If you study great CEO communicators such as John Chambers of Cisco or the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, you can glean some helpful tricks.
One commonality is repetition. When you are leading a team in a new, fast-growth enterprise, most first-time CEOs don’t allocate anywhere near enough time to shaping their messages and communicating them regularly.
In the CEO role, you are kept informed about all key developments in the company — it comes with the turf. Yet employees often feel under-informed, leading to useless speculation or, worse, a sense that there are some people in the know and some who aren’t, which can politicize your organization.
Here are eight tips to focus your messaging efforts and become a great communicator:
Develop a concise message.
Summarize your company in a sentence or phrase. Can’t do it? Then you need to work on it. Once you have your sentence, test it out with your leadership team. Extra points if it’s punchy and memorable. Building and owning the phrase is a requirement. Hang two to three sub-messages off of it. Memorize the message and its hierarchy. Make sure your leaders do the same. Get ready to repeat it. A lot.
At my last company, I inherited this phrase: The Leader in Mobile Advertising. While a good call to arms, it felt too vague, large, and unsupportable. I changed it to: The Leader in Targeted Mobile Advertising. It was a more precise statement, and emphasized where I thought we could be different from our competitors.
Anchor all communications in the message.
At all-hands meetings, in updates to the company, in press releases, blogs, panels, and speaking engagements, use the message you’ve developed. Show how everything going on in the company ties back to the phrase. At our monthly company meetings, I made sure to connect each presentation to how it would advance our position as The Leader in Targeted Mobile Advertising.
Challenge employees to connect what they do to the message — if they can’t, maybe they’re not working toward your mission. It will also allow them to use the phrase as a filter when they work up product road maps and allocate resources.
People respond to big challenges. The best tag lines are both simple and uplifting. Often they are stated but don’t appear on your marketing materials.
Amazon used to call itself Earth’s Biggest Bookstore. It was a challenge and an affirmation. Everyone understood the audacity and disruption that underpinned the claim. Shoot for that sort of boldness. The tag should reinforce and extend the company’s mission.
Make the media your friend.
You may be a small company, but the media will be more curious if you map your mission to larger themes. Reporters are more likely to cover you. Sure, you should blog and tweet. But positive media coverage still confers power, the sense that you are onto something.
Identify the top two to three reporters covering your area. Reach out to them. Offer to be a sounding board, an off-the-record resource when they are confounded by developments within your field. Once they know they can go to you for trusted insight, they are much more likely to come back to you again — for coverage and even story ideas.
Perception is position.
In one of my companies, I became frustrated that we had a lot of good things going on but weren’t able to summarize what differentiated us. We overwhelmed listeners with many things, rendering our messages unmemorable and making us look like we were unfocused.
We re-positioned around a single phrase. It was not an easy exercise, but it worked. A banker who returned to hear our new pitch declared, “This is a whole new company!” In reality, the only thing new was our articulation of the company. This positioning opened the path to a successful exit.
Silence, and the use of pauses, are most effective attention-grabbers in public speaking, but most young CEOs tend to talk too much. Leaving space between your points, and repeating those points, will make a far deeper impression than running your mouth off because silence makes you nervous. The irony is that you will communicate your messages more effectively by talking less. Practice it.
Remember, your body is talking, too.
Ever listened to a pitch or a speech in which the presenter stands rigid for the entire time, or at the other end of the spectrum, flops his arms and moves around like the Tin Man? Both are distracting. Find a middle ground that is comfortable for you. Make eye contact continuously. Wherever you land on the kinetic spectrum, remember to convey a sense of comfort with yourself so that people are free to focus on your message, not your dance moves.
Study great communicators.
Don’t kid yourself — great communicators employ techniques, usually a self-styled brew of heartfelt sentiment, a grasp of the facts, and some acting. Study politicians with communication styles that you admire. Look at actors and see what you can borrow. Watch a few TED Talks with an eye on what strikes you as the most effective speaking techniques.
One delivery I loved was Andre Agassi’s on-court retirement speech at the US Open — it seemed spontaneous, intimate, and lyrical. Only after I watched it a few times did I realize that he had rehearsed at least some of it and borrowed phrases from elsewhere, which didn’t detract from my impression one bit.
As your employee base grows, communicating regularly and openly will become a binding thread in your culture. You need to get good at this and make it a priority. Learn by observation and integrate what you like. Be yourself, of course, but go to school on the greats.
Written By: GEORGE BELL