Do your speeches achieve company goals? 6 vital steps

It’s not enough to have an audience chuckle at the jokes and applaud at the end; what’s your overall strategy?

Perhaps your CEO shambled through a speech here. Or he won a hearty round of applause there.

Glasses perched on his nose, he channeled your eloquence to warm audiences on cold winter days with his grandfatherly charm.

But did the speeches achieve anything? Did your organization accomplish any goals through all the lectern-thumping? And how do you measure that concretely?

If you can’t answer these questions, several industry pros say, it’s time to weigh the effectiveness of your overall speechwriting strategy.

The issue is not, “I’m going to give these speeches on these subjects,” but what you are trying to accomplish long-term, says Rob Friedman, senior director of executive communications at Eli Lilly.

“It’s what the hell is the goal that you’re pursuing, which is aligned with what your company is after?” he says.

Often speechwriters think their work can’t be evaluated in business terms, says Grant Neely of Pfizer. He disagrees. “You can measure the overall value of a comprehensive executive communications program,” he says.

Here are some tips for a successful speaking strategy—and for measuring whether individual speeches are effective:

1. Determine your objectives.

Lilly’s focus is advocating an external business environment that is viable for pharmaceutical innovation. This is essential for two reasons, Friedman says. The industry can be unpopular among a public that is unhappy about rising health-care costs. And it seems to tempt governmental intervention.

“We’re in a business in pharmaceuticals where governments and legislators can make rules that can destroy your business,” Friedman says. “We like to say some of the legislation has as big an impact on your company as a blockbuster drug, with potentially billions of dollars of impact.”

So the company’s speeches make the case that free-market policies reward innovation, unlike government-controlled pricing. In emerging markets like China, the company advocates strong protection for intellectual property. Without that, it argues, pharmaceutical companies won’t bring in medical innovations that benefit the Chinese people.

2. Develop a strategy.

Lilly’s CEO, John Lechleiter, speaks at major forums such as the National Press Club and the Commonwealth Club of California. Friedman has reworked speeches into op-eds for papers like The Wall Street Journal. The speeches get exposure, because their goals are greater than touting the latest product.

The media tend to focus on national issues, so to get their attention, Friedman writes speeches on matters they care about. Reporters may not be interested in hearing about Lilly’s latest pharmaceutical innovation, but they will cover the topic of American innovation and competitiveness, says Friedman.

“Sometimes it’s the CEO who will be that public voice, so why not use that person to take on the big issues?” he says.

3. Set goals for individual speeches

Rather than approaching each speech as a discrete event—a commencement address or business forum speech—treat them as a means to achieving your long-term strategy.

“It’s not going to work if you sit down and craft a great oration and then start measuring it afterwards,” Pfizer’s Neely says. “You start off and say, ‘Why am I giving this speech? What is my goal? What do I want the audience to do after hearing this speech? What do I want them to feel?'”

4. Poll your audience.

In order to quantify audience reaction, Neely leaves copies of a survey he has written on every chair, and he requests that listeners fill it out before they go. It asks the audience to rate the talk on a scale of 1-5, and it asks, “What was the point of the speech?”

If the audience is confused on something that basic, it’s time to refocus your message. Over time, the scorecards can help gauge the success of your strategy.

Neely says factors such as whether the audience was nodding in agreement or typing on their BlackBerries are important but not sufficient to chart a speech’s success. He also advises speakers to jump into the crowd, shake hands and welcome feedback—even critical remarks.

5. Arrange for a professional critique.

Often the skills that get executives to the top of companies don’t include inspiring audiences leap to their feet and cheer. If they are poor speakers, it is left to the staff to hint to the boss that she might want to join Toastmasters International.

The company Leading Communicators has another approach. It has developed an evaluation called Speakcheck, in which it assesses executive speeches on a scale of 1-10 for 150 elements related to both content and delivery. It charts whether there a call to action, whether the audience understood what was being asked of it, and whether the speaker conveyed the intended message, says CEO Marianne Gobeil.

“It will identify the things that the leader is doing right, and the things they could do better, and any particular critical barriers to being effective,” she says.

6. Measure your success

The point of a speech is to move an audience to deeper understanding, and to action. This is not just a one-time event, but a step in a campaign, Friedman says.

Lilly can point to positive media mentions, and Lechleiter’s speeches played an important role in raising his profile. After running the company from China for a month, he was interviewed on CNBC. He was one of 20 CEOs invited to the White House to meet with President Obama, in part due to a broader communications strategy, Friedman says.

“What is that movement you’re looking for?” Friedman says. “Are you looking to sell more? Did you sell more? Are you looking or votes for politicians? Did you get those votes?

“Are there laws you’re trying to get enacted or mitigated or changed? Did that actually happen? And did the speeches play a role?”

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