The Five Biggest Mistakes CEO’s make in public speaking (and how to overcome them.)

Most CEOs are not inspiring. After more than 20 years of observing and working with CEOs and leaders in business, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion. And of all the folks who have to speak and communicate to inspire and motivate – they are it! I really think it’s because they have never received the right coaching to present their ideas brilliantly. And then they get to the level where it’s hard to get a training session where you can actually practice without a lot of handlers or support people around. But that’s the only way to risk, and grow, and it’s worth every bit of the effort – as those CEOs who have taken the risk and become great communicators can agree. (Look at Steve Jobs, Chuck Schwab and Bill Clinton for a few examples.)

I’m going to post the Five Biggest Mistakes in five parts, for three reasons:

  1. Spaced repetition is a proven method of discovery (and learning.)
  2. Maybe you want your CEO (or associate) to know of one of these mentioned mistakes that he or she is making, and want to forward it – you don’t want to send a tome but a short piece.
  3. This is a blog, and it would be too long a post to give you several pages.

Later I will post the entire piece as one, but each mistake deserves its own space – email me if you’d like to get it all now at .

So with that, here are the Five Biggest Mistakes I’ve discovered, with some coaching insights that will hopefully be passed on, because just maybe your CEO could use a hint or two if he or she is afflicted. I call them presentation tips for the top dog, (and all the little dogs too.) Speaking and communicating with excellence and energy is a learned skill, and critical for leadership and motivation – the CEO’s primary task.

Mistake Number One: Reading speeches

Yup, this is numero uno because its so pervasive. I guess because it’s safe and traditional. It just doesn’t work. We think that speaking is just a form of the written medium. Not so – they are almost polar opposites in form and purpose.

I think CEOs drift to reading speeches for a few reasons. They do it so someone else can write the speech, or so they don’t have to practice, or maybe they insist on being precisely accurate. The problem is it is not effective. We are all taught that if we say the words people will get the message, but it’s not true. Not when:

  • You’re looking down too much to read and not connecting with listeners through good eye communication.
  • Your voice tends to be monotone because you are READING, not speaking and expressing from the heart.
  • You are stuck behind a lectern, often holding on for dear life (if you fear public speaking), and not moving around naturally and gesturing with enthusiasm.

Reading speeches often is unconsciously perceived as maybe someone else’s words, not authentic, and certainly rarely enthusiastic (see above.) (Partly because she read a speech so poorly, short lived Senate candidate Jeannine Pirro dropped out of the race. Take a look here.)

Don’t read speeches! It may be easier, and feel safer, but it does not communicate well, much less inspire or motivate. And it takes twice as long to prepare as it should.

And if you aren’t going to read presentations, don’t write them out in the first place. There’s a better way – create your messages by using note concepts, brainstorming and organizing on Post-it notes. And although I’m certainly biased, I would suggest using the Decker Grid System™ because it works – using these principles. (There are tens of thousands of well prepared folks out there using the Grid, who are well prepared in half the time, and never read!)

Next: CEOs are not storytellers.

One comment on “The Five Biggest Mistakes CEO’s make in public speaking (and how to overcome them.)

  1. Agreed.
    Usually my best presentations are developed not as a perfecly sculpted manuscript, but rather, as I brain map through ideas and thoughts.
    Another technique that I have found helpful in combating reading presentations is in the preperation process >> it has to do with my belief in collective creativity. I try to gather as many people as possible into conversation, debate, and dialogue in a number of different mediums. Why? If I am involved in on going conversation of my presentation how much easier is it for me to be free from my notes?
    Looking forward to why CEO’s are not storytellers. My initial reaction is that I disagree.