August 26, 2013
How To Make Sure The CEO Sounds Like The CEO

Some CEOs have a natural panache. Business leaders as varied as Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon and Marissa Mayer—each in her or his individual way—have a certain kind of spark.

Granted, not all CEOs are overtly magnetic. Nor do most have the public platforms that those three have constructed. How can a lower profile CEO vault into the limelight? The answer revolves around a strategic approach to your communications efforts, making use of techniques capable of putting you on the road to out-hustling the competition.

Superior CEO communications skills are essential for companies that wish to avoid public shame and achieve success. That is hardly a novel idea. But let us discuss nuts and bolts by asking, how can a CEO sharpen his communications edge?

Preparation Helps Reputation

Successful communications and the achievement of long-range business goals go hand-in-hand. Moreover, a CEO’s personal reputation also depends upon his ability to captivate as a communicator.

The good ones exhibit plenty of confidence in their ability to deliver a magnetic message. Their excellence is no accident. They got good by taking it seriously. For instance, when Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase was hauled before a Congressional committee to testify in a contentious atmosphere, what are the odds he said “no” to a practice session that subjected him to the third degree? None too likely.

Yet unprepared CEOs run the risk of trotting up to Capitol Hill only to come away in tatters because they failed to take matters seriously, undertaking only cursory rehearsals. Obviously, you want to keep yourself out of this category for both business and reputational reasons.

Benefits of Capable Communications

There are innumerable forums that can make or break a CEO: A speech to an audience filled with your top customers, an interview with a leading reporter covering your industry, a presentation to your board, testifying on Capitol Hill or before regulatory agencies and a new product unveiling, to cite just a few examples.

Sure, you want to perform positively in these types of situations. But your goal should be more than a hearty round of applause (as ego-satisfying as that might be). Your improved communications efforts can help:

  • Place you ahead of the competition
  • Lessen the possibility that your next media campaign will fail
  • Position your organization top of mind with your public
  • Heighten the odds for success of your next new product launch
  • Stop your competition from siphoning off your customers
  • Plan for your next crisis
  • Avoid an amateurish media image

Okay, let’s get specific and focus on specific recommendations that can enhance your communications capabilities.

Media Options

  • Pursue your opportunities strategically. It does you little good to gain an interview with a local newspaper if your target is national in scope. Likewise, even The Washington Post may be a wasted opportunity if your main concern is how you play in Peoria.
  • Understand which type of media best suits you. Play to your strengths. Do you work best on radio? TV? General circulation publications? Trade journals? To what extent should you use new media tools?
  • Keep the most important interviews for yourself. Vice presidents, directors, and managers can deal with routine media interactions, as can your communications staff.
  • Insist upon a regularly scheduled media training program. You’re in this for the long haul, so your training regimen should be ongoing, too.

Public Speaking Options

  • Choose your audiences selectively. Are your energies best spent addressing customers? Industry forums? Policymakers?
  • Position yourself as a thought leader. Hunt for speaking opportunities capable of raising your profile.
  • Fortify your speeches with your message. And offer stories, examples and numbers that back it up.
  • Routinely practice Q&A. This is vital, for many speakers panic when the audience questioning begins.

Public Policy Options

  • Leverage your legislative or regulatory testimony so it resonates beyond the four walls of the hearing room. Circulate it to your workers, customers and the media. Cite it in your speeches. Broadcast it via appropriate new media tools.
  • Familiarize yourself with the policymakers you are approaching. Who is with you? Who is against you? Who is undecided?
  • Spend a lot of time crafting your oral statement. The time you’ll have before lawmakers is precious, so squeeze the most into every second.
  • Prepare your employees and advocates to meet with legislators. These so-called Capitol Hill “fly-ins” and “drive-ins” empower you with grassroots legitimacy.

A CEO’s ability to communicate plays a big part in an organization’s success and looms large with your individual reputation.

Remember, your job as CEO is not solely to gain good media clips and robust audience applause. Solid communications skills put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to winning the public’s trust and dollars.

Ed Barks
As a communications training consultant and author, Ed Barks’ corporate and association clients hire him to provide them with the messages and communications skills their executives need on a daily basis. He is President of Barks Communications, author of The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations, and a member of the National Press Club’s Board of Governors. To connect with Ed, visit Contact him at or (540) 955-0600.