Do IT CEO’s Communicate Better Than Common Folk?

Talk Like A CEO
Talk Like A CEO

Greetings from Las Vegas! I’m currently attending a very large trade show that is put on by the giant storage company EMC. This year it’s being held in Las Vegas and so far I’m only down about $100 or so; however, the conference goes for another two days so I can financially hurt myself still more!

The thing that I like best about attending this show is that if I move quickly, I can get a front row seat for the keynote addresses that are given by EMC upper level management team. I’m only vaguely interested in what they have to say, but I’m VERY interested in how they say it and if any of it sticks. Yesterday was the big kickoff: Joe Tucci who is the Chairman, Presidant, and CEO of this $15B firm. I had very high hopes: I mean, if anyone could buy their way to being an effective technical communicator, then Joe is the man.

So how did he do? Sadly, I believe that I’d have to give him a C. Maybe a C+, but that’s it. He did a fantastic job of delivering a speech from a technical point of view: clear diction, no filler words, very little pacing, and his slides / graphics were top notch (but of course — he’s in charge of a $15B company!). So why does he just get a grade of C? He didn’t connect with his audience. He talked for about an hour and must have hit on about 40 different points during his talk about EMC the company and all of it’s products and upcoming product. However, I’m betting that 30 minutes after he was done, you could pull aside anyone who had attended and they’d be unable to remember more than one or two things that Joe said. When it was over, it was over — the world had not be changed. What a waste!

I need to give Joe one little out here: he is in charge of the company. What he says can cause a change in the company’s stock price and so he always has to be careful about what he says. However, that doesn’t mean that he can get away with being boring.

Complaining is easy. Now how about if we talk about what Joe could have done differently to have been a more effective communicator. #1: know your audience, tailor your communication to your audience. Joe’s audience was VERY technical. These are the people who live, eat, breath storage systems for a living. Joe talked at a very high level for his whole speech and thus didn’t connect with anyone in the audience. He needed to at least once drop down into their world, show that he knows the types of challenges that they are facing, and then move on.

#2: Where’s the passion? Joe delivered his entire speech in a flat, non-emotional tone. Yawn! Come on, Joe’s from Boston the home of notorous hot heads. Oh, and he’s a sales guy to his core. Get some of that passion to come out — get people fired up! Tell the audience that HP and IBM make lousy products and that they made the right decision by selecting EMC products. Whatever — just show that you really care about this stuff.

#3: Tell a story. Nowhere in Joe’s speech did he include a story. Story’s are how we have always learned. If Joe had included a story, then this is what everyone would have remembered long after he was done.

So to answer the original question: no, CEO’s don’t necessarily do a better job of communicating than you or I do. Good communication always comes down to the three basics: know your audience, care about what you are taking about, and use stories to give your audience a way to remember what you have said.