Given Apple's and Steve Jobs' tendency to keep their cards close to their vest, we will probably never find out if any professional speechwriter helped with that landmark speech"Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish." After Jobs delivered "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, at Commencement at Stanford University last June, the speech was everywhere in mainstream media, such as FORTUNE Magazine and online.
But, Jobs' homerun is becoming rare in the arena of C-Level speech delivery. This is the era of "just talk to me." Blogs took off because the genre is first-person, non-stylized, and transparent.
As a result, the traditional speech, created with the assistance of a professional speechwriter, is usually a bad fit for what current audiences want and need. Oh, they will listen or pretend to. Most professional groups are polite and obedient, to a fault. But think about this: When has a speech, with the exception of "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish," served as a powerful means of influence, persuasion, sales, brand enhancement? What audiences prefer is for C-Level executives to just talk. They want the C-Level to bring along a few bullet points, that's about it. The other option is to bring along some PowerPoint slides, but don't rely on them too much or else there will be no audience connection.
So when a reader emailed me yesterday about a career in freelance speechwriting, I said, forget it. Those companies using those old-line speechwriting skills have found that with the complexity of the organizational culture, it's best to have the speechwriters live inside. There's less work for freelancers like myself.
Where the work has migrated, I explained to my emailer, is to counseling C-Level in the whole enchilada we call oral communications. There is an urgent need to know about:
- What media to use. There's plenty to mix and match. For example, talking from a point outline, relying on PowerPoint and how many slides to show, doing town meetings around the globe, distributing a video, conducting a web-seminar, participating in a conference call, appearing on "Larry King" or not, chatting with THE WALL STREET JOURNAL or not, hooking an audio capacity on a blog platform and having a conversation.
- What tone. Everything has changed. Yes, some tough bosses still can succeed. Think Donald Trump. But most leaders with the wrong tone get deep-sixed. Think Larry Summers (there's an interesting deconstruction of his leadership in BOSTON Magazine's April issue). Yes, a leader can be tough in decision-making but it's wise to talk with respect and empathy for all constituencies. Sarcasm, smart-aleck, harsh, all seem yesterday. Today in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Robert "Steve" Miller got hammered for his sarcasm about paying Delphi employees $65 an hour for mowing the company lawn.
- What leverage and how much. Should a message that's working be transmitted heavily via, say, social media such as blogs, tabloid media such as STAR, and pop culture media such as PEOPLE. In this era of so many choices, these can be tough calls. Would it help or hurt the launch of Microsoft's VISTA for its Chairman Bill Gates to be featured in STAR?
- Giving up control and how much of it. Social media demands loss of control. The issue is how much control should the C-Level be willing to trade off for the benefits of putting their message out there. Some corporations such as Target don't seem to believe this trade off is worth it, yet (read NAKED CONVERSATIONS by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel).
- Practice, practice, practice. Through coaching and low-risk speaking engagements the C-Level can improve their performance. They, however, must be provided with tools and opportunities that work for them rather than waste their time or prove overly traumatic. An internal seminar of Dale Carnegie is often helpful and affordable.
So, for those who love the art and science of oral communications, the complex field of executive communications provides growing, lucrative opportunities. Even help-wanted billed as "Speechwriter" really require comprehensive grounding in impression management in an era when the rules keep changing as the game is being played.