CEOs not prepared for public speaking

|| April 28, 2018

In the business world, 2018 has been the year of the executive under pressure.

The Royal Commission into the banking industry has been the latest to show business leaders fidgeting, mumbling, shifting and squirming under the pressure of a public grilling. 

Most of those executives are used to a life in which they're almost always right, their views rarely questioned to their faces.

But this is the modern day and the Hayne Royal Commission has underlined this simple observation - just because you may be an excellent executive doesn't mean that you're going to perform well in a public situation. A business record counts for nothing in public performance.

Some of the executives who have appeared before the Hayne Royal Commission should have studied Mark Zuckerberg's recent appearance before US Congress. There are varying views on Zuckerberg's performance but most agree on one element - he was at the very least competent.

Much of that came down to Zuckerberg's non-verbals. And that's where a lot of CEOs get it wrong - they spend so much time thinking about their words that they forget completely about their body language. And that can say more than words.

Everyone has a nervous habit. We worked recently with an international-level athlete who spoke very well but his nervous reaction was to fidget with his hands below the desk at a media conference. You can imagine how that looked.

Another high-profile athlete we work with scratches his neck when he speaks with media. It's simply his coping mechanism but it's distracting. He has worked hard to overcome that.

Here are some simple tips for executives who will present publicly:

  • Where will you place your hands? It's not a silly question. Most executives don't think about it.
  • What's your nervous habit? You have one, even if you don't realise it.
  • Warm up your face. That sounds weird but it's far better than the emotionless, tense look that many executives bring to public performances. We carry a lot of tension in our face. Warm it up.
  • Warm up your voice. It's important. And it's simple

There are a bunch of other simple methods to get ready for public speaking. At 55 comms, we work with our clients on the "OnStage Toolkit" - borrowing methods from actors about warming up and focusing before they go on stage.

If you think it doesn't matter, ask the executives whose excellent business careers have been tarnished by woeful public speaking engagements. There are plenty out there.

- Ainsley Pavey