Applause Doesn’t Mean They Get It

It’s a thrilling moment in corporate communications when the chief executive speaks and listeners are emboldened by what they hear.

Reputations are made at those rare moments. Think of Steve Jobs introducing Apple’s latest creation. Or Buck Rodgers inspiring the marketing folks at IBM. Or Jack Welch rallying GE.

Let’s look at the dynamics of those successful moments during an executive leader’s speech to members and stakeholders of the organization when there is collective stir in the audience. They are being convinced about what is being presented.

For the presenter, it seems like a moment of clarity and connection with the audience, whether it be with Board members, analysts, or senior staff.  It can be quite exhilarating.

So what is the concern? While this can be a joyous moment for speaker and audience alike, it can be misleading for the executive leader.  These wonderful moments of connection with the audience do not guarantee that communication has done its job of convincing them and motivating them. If they are truly convinced, they become determined to lead in their own sphere of influence so the executive’s vision is successful.

There is no guarantee that the executive leader and the audience will be on the same page.  If the determination to succeed together is not shared, only the executive walks away convinced of success and only the executive bears the responsibility to succeed.

Creating a speech that is aligned verbally, vocally, and visually with the audience is half the challenge. The other half is having the audience members commit to accepting the responsibility to make the necessary changes in their sphere of influence. This means both the executive leader and the audience members share determination and responsibility.

I have seen it many times where the audience, while praising the talk and its direction, is really demonstrating a false flattery. They know the content of the talk is important to the executive leader but they have not yet been convinced and have not yet accepted any responsibility.

The executive leader must be able to read the audience well, explain the expectations and steps that will convert ideas into action, and not be fooled into thinking that the job is done. Communicating to that audience over and over again is the key to convincing them. Resisting the temptation to allow false flattery into the ego helps keep the ego balanced with reality and allows the executive to focus on the repetition of the residual message.

In one of my executive coaching cases, an executive confided that he had to learn that one speech is never enough. One must communicate the content over and over again and just when you feel you can’t communicate the content one more time, that is when the content sinks in and they get it. Reiteration in novel ways in a speech and in other forms is the recommendation. How many times should you repeat the message? Executives repeat the message until they begin to see the message reflected in the behavior of the people.  

With the advent of social media, communication of the message in novel ways may be easier. However, there are some cautions here as well. Communication should never seem to be a mechanical gesture. If the executive leader chooses to reiterate his or her message throughout the organization on multiple mediums, it must come across as authentic and genuine. The executive must use social media in a way that maintains respect in work relations with a shared sense of humility. Why is it important to use social media? Younger audiences expect it.

The subtleness of communication gets even more complicated when a manager becomes a leader; the platform from which he or she speaks changes. While referencing the efficient and effective managerial operations remains essential in speeches, the executive now must also speak from a strategic platform about the future. This is an expectation of the membership of the organization.

Most executive leaders, newly minted or veteran, intend to lead well. They realize the tremendous responsibility and privilege they now possess. They see where the organization needs to go to be successful. What they need to remember is that the best way to align organization stakeholders with their vision is to repeat it. Over and over. Eventually, they will hear it said back to them and see it in their work – and it’ll sound like sweet music to executive ears and to the productivity of the company.

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