 years ago I figured out the key to making a good speech was what I called “spontaneous preparedness”. That is, making a speech “sound” spontaneous, but making sure there was much preparation, and a good structure, behind it.
For example, when I was SVP of Operations of Bresnan Communications from 2003-2010 and made hundreds and hundreds of speeches to rally our teammates in city after city in 4 Rocky Mountain states, I never made the same speech twice.
The core content was the same (I was prepared), but I always changed up a few things to make it different (the spontaneity).
There was a hard lesson behind all of this. In 1993, when I was working for the Washington Redskins, I was drafted at the last minute to make a speech defending the merits of a professional football stadium in Laurel, Maryland, in front of a passionate group of anti-stadium crusaders, and I was woefully unprepared for it.
It was a disaster, and to make matters worse, all of the local TV stations covered it, so I could watch myself admonishing the crowd to “be quiet!” when I got home later that evening (that was the ONE line they chose to air!). I pledged that night to never be unprepared (and embarrassed) like that again.
In May of 2009, six years into our Rocky Mountain journey, I got the opportunity to videotape one of my speeches in Billings, Montana, a “rally the troops” status report that would be eventually shown to all employees (about 1300 of them), and it happened to be one of my speeches that encapsulated 2 really important things:
1) What I had learned about good speechmaking up to that point.
2) My more human way of leadership in practice, “as it was happening, in real life”.
The YouTube video at the end of the post below is a 9 minute highlight reel of what was a 45 minute presentation, but it does touch on what I consider to be the 10 core elements of a good business leadership speech to a group of employees. These core elements are (in the order presented on the video):
- Put a focus on “Value” (of the product or service provided)
- Take a gentle swipe at the opposition, and naysayers (for an emotional rallying effect)
- Make an analogy for the results of the effort (I liked to use the flywheel effect)
- Acknowledge the people behind the product (seems all too obvious but it must be said)
- Tie the effort and the people “value” to meaningful metrics:
- Bring up the mantra (more than once -mine was “serve our customers and support each other“)
- Get it down to a human & personal level (“it’s about being pleasant humans”)
- Remind everyone of the founders and legacy of the company (“50 years in the business”)
- Outline the “values behind the value” – mine were:
- Each Other
- The community
- Bring it home to a higher purpose: Happiness
As you can probably also surmise, this list hews very closely to my 8 Principles of More Human Leadership.
What’s not in the video is my close, and I think it’s also helpful to let you know what I said, word for word, to wrap it all up:
“Look, I don’t want to be just good, I don’t want to be just pretty good, I don’t want to be just “delightfully’ good. I want to be great.
And I want everybody else in the company to think the same way. And when I say great I just don’t mean just the greatest company in Billings.
Or the greatest company in Montana.
Or the greatest cable company, or the greatest service company.
I mean the greatest company.
Why not? Why…. Not?
Because getting there, of course, is at least half the fun. I’ve seen it happen many times – when a group of people really get together for a common cause and a common purpose, it’s fun. And I say it anytime I talk to anybody – my absolute goal is to have 1,300 people just loving to be here, getting up in the morning and loving to do what they do.
I know it’s kind of a Quixotic goal, especially when you’re called out at 2AM, but on balance, because we all have our good days and bad days, and we all have our lives to lead, and that’s tough enough as it is, let’s try to pull together as a team and make these 40 to 60 hours we get to spend with each other the best that they can be.
Keep the faith, keep remembering those 5 Things, and please, always be safe in what you do everyday, and treat everyone with respect, and with a smile on your face. Thank you very much.”
Yes, I always set the bar pretty high, but I always felt we needed to, because that end goal of happiness was so darned important.
Here I am back in 2009, giving that speech. Bring those core elements into your leadership speechmaking, and see if you too can rally the troops to the More Human trifecta – a successful company, happy employees, and a fulfilled leader.
Here is a direct link to YouTube (for my newsletter readers).