The CEO As Communicator In Chief
Since CEOs don’t fill out time sheets, it’s hard to get a precise look at how each allocates his/her time. I would bet that over the last two or three decades there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of time a CEO spends communicating.
Why? Think about all of the stakeholders – employees, shareholders, board members, customers, regulators, suppliers, elected and appointed officials, country managers, civic leaders – and their demand for information from their leader.
Winston Churchill knew the value of communications. He called speaking, writing and interviewing skills the Language of Leadership. The types and channels for communications change over time. Ten years ago, most CEOs didn’t know about blogging and tweeting; today these are channels to reach key audiences.
The Communicator in Chief must master a variety of skills and it’s hard to say which communications skill or channel is most important. They change depending on the company, market and business goals. If you’re running for President, i.e. CEO of the United States, the big tent speech and debating are probably the most important. When launching a new product, media skills could top the list. For fundraising, you need to master the small group “ask.” For a road show, it’s nailing the Q&A from investors and analysts. For all of these situations, rehearsal and coaching always improves the performance.
Following are ten critical areas of communication where CEOs need to know their audience and the skill set they need to win that audience over — plus one or two tips to help you improve.
1. Public Speaking
- Audiences: Customers, shareholders, industry keynote audiences, non-profit work, employees, recruits.
- Skill set: Read or speak from prepared text, notes, the teleprompter and extemporaneously; executive presence when your image is on a large video screen.
- Best tips: Practice out loud in the room where you will give the speech. Master the teleprompter for the big tent speech.
2. Media Interviews
- Audience: Media has two audiences – the reporter and the ultimate reader, listener or viewer. The end user has three questions that go beyond the facts – So What, Who Cares and WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Think about how a non-company insider will relate to the information. News coverage is called “earned” vs. “paid” media. Media coverage supports marketing and adds credibility to your messages.
- Skill set: Developing key messages (“sound bites”), learning the “bridging” technique, avoiding misstatements and negatives.
- Best tip: Take advantage of the last question, or ask and answer it yourself.
3. Internal Presentation Skills
- Audience: Employees and staff members. Settings vary from small groups to town halls.
- Skill set: Know how to work with PowerPoint or other supporting visual aids.
- Best tips: Remember that you are the CEO. Your “deck” should be more big picture than down in the weeds with details.
- Audience: The person/people across the table from you, followed by their members/constituents.
- Skill set: Word choice, body language, location and room set-up are critical communications variables. General rules, such as “Win/Win,” “Getting to Yes” or “You Can Negotiate Anything,” only take you so far. Look at your specific surroundings and needs.
- Best tip: Think “next time.” Unlike the one-time deal purchases where there is no next time, most successful negotiations plan for the ongoing relationship.
5. Email and Voicemail
- Audience: Internal and external. More and more companies find themselves managing in whole, or in part, by email and voicemail.
- Skill set: Leadership requires proper grammar and spelling in emails, articulate and succinct voicemails.
- Best tip: Stop and think before writing and speaking. Emails and voicemails both have a degree of permanence.
6. Meeting Management
- Audience: Whoever is in the meeting.
- Skill set: Leaders develop the skills for setting agendas, moving discussions, dealing with challenging participants and summarizing.
- Best tip: Start on time and end on time. This shows respect for your employees, board members and other participants.
7. Road Show Communications
- Audience: The road show combines aspects of public speaking, presentation skills and meeting management. Meetings can range from a full conference room to a one-on-one with a key investor.
- Skill set: Essential skills include a masterful delivery of the “deck,” showing teamwork with co-presenters, and nailing the Q&A. While the road show is all about the numbers, it is also about the company “story.”
- Best tip: Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more, especially the most difficult financial Q&A.
8. Lobbying Skills
- Audience: Local, state and national legislators and regulators.
- Skill set: Short, succinct communications, aka the elevator speech.
- Best tip: Don’t make it about you; figure out what’s best for the legislator or regulator. If they look good in front of their constituents, you’re more likely to accomplish your agenda.
- Audience: Internal and external. Crises come in all forms, although natural disasters, personnel issues and other business catastrophes tend to top the list. Despite years of hard work, the value and reputation of a company can be harmed in a nano-second.
- Skill set: Much like buying business and personal insurance, leaders need to prepare for these possibilities. Then they must simulate the crises and learn from the experiences.
- Best tip: Leaders are almost always the best communicators for the enterprise in a crisis. Use the mirror principle. Hold the mirror up to your company and its particular culture, marketplace and issues. Don’t copy someone else’s plan.
10. Social Media, including Blogs, Twitter and YouTube
- Audience: Customers, competitors, employees, regulators et al.
- Skill Set: Clear succinct writing and speaking with stories and examples (or links to stories and examples).
- Best tip: Develop a consistent but less formal tone than an annual report, speech or shareholder meeting. Whether written by the CEO or ghost written, social media can be your most effective tool for communicating your brand.
Andrew Gilman is a CEO of CommCore Consulting Group, a leadership and crisis consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles.