Your CEO Said What?

Why CEOs Need to Tell Stories, Answer Questions and Use Smaller Words.

“Questions don’t do the damage. Only the answers do.”

– Sam Donaldson (retired anchor, ABC News)

CEOs are used to being leaders and problem solvers. They reach that position through hard work and expertise in their field. And the best CEOs know what they don’t know and surround themselves with experts and counselors in those areas. 

At the zenith of his career, Tiger Woods had a swing coach. Derek Jeter drilled on grounders until his last game this fall. And, when you read or see a compelling interview with a CEO or other top leader, you can be confident that there was coaching and preparation in the background. In short, the best in their field know they can always improve; they understand that practice and preparation is the key to ongoing success.

In our experience, CEOs use media training or coaching sessions to work on the delivery of specific messages or stories or to prepare for a series of tough questions about a specific topic. Like a professional athlete, these individuals know the fundamentals. They know they should stay on message in a question/answer session and they know they should not speculate or share sensitive information.

But, CEOs also are real people. And, like the rest of us they will default to their instinctive personality, meaning, they might talk too much (long answers) or they might provide too much detailed information (jargon), or share a personal opinion that is neither effective (Microsoft) or appropriate (Lululemon).

One area where we spend considerable time with CEOs in media coaching is helping them to uncover and practice their storytelling ability. Most CEOs are focused on the bottom line, the numbers, statistics, percentages and ratios that telegraph bottom line business success. This focus can allow a CEO to lose sight of the people – customers of all types as well as employees – and without those people the numbers fall apart. As humans, we love stories; we want to hear about people, the people behind the numbers, that’s what makes any business come alive. So, we often find ourselves working with CEOs to practice their ability to tell the story of these customers and through that story bring their business strategy to life.

Finally, when the CEO takes this type of coaching and counseling seriously, the rest of the organization will follow suit. When subject matter experts and other company leaders see the CEO assigning value to media training they are more likely to be open to such sessions and fully engage in the experience.

There are few things your CEO (or any business leader) will do without some preparation – that’s why she is the CEO. A coaching session on fundamentals and the opportunity to prepare and practice is often the difference maker.


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