CEOs Can’t Rely on Talking Points When Giving Speeches

Christopher Witt —  November 7, 2013

CEOs speechesCEOs give speeches all the time, to many different audiences, for many different reasons. And a lot rides on those speeches — their prestige, their ability to command people’s attention and support, the success of a project or even of their organization.

Because they are busy and lack the time to prepare a speech for each event, CEOs frequently speak from “talking points.” They may have jotted down those talking points themselves or, more commonly, their communications director or administrative assistant may have prepared them.

Talking points are a short list of statements that sum up a person’s position on a particular issue or an explanation of an important matter.

Politicians and political campaigns use talking points all the time. They serve a purpose: they keep candidates (and their representatives) on topic.

But talking points don’t make a speech. Not an effective one. Not for CEOs.

A speech is more like a story than a dissertation.

  • A speech begins by catching your attention, and it builds its case both logically and emotionally. It does make summary statements. (It’s main point and sub points are all, in a way, “talking points.”) But it also provides the right blend and balance of evidence (facts and figures, definitions, citations) and illustrations (images, metaphors, anecdotes, quotations).
  • A speech pays special attention to transition points, because how the pieces of a speech hold together — how one idea leads to the next — is as important as the pieces (the ideas) themselves.
  • A speech is personal. It expresses the CEO’s own vision and passion and in the CEO’s unique voice.
  • A speech is well worded. It uses the most powerful words and phrases to clarify, drive home, and make memorable its message.

CEOs give speeches all the time. They’re too busy to prepare a new speech for every event. But they shouldn’t rely on talking points. So what should they do? I suggest that they take the time to develop three basic speeches which they can give again and again with slide modifications. (That’s the topic of my workshop, “Three Speeches Every Leader Needs,” which I’ll be writing about more in later posts.)

What do you think? Are you a fan of talking point? If so, why? If not, why not? What do you suggest as an alternative.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Christopher Witt

Posts Twitter Facebook

Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

2 responses to CEOs Can’t Rely on Talking Points When Giving Speeches

  1. Chris,

    you make an excellent point; There are too many pre-briefs; when trying to determine the vision or direction of an organization a leader can not use talking points from his subordinates; the leader must have an original thought on the direction he wants to take his organization. If the leader is getting his posiiton on an issue from his subordinates is he really leading? there needs to be a better balance between preparing your leader for a meeting and him or her developing their unique thoughts on a subject.

    • Derek,

      Thanks for your insights. The worst speech I ever wrote was for a university president who didn’t have time (or wouldn’t take the time) to meet with me. I should have walked away from the job, but that wasn’t a number of years ago and I was green. I ended up writing a generic speech that I’m not proud of. I can’t imagine he was proud of it either. It certainly didn’t reflect his position, thoughts, vision.

      Sadly, I think this sort of thing happens all the time, when CEOs turn to their marketing or communications people and say, “give me some talking points.”