CEOs Are Too Stiff (Mistake #3)

Way too often we have seen a CEO making a major speech, with both hands hanging on the lectern for dear life. Not good. First of all, why is the CEO hanging on (or appearing to do so – perception is reality in the eyes of the perceiver.) He or she is the CEO, and should not be nervous anyway, so why isn’t he or she showing energy, enthusiasm and excitement about their message?

One of the primary problems I see in most CEOs’ (and others’) speaking is they are too stiff – too wooden. It knocked one top executive right out of the Presidency – Al Gore. If he was open and expressive in his communicating ability, he might just be the President of the United States right now.

Communication rides energy, and too many people lose all their natural and expressive energy when it counts most – when they are leveraging their time speaking to hundreds or thousands at once. They emphasize their content, thinking “if I just say the words, people will get them. Not so.

Remember Professor Albert Mehrabian’s research – when you give an inconsistent message, people will trust and believe what they see and hear, not so much what you say. In training and coaching over 200,000 people we have found this to be absolutely true. So both the research and the experience say: Express your enthusiasm!

The primary problem of CEO’s speaking behavior is that t hey don’t, quite simply,

  • Move
  • Gesture
  • Smile

What to do

  • Forward Lean, like an athlete. If a CEO would think more like an athlete, they would make being in the ‘ready position’ a habit. On the balls of your feet, ready to move, like an athlete. If you’re forward, you want to MOVE forward, both physically and psychologically. Then you can get out from behind the lectern and move around the stage or room. Naturally. Not standing stiff and wooden in one place.
  • Let your hands work for you. In personally coaching tens of thousands, I’ve seen maybe one out of 500 who over use their hands and gestures. The problem is we all tend to have a nervous gesture that we are comfortable with, like the fig leaf, but shows our nervousness. Don’t let your comfort be your guide, help the audience be comfortable with you be showing confidence and certainty in your gestures.
  • Lighten up. Look at what a smile did for Katy Couric – enormous influence as well as millions of dollars. Think funny.

Final recommendation to those CEO’s who are afflicted with “tight speak,” get on videotape. We have to see ourselves to really see how we come across, and see both the strengths and the weaknesses. CEO’s often rehearse the content of a speech, but only the enlightened ones rehearse their behavioral skills. Like professional athletes, they need to be continuously in training, getting coaching and feedback. Particularly video feedback.

Remember, observed behavior changes.

This is the third of a series of the five mistakes CEO’s mistake, and how to avoid them. The first three:

1. They read speeches

2. They aren’t storytellers

3. They are too wooden

Next: CEO’s aren’t always creating.

One comment on “CEOs Are Too Stiff (Mistake #3)

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