Monday, March 24, 2014

When "Those Who Should Know Better" don't
(Photo: Isaac Brekken, AP)
In my communications consulting practice, I meet a lot of leaders. They often ask me to work with their junior staff--to make sure they have the requisite skills for their jobs. And sometimes when I do work with the junior staff, they tell me that the Big Bosses are the ones who really need my help. Alas, those leaders are not likely to seek it, even if it is glaringly clear to others that many institutional problems could be solved if they improved their communication. 

On my more charitable days I attribute this to the packed schedule that comes with the territory. Maybe these leaders do not have enough time to invest in polishing their skills; they are busy taking care of everything and everyone else. But quite possibly the reality is harsher: they are on top, so they do not worry about improving. After all, they have achieved career success with the skills they have, so why change now?   

The fact is, if you are a leader, you are the public face of the organization. And as you ascend the leadership ladder, you wear that face more and more. The speaking and presenting skills you used when you spoke to fellow managers at the annual regional conference are not the ones you need when you are presenting on a larger stage. Crisis communications experts are called in when there are specific fires to put out, disasters to avert, etc. But learning how to be keep improving day-to-day communications? Listening to support staff as well as board members? Presenting a clear vision to other stake-holders? Speaking confidently and honestly to the media? These skills fall through the cracks. Whether it is because no one will tell the leader she/he needs to work on them, or because of the leader's insecurity (or ego!) they are not prioritized.  That's a mistake.

For awhile now I have collected video clips of Speeches Gone Bad to share with my public speaking students. I use these as examples of what not to do. Most of these have appeared on YouTube. They are speeches made by people in the public eye--celebrities, politicians, etc. Now I know (you do, too) that there are leaders in business, law, finance, academia, etc., who make these same sorts of speeches. Who damage their own "brand" (and that of the entities they are leading) because they are poor communicators. I would be happy to share those videos, if I did not fear the lawsuits that would result. So, we will have to make do with clips of public figures.

I will be posting some of my favorites on my website. The first is Michael Bey's famous meltdown at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Come back and visit this page often. Share it with your friends and colleagues, even your bosses. If they see the gaffes even Those Who Should Know Better make, maybe they will be more willing to seek out expert help. And just for fun--some weeks I will post examples of Speeches Well Done: presentations any coach would be proud of!

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