How to Prevent Those Embarrassing Moments in Speeches That You Can’t Take Back

No one is immune from making a verbal gaffe from time to time. However, there is a stark difference between gaffes that reveal ignorance (remember the hundreds of “Dan Quayle-isms” that kept late night comedy in business for years) and those that are demeaning.

Just as we all listen closely to the Fed Chairman’s updates both for what is obvious and what isn’t, audiences ranging from analysts and shareholders to employees and community leaders hang on to the words of CEOs, watching for hints about a company’s direction and its implications.

“All constituents hang on to the words of CEOs, watching for hints about a company’s direction and its implications.”

Boeing CEO James McNerney, the latest to misfire, likely became overly comfortable with his audience of Wall Street analysts when he responded to a question concerning his plans for retirement with, “The heart will still be beating, the employees will still be cowering (laughing). I’ll be working hard; there’s no end in sight.”

Flubs like this, and similar ones from Guido Barilla of the Barilla pasta brand and Dennis “Chip” Wilson, founder of Lululemon, show how common it is for senior leaders to forget their mission: To inspire confidence and excitement about their brand, vision and strategy.

Here are four communication tips to help CEOs build reputational and credibility equity:

1.  Be very clear about why you are communicating. What specifically do you want your audience to know or do? And to draw on the ubiquitous WIFM (what’s in it for me) rule, why should they care?


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