Real Life Speeches: George Halvorson, CEO Of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.

by drjim on June 2, 2009

George Halvorson Gave A Keynote Speech That Can Teach Us All A Lot

George Halvorson Gave A Keynote Speech That Can Teach Us All A Lot

We can talk about how to be a better communicator all we want, but in the end it comes down to learning – and we all do this in different ways. One great way to discover what a speaker should (or should not) do is to watch ’em in action. This time around we’re going to take a look at how a powerful CEO, George Halvorson, did during a recent keynote speech.

Halvorson is the Chairman and CEO of the Kaiser Permanente health system. There’s no question that he knows his stuff, the challenge will be to discover how well he can communicate it.

While attending the recent HIMSS health care show up in Chicago, I had an opportunity to watch Halvorson in action as he gave a keynote speech. How did he do? Overall – not bad, but it could have been better. Let’s find out how.

  • Nerves: First off, this was a big presentation. In the audience were approximately 10,000 – 12,000 eager listeners. We all talk about getting butterflies in our guts before we talk, but just image how Halvorson must have felt?
  • Introduction: That being said, the lead in to Halvorson’s speech was spectacular. A professionally produced video and well done sound track listed all of his accomplishments. It was rock show quality stuff and everyone was pumped up and ready for a good speech by the time he took the podium.
  • Opening: That’s when the ball got dropped. The first words out of your mouth have to be grabbers – they have to convince your audience to pay attention to what you are going to be saying. Halvorson’s were, unfortunately, forgettable. He started by thanking people and commenting on the convention – pleasant talk that went nowhere.
  • Humor: It turns out that Halvorson has a great sense of humor. Although this was a high-stakes keynote speech, he was able to work his humor into it and this really allowed him to connect with his audience. He came across not as an aloof CEO, but rather as a real guy who is trying to solve problems.
  • Notes: Reading from your notes is always a bad idea. Halvorson did a lot of this and it showed. Now I’ll grant that this was a big speech and there were multimedia issues – he had to synch up with the folks who were controlling the slide show. Still, when you read your speech word-for-word you lose that connection with your audience.
  • Hands: what to do with your hands during a speech is always a big question. Halvorson did pretty well, but he still struggled at times. As we all have a tendency to do, he put his hands on the podium and even leaned on it at times. When he made gestures with his hands, they were down low and couldn’t be seen by the people in the back of the room. However, there was one point in time in which his right hand was used in a hammering gesture that drove home the point that he was making.

We can practice our public speaking by ourselves as much as we want, but having the opportunity to watch and learn from others is, as the folks at Visa tell us, priceless.

Questions For You

How do you like to get introduced – is there any multimedia involved? Do you have the courage to use your personal sense of humor in your speeches? How much effort do you put into having a great speech opening? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Even if you don’t work in the world of high-finance, you surely know who Alan Greenspan is. He was the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. There’s no question that this guy is smart, but can he deliver a good keynote speech…?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

E.G. Sebastian June 3, 2009 at 9:40 am

In my intro I have a simple short bio read by the person who introduces me; but I do my best to make it short and impressive, occasionally with a litlle twist of humor in it.

As far as humor goes, the more I speak, the more I’m allowing myself to just be me – which is a bit dangerous ’cause I tend to have extremely “sharp”/dry/ or at times nasty humor… I always read the audience and just use as much humor as I feel the audience can take (I interract heavily with the audience members, hence I get a good feel about their sense of humor, etc.)

My opening? … and closing…? Those are the two parts of my presentations that I spend most time on, and I do my best to memorize them. The meet of the speech is easy – what I work hard on is to create openings that grab the audience right away; and closings that will leave the audince with a feeling that “Yes, this was a great presentation!.”

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