Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prepare a Better Speech

Barack Obama will address the Democratic National Convention on the 45th anniversary, to the day, of Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech. I think this is amazing and wonderful given the importance and power each man gives to the power of public speaking. I think leaders of organizations of all sorts would do well to hone their speaking skills, becoming more deliberate in using speeches as an opportunity to articulate their organization's values and product position, and outlining how their organization meets the needs of their audience.

Martin Luther King preached and Barack Obama articulates a deep, resounding message of hope, hope for all. Their resplendent, visionary illustration of what could be, and what should be, aligns with the need for people who are struggling or feel systematically marginalized to believe in hope, which will activate their willingness to work for and demand change.

Every time the head of an organization speaks to an audience, (an internal or an external audience), they are the face, the voice, and the values slate of the organization. Some would advise to wing it, be yourself, just say what is on your mind, be spontaneous, and carefree. I disagree. Each public address is an opportunity to articulate the vision. If the vision is articulated well enough and often enough, others begin the process of co-owning the vision which brings wonderful dividends to the leader and to the organization.

Preparing public remarks is an essential pursuit. I agree that a non-stuffy, genuine delivery adds, but off the cuff remarks that miss the target are disappointing. To prepare a good public address, I always start with questions:

What is the goal of this speech?
Who it the internal audience? What do they need to hear?
Who is the external audience? What do they need to hear?
Who is the stakeholder audience? What do they need to hear?
What is the mix?
What are the three themes that I want to emphasize? How are they related?
What story can I use to illustrate these themes? How can I make an emotional connection?
What is the last thing I want my listeners to hear?
Have I misrepresented or sugar-coated anything? Is it authentic and transparent?

I also recommend archiving all of your public remarks, even if yours is not a public company. Anything you do with great intention and great analysis is worth leveraging.

I look forward to identifying all of these structural elements in Mr. Obama's speech and always aspire to greater ability and facility, as he so aptly demonstrates, before my meager-by-comparison audiences.

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