Precision in verbal engineering
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Speeches like Churchill’s wartime oratory and a saucy best man's painful ridiculing of the groom at a wedding may be extremes of public speaking. But they have in common the fact that the speakers knew their audiences
The chief executive of a FTSE 100 company knows his brief. He answers questions on his group's finances, organisation and strategy in breath-taking detail.
His job is not only to enhance shareholder value, something at which he has proved very successful; but through his speeches, to help investment banks, pension funds, asset managers and other investors to justify their holdings of equity in or bonds issued by his company.
He must report the company’s performance and relay its strategy, not solely through its annual report and annual review, but in speeches to the shareholders at the annual general meeting and to stockbroker’s analysts and the financial media.
His speeches are not limited to audiences in the financial world: he has to motivate and explain the company to employees. He must ameliorate the concerns of environmentalists and communities that host the groups' international operations. He is obliged to speak to a range of stakeholders in terms that will build the firm's reputation, validate and strengthen its brand and to ensure his business is understood and trusted.
There is one major drawback, by his own admission, this CEO is a nerd. He is clever, driven and a good leader. But when it comes to his public utterances, his training and background as an engineer, become painfully obvious.
He loves numbers, he loves detail and he is dedicated to precision. But too many numbers, too much detail and unwavering specificity will drive audiences to surreptitiously play Candy Crush on their iPads and iPhones or catch up on some sleep in the darkened auditorium.
Speeches written by someone steeped in a subject are invariably too long. They want to cover all the angles going into minutiae and trying to justify every thought with enough evidence to convict a murderer.
When the CEO’s frantic Chief of Staff called FinanceWriter to ask for some help we were able to assure him: we knew the CEO’s reputation as an excellent businessman, but that did not mean he was good at everything, including writing speeches.
FinanceWriter is flexible about how it drafts speeches for clients: some clients provide a draft and we rewrite it as a speech. Others will want to talk about the content of the speech and we go away and create a speech from that conversation. Some clients simply say, “Write me a speech on xxxx” and leave the rest to us.
When commissions a speech, the crucial element is not the content or even the length, but whom it will address. The most important component of a speech is the audience.
A speech to retail shareholders on a subject is a different speech to one, on the same subject, addressed to bankers, treasurers or asset mangers who can more easily digest technical and financial intricacies.
It sounds obvious, but adapting the language, the content and the tone of voice” can be the difference between polite applause or a crowd thronging around the speaker after the speech wanting to make contact, know more or do business with him.