30 December 2014 – by Salem Samhoud, &samhoud
As the end of the year approaches, it is the time for leaders to start to think about their speeches. What will the message be? What are the results of 2014? What can we expect in 2015?
I don’t think I am the only one who thinks that, most of the time, these speeches are quite boring. Just tune in on any business channel and see an example of a CEO’s presenting their periodic report. He problem with a speech that ends the year is that everybody already knows what the message will be, especially the employees of the company. Everybody has a basic understanding, a feeling, if things are going good or bad, what is changed and what is going to change next year. Most leaders simply affirm these expectations by giving a global overview of the facts. Facts of this year, facts and expectations of next year, ending with a little food for thought. Merry Christmas, see you next year!
Adding some music
Lately, we have had the privilege to work with some musical clients; an orchestra, an opera company. Working with these gifted people, I learned some valuable lessons on how to deliver a message to an audience in an inspirational way, especially in delivering a speech.
The most important thing that I observed working with these musicians is that a classical piece of music is what it is: The notes have been written down by Beethoven or Bach and don’t change. In other words: the dry content is well known by everybody; performers and audience. So where is the magic taking place? What makes it that an audience can be fully enchanted by a performance by a piece of music that they already know? Obviously, this is caused by the way in which the message – the notes on the sheet music – is interpreted by the performers, or, in the case of a larger group, the director of the ensemble. A good performance – a performance that carries the audience to a higher level, is based on carefully deciding which emotion is going to be put where, and how this emotion is going to be expressed. A director of a professional orchestra does not explain what notes the orchestra should play or how fast. This is something all the members know by heart. The only thing a good director does is making sure that his interpretation of the music – his emotional translation – is realized by the musicians. And this is what is experienced by the audience. Without this interpretation, a performance is bad; you could have entered the notes into a computer program and let them be played precisely the way they are written down.
Conducting your audience
So what does this have to do with your Christmas speech? I think that, similar to a musical composition, every speech can be broken down into a couple of building blocks that are always the same: good/average/bad financial results; the need to invest/cut costs, etc. Story elements that everybody is familiar with and know (more or less) by heart. Facts that everybody can put together and everybody can read. These facts are not very interesting because they lack meaning; why are they important? What do they imply for me? And that is where you and your speech come in.
To give the facts of your organization true meaning you, as a leader, should carefully think on where you want to put which emotion. Which part of your story worries you? What makes you happy? What feeling do you want your people to take home? What makes these numbers exciting?
After this analysis, you will have to think on how you want to communicate these emotions. What tone of voice will you use? How will you use your body? Where will you make it personal? Where can you use a laugh?
I realize that, for a lot of people, this is not something easy. Only few of us are gifted to be truly charismatic speakers, naturally able to captivate an audience. For many people, it gives a sense of security to just stay with the facts and deliver the message as clean and clear as possible. On the other hand, I think it is part of a leaders’ job to engage his people; leading means to inspire people. And, similar to music, it is something that can be learned. It takes training and practice but in the end, it will be worth the effort.
Because I always want to end my own stories positively, I like to ask leaders this year to think more about the emotional aspects of their spoken performances. As preparation, just listen intensively to your favorite music – preferably at a live concert– and let yourself be carried away. Try to capture this emotion when starting on your text and work on it a if you were a conductor. And maybe, this year you will get a standing ovation of your people!