Leadership Lessons from Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, check out the New York Times interview with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson. As of this writing, it is the most emailed story from the New York Times. Anderson makes a number of interesting points about leadership, many of which bear on issues of communication and public speaking. 

One of my favorite lines is:

I’ve learned to be patient and not lose my temper. And the reason that’s important is everything you do is an example, and people look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do. And when you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run. And it was a good lesson.

I like this line because of the point that leaders must learn that people are watching them. When you’re speaking in front of a group, keep in mind that the audience isn’t just listening to your words. They’re watching everything about you to determine whether you’re worthy of being followed.

Of course, I also like Anderson’s point on communication. He was asked what he looks for in a new hire.

I think this communication point is getting more and more important. People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word. And when I say written word, I don’t mean PowerPoints. I don’t think PowerPoints help people think as clearly as they should because you don’t have to put a complete thought in place. You can just put a phrase with a bullet in front of it. And it doesn’t have a subject, a verb and an object, so you aren’t expressing complete thoughts.

True that.

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What Makes Seth Godin a Great Speaker?

I love speeches by Seth Godin.

Three reasons. He’s incredibly original.  I don’t always agree with him. But I know that I’m going to get some original thought from him that he feels strongly about. And I like that. It’s leadership.

Second, he tells stories. I love stories.  He starts with a thesis and then weaves a bunch of stories around it.

Third. He speaks with passion. It’s irresistible.


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Great Speakers Are Generous

I was working with a senior executive for a large company last week helping him prepare a speech to his employees.  At one point, I suggested that he tell his audience about a particularly challenging part of his job.

“I don’t see why they need to know about that,” he said. “Telling them about that really isn’t relevant to their work.”

Of course, he was correct.  But I wasn’t swayed.

“So what if it isn’t relevant to their job,” I argued. “They probably would like to know what it’s like being you.  Remember that these are your employees. They don’t know what it’s like sitting in your chair. They want to feel kinship with their leader.  Tell them about yourself in an honest way.”

So often good speaking just comes down to being generous with our audience. Tell them something honest about yourself and they will usually respond.

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The Slide to Leadership Ratio

I often tell my clients that there is an inverse relationship between the number of slides you have in your presentation and the amount of leadership you display.

The fewer slides you have, the more you look and sound like a leader. And vice versa.

The idea here is that speaking and presenting are about connecting with people, building relationships, and exerting influence. Presenting is not about relaying data and information. Too many slides, and all you’re really doing is transmitting data.  If you want to transmit data, just send a memo. I can read it faster than you can tell it to me. If I have questions, I’ll call you.

Yesterday, Seth Godin wrote an interesting piece about the The Heirarchy of Presentations.  He makes the point that presenting is about influence.

The purpose of a presentation is to change minds. That’s the only reason I can think of to spend the time and resources. If your goal isn’t to change minds, perhaps you should consider a different approach.

Slides don’t change minds. You change minds with the force of simple argument, stories and passion.

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What If all Presentations Were 10 Minutes Long?

At a workshop the other day at a bank, I posed the following question: “What would happen if the CEO of this bank decreed that all presentations can be no longer than 10 minutes?”

Here are some of the comments I received.

“So many of the presentations go on and on and no one is listening. If we knew that the presentation would last no longer than 10 minutes, we’d probably pay closer attention.”

“I’m not sure if that would be possible.”

“We couldn’t do it.”

“It would certainly make us think harder about what we were going to say.”

“We’d have to get to the point quicker.”

“We’d spend less time in meetings and could spend more time with customers.”

When the conversation died, I then asked, “Would the bank’s productivity increase or decrease?”

Everyone thought it would increase.

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Is “Provocative Selling” a Good Thing?

Is it is a good thing in a sales presentaiton to be “provocative” and challenge your prospect to think differently about their business?  That’s the question posed in an interesting post by Niall Devitt in the Sales and Sales Management blog.  

The post suggests that a good seller doesn’t just address what keeps the prospect up at night. A good seller also addresses challenges that the customer is not even aware of.

It talks about moving our thinking and methodology about selling from focusing on “What keeps our customers awake at night,” to “What should keep our customers awake at night.”

I agree, but with a caveat.  You certainly need to address what keeps your prospects up at night. But I love the idea of taking your thinking about your customer a step further and proposing detailed and global solutions to problems. 

Instead of just saying, “I have a plan to stop the leak in your basement,” you need to be saying “Of course, we’re going to stop the leak. But more importantly, we’ve got a plan to reduce your overall water usage, saving you thousands of dollars a year.”

The only caveat is that you need to be careful in proposing your ideas that you don’t come off like you know more about your prospect’s business than your prospect.

However, the best sellers and the best presenters do more than just solve the immediate problem. The best sellers and presenters get the prospect to think differently about that problem.

To my mind, provacative selling is another term for leadership.

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The goal is always to stand out from the crowd — but in a good way

Marketing guru Seth Godin has an intriguing post today about “Fitting in versus standing out.”     He points out that in everything you do, you need to choose whether you want to fit in or stand out.

In the public speaking and sales presentation world, I think the choice is obvious. You need to stand out.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to be fool. You need to stand out as the obvious choice, the best partner, or a clear leader.

The problem I see is that many people find that extremely scary.  “If I present like that,” one client one told me as I urged her to speak with more passion and to hone her points more, “then people are going to notice that I’ve changed.”

To which I respond, “Yes. We’re not here to help you become average. We want you stand out.”

Stand out in a good way. Stand out in a good way. Stand out in a way that makes people want to be aligned with you.

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How to Make Your Listeners Love You When You Give a Speech or Sales Presentation

A study of what makes people fall in love has implications for helping speakers connect with audiences.  Specifically, the more personal stuff you reveal about yourself, the more likely your audience is to like you.

At least that’s the conclusion that we draw from a study about what makes people fall in love. 

In the study, researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook gave pairs of students scripts that urged them to reveal things about themselves in varying degrees. The pairs that revealed more about themselves tended to form closer personal bonds. In fact one pair got married.

What does all this mean for those that want to connect better with an audience?  Simple. The more you reveal about yourself during a presentation, the more the audience will like you. 

Indeed, at Speechworks, we urge our clients to tell stories about themselves as part of the presentation.  Certainly you want to tell about your own success stories. If you’re trying to persuade a client to hire your accounting firm, tell stories about your own experiences solving other similar accounting problems.

But it’s also a good idea to weave personal details about yourself in the course of the presentation.  Letting people know that you have children or are learning to play tennis are personal details that will help you connect with the audience.

Next time you have to put together a speech, let the audience in on some personal details of your life. They’ll fall in love with you.

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How To Create and Deliver an Executive Briefing

Focus on big picture. Let the CEO take you into the weeds.

That’s the philosophy of a strong executive briefing.  A tight, high-level message inspires confidence.  “If you can’t tell it to me quick,” one manufacturing executive told me, “you probably don’t have a strong understanding of the issues.” 

Long rambling remarks sound uncertain.  With that in mind, prepare relatively short messages that focus on just the most important issues. Deliver the update quickly.

“But our CEO wants to know all the details,” one of my clients told me.  

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be ready with the details when asked.   But don’t serve up those details until you are asked.  A good waiter recites the specials and takes his cues on further suggestions from the restaurant patron.  He doesn’t read out the entire menu.  Similarly, a good briefer gives the high points and then responds to the issues raised by the CEO rather than wading into a lot of potentially unwanted detail.

Let the CEO ask for the detail she wants.  When you start at a high level, you can always go deeper.

Use A Three Point Briefing Method

Try a three point strategy:

  • Current Status
  • Key Challenges
  • Proposed Solutions

I worked with a telecom executive in charge of improving customer service. His task force had done several things to improve service and he had to report out to the CEO. He outlined his message as follows:

  • Current status: Our key customer service metrics are finally starting to move in the right direction.
  • Key Challenges: We’re still getting way too many customers calling us trying to figure out how to operate the new handsets.
  • Proposed Solutions: To solve the problem we’re going to get more involved in early development of the handsets.

When it was his turn during the meeting to speak, he quickly outlined the three key points, giving an overview in 15 seconds. An overview helps the listener get the big picture. Then he went back over the three key points, giving a couple of sentences of detail and explanation.  Then he stopped and took questions.

“Actually it was a very orderly and productive discussion that everyone was happy with,” he told me later. “We stayed on track and didn’t get too lost in unnecessary detail.”

Keeping your message high level tends to keep the discussion properly focused, leaving plenty of room for detail if needed.


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Hey Mr. President, Keep It Tight Today

When I visited Washington DC last summer, I stopped by the Lincoln memorial and read his second inaugural address. Of course it was still wonderful. I get goose bumps every time I read it.

But the thing that struck me most this time was its length.  It couldn’t have taken five minutes to deliver.   That brevity gave it incredible power. It was like the President was leading the nation in a short, fervent prayer.

Here is a speech for President Obama that was written by two readers of Slate magazine. I think it’s excellent. One of things I like most is that it’s short.

I favor short speeches not just because I’m easily bored.  It’s just that short speeches almost always have more impact than long ones.  

Surely that is what our nation needs today.

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