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Tips for Executives: What Do Employees Want To Hear In Your Keynote Speech?

For most executives, January is the time of year when your people expect to hear from you. You may be speaking at a national sales meeting, a leadership conference, a strategic planning retreat, or even a virtual conference call to kick off the year. Whatever the venue, you are going to be front and center. So imagine you are giving the keynote speech to your employees. Your keynote is an opportunity to set forth the theme and key issues for the coming year.

What are you going to say?As you think about your keynote, the first and most critical task is to consider your audience. “Know your audience” is one of the cardinal rules of public speaking. I’d like to offer one critical assumption about your audience that will guide my suggestions.

My big assumption is that your audience – from your direct reports to junior associates – is comprised of highly talented, competent, and motivated individuals. AND they have multiple career options and mobility. Some of them are restless. Over the holiday season, they’ve been taking stock, reflecting on their future, and seriously considering making a move this year.

Before we move on, let’s make sure you buy into that assumption about your audience. If you agree, then read on, because the stakes are high. These are people who you need to be on board and fully engaged in order to succeed as a company and personally. (If you don’t agree, then you have an even bigger problem. Your work is cut out for you to get those types of people into your company and into the room in the first place.)

Now back to your speech. What does your audience – of highly talented, competent, motivated, and mobile individuals want to hear from YOU?

1. Connect with me on a personal level. Yes, I know you are talking about business, but remember that I need to trust you to follow you. So tell me a personal story. Share about your personal reflections over the holidays. Talk about challenges that you’ve faced and overcome in your leadership journey. Be vulnerable and human.

2. Create context and connect to purpose. What’s changing in the marketplace? What do these changes mean for our company? How do your core purpose and values endure in the midst of change?

3. Share how you are thinking about the business. What thought process is guiding your decisions?

Check out this article about Sam Palmisano and the four questions he uses to guide strategy at IBM. Sharing your thought process not only increases trust and transparency, it also teaches your people how to think strategically.

4. Give me a candid, yet optimistic assessment about the business and our future. Talk honestly about our challenges and how we will address them, yet make sure that you focus on opportunities. Demonstrate how our company is positioned for success in the marketplace.

5. Define success for 2012 and lay out the three MUST-DO actions for the year. If you cannot simplify your strategy into three key initiatives or themes, you risk it becoming too complicated and diffuse for us, your people, to remember and to operationalize.

6. Connect the dots. Show that you understand my world as an employee – my hopes and dreams, my challenges, and my day to day realities.

7. Challenge me. Show me that you are stepping up as a leader and challenge me to do the same. Make me want to rise to the occasion. Describe very specific actions that you are taking and challenge me to think about my own actions.

8. Finally, bring me into the conversation. Provide a venue before, during, and after the meeting to engage in conversation with you.

Ultimately, if I’m sitting in the audience, I will be asking myself – did my confidence in this company just go up? Or down? Is my commitment to this company stronger? Or shakier? Am I clear on what you are asking me to do as I leave the room, or am I confused?

Your keynote to employees is a huge opportunity with high stakes. Make sure to connect with what is really on the minds of your audience.

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Think of the best – or worst – keynote you’ve ever heard from a leader in a company? What made it great or terrible? What were you really hoping to hear? Leave your comments below.Rich Text AreaToolbarBold (Ctrl + B)Italic (Ctrl + I)Strikethrough (Alt + Shift + D)UnderlineUnordered list (Alt + Shift + U)Ordered list (Alt + Shift + O)OutdentIndentAlign Left (Alt + Shift + L)Align Center (Alt + Shift + C)Align Right (Alt + Shift + R)Insert/edit link (Alt + Shift + A)Unlink (Alt + Shift + S)Insert/edit imageEdit CSS StyleInsert More Tag (Alt + Shift + T)Insert Page break (Alt + Shift + P)Toggle spellchecker (Alt + Shift + N)▼
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For most executives, January is the time of year when your people expect to hear from you. You may be speaking at a national sales meeting, a leadership conference, a strategic planning retreat, or even a virtual conference call to kick off the year. Whatever the venue, you are going to be front and center. So imagine you are giving the keynote speech to your employees. Your keynote is an opportunity to set forth the theme and key issues for the coming year.
What are you going to say?
As you think about your keynote, the first and most critical task is to consider your audience. “Know your audience” is one of the cardinal rules of public speaking. I’d like to offer one critical assumption about your audience that will guide my suggestions.
My big assumption is that your audience – from your direct reports to junior associates – is comprised of highly talented, competent, and motivated individuals. AND they have multiple career options and mobility. Some of them are restless. Over the holiday season, they’ve been taking stock, reflecting on their future, and seriously considering making a move this year.
Before we move on, let’s make sure you buy into that assumption about your audience. If you agree, then read on, because the stakes are high. These are people who you need to be on board and fully engaged in order to succeed as a company and personally. (If you don’t agree, then you have an even bigger problem. Your work is cut out for you to get those types of people into your company and into the room in the first place.)
Now back to your speech. What does your audience – of highly talented, competent, motivated, and mobile individuals want to hear from YOU?
1. Connect with me on a personal level. Yes, I know you are talking about business, but remember that I need to trust you to follow you. So tell me a personal story. Share about your personal reflections over the holidays. Talk about challenges that you’ve faced and overcome in your leadership journey. Be vulnerable and human.
2. Create context and connect to purpose. What’s changing in the marketplace? What do these changes mean for our company? How do your core purpose and values endure in the midst of change?
3. Share how you are thinking about the business. What thought process is guiding your decisions?
Check out this article about Sam Palmisano and the four questions he uses to guide strategy at IBM. Sharing your thought process not only increases trust and transparency, it also teaches your people how to think strategically.
4. Give me a candid, yet optimistic assessment about the business and our future. Talk honestly about our challenges and how we will address them, yet make sure that you focus on opportunities. Demonstrate how our company is positioned for success in the marketplace.
5. Define success for 2012 and lay out the three MUST-DO actions for the year. If you cannot simplify your strategy into three key initiatives or themes, you risk it becoming too complicated and diffuse for us, your people, to remember and to operationalize.
6. Connect the dots. Show that you understand my world as an employee – my hopes and dreams, my challenges, and my day to day realities.
7. Challenge me. Show me that you are stepping up as a leader and challenge me to do the same. Make me want to rise to the occasion. Describe very specific actions that you are taking and challenge me to think about my own actions.
8. Finally, bring me into the conversation. Provide a venue before, during, and after the meeting to engage in conversation with you.
Ultimately, if I’m sitting in the audience, I will be asking myself – did my confidence in this company just go up? Or down? Is my commitment to this company stronger? Or shakier? Am I clear on what you are asking me to do as I leave the room, or am I confused?
Your keynote to employees is a huge opportunity with high stakes. Make sure to connect with what is really on the minds of your audience.
___________________________________________________________________
Think of the best – or worst – keynote you’ve ever heard from a leader in a company? What made it great or terrible? What were you really hoping to hear? Leave your comments below.
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