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Talk tracks for Executives are more sophisticated than what regular speakers need. Executive deliveries target senior audiences, are short, focus on big picture business questions, are rich in facts and precise contexts with multiple internal stakeholders involved in the talk track developments. You can create talk tracks that make your executives successful by focusing on five key elements.
Writing influential talk tracks for an executive audience
The art of writing a talk track for an executive starts by understanding executive audiences and what they are looking for in a speech. The primary audiences are customers, investors, and industry stakeholders on the same level of seniority. These audiences are looking for proof points on business outcomes rather than explanations on how products, services, and technology work. A crucial part of your audiences’ focus is finding insights that can help them advance their business agenda. It is an audience trained in picking up key points in short interaction windows. They have little time to allocate, and it is common to see them taking in insights from four to six speakers in an hour of their attention.
Your job as the team developing an executive talk track is to make your executive shine in front of executive audiences. Most team members are not at this level, creating challenges when finding facts and wordsmithing for the target audiences. A good source of inspiration on what to target is investor conferences, short and to-the-point sessions with business-focused messages. A great way to grow is to listen to investor briefings and read quarterly earning transcripts.
Unlock execution with a diverse set of unique competencies
A big talk by a corporate executive involves contributions by many unique competencies:
- speech writing – wordsmithing and story flow structures
- subject matter expertise – detailed knowledge about the topics to cover
- communications – knowing the channels and audiences you are targeting
- asset creation – second opinion on messages and creation of visuals and videos used to support the talk
- executive appearance – familiar with each Executive’s communication style and preferences.
- project management – keeping it all together
A clear blueprint for an executive talk track is invaluable to make the whole development team drive in the same direction. A powerful executive talk track format builds on past talks’ experiences and makes each preparation round smother and better than the previous one.
The base structure for an Executive talk is a powerful intro, a body with the meat, and a closure centered around actions the audience can take. When building out the talk track, a good starting point is to focus on the body first, with modularity and a standard structure for each topic addressed.
Build from strategic questions where the audience seek to take action
Identify vital questions your audience has and where you have a point of view to present. The questions to target are broader industry topics, major market trends affecting your market, and opportunities to grow your business into new areas. Outside-in questions focused on your audience and their challenges and opportunities. Great questions are:
- New or allow your Executive to present a new perspective on an existing question.
- Concentrate on why, how, how much, and when rather than what centered.
- Specific and strategic rather than too generic and tactical.
Well-crafted questions can be provided directly to a host or a moderator as input for a fireside chat or an interview. Great questions surface continuously in customer meetings, investor and analyst sessions, and your partner interactions. Be proactive, hunt down questions constantly, and craft embryos to executive stories and responses. When you need them, you often have very little time to act.
Enable delivery in brief windows of time
Executives are the ones best trained in communicating in short windows of time, and this communication form is how they communicate with customers, peers, and subordinates most of their time. They understand the importance of crisp and clear messages and are very familiar with reading up on a topic before delivering.
When writing an Executive talk track, you have to script for delivery in very short windows. Expect 12-15 minutes for a fireside chat, 8-12 minutes for a keynote, or 5-7 minutes talking time for each Executive on an industry panel. TV interviews are even shorter, and the real test is if your talk tracks work or not.
The time available defines how many questions you can cover in the body of the session. With the 3-minute per topic rule of thumb described before, two to four topics in the body of the talk are a suitable ambition when scoping an executive speech or conversation.
Articulating a pithy point of view for each question
Pithy point-of-views come from an experience or insight you have already gained with a lead customer. The creative part of the job is about articulating a point of view that your audience will adopt. Think about your Executive as a guide who will help the audience move from point A to point B, and with support to see the urgency to take action now. A good layout for your point of view on a question is to aim for two or three messages/sentences. It is an art to deliver a message in just three sentences.
Numbers play a vital role in describing the size and timing of a market shift or the impact of front runners and early adopters. Each number you use should be precise and come from a credible source. Numbers become powerful when your audience can understand the context around them and why they matter and relate to the metric intuitively.
One trap you want to avoid is to stack too many numbers on top of each other. An approach that can come across like reading names and numbers from a phone book.
Stress test messages and anchor with key internal stakeholders
Executive talks tracks require a more comprehensive and time-consuming internal anchoring. Assume the superiors for each contributor to be involved in the final review or stress testing.
Before putting a senior executive on stage and presenting a point of view, you need to stress test your story and messages to secure you minimize the risk for unintended side effects. You constantly balance between presenting a point-of-view that provokes thoughts and triggers action without going too far. Your executive talk track should also work when you reach your audience through questions asked by a business journalist, an investor/analyst, or a TV host. This reality force you to keep points simple and easy to understand.
The five essential ingredients in the body of an Executive talk track
Anatomy of the body of an executive talk track covers the following points for each topic:
- They start with a succinct why, how, how much, or when question, framing each topic.
- Two to three short bullet points that are easy to memorize. It is vital to get them in a logical sequence that is easy to follow.
- Craft one sentence per bullet, written to be communicated verbally. Executives use the full-sentence texts when reading up for a talk, presenting from a script, or using a teleprompter.
- Add clarifying context if needed to explain the numbers you use.
- Explicit references for all numbers used, making it clear that data is fresh and comes from a credible source.
The icing on the cake 🍰 is quotable one-liners. Concise points, with one number that goes straight into your audience’s hearts and minds, and you know they work when a journalist picks up from a talk.
A strong start and an ending inspiring to take action
Up until now, we have focused on the body of the talk. Your Executive needs a strong beginning and a finish with a call to action.
Plan for a 30-second hot start, where you clarify what you will address and what your flagship message is. Script this part word by word as you intend it to play out. A good source of inspiration is business interviews on TV. Eliminate ramblings and stumblings from this part.
The ending is always a call to action. Summing up the main topics and points presented, what they mean, and the proposed action your point of view should trigger. The activities your Executive trigger is the success measure for a great speech.
In an interview situation, emphasis is likely to be on the body of the talk.
Questions for you and your team
- Which are the signature areas your Executive exposes externally as part of their leadership brand?
- What does your current blueprint look like for Executive talks?
- Do you build your Executives’ talks as a full-custom design for each appearance or create from a portfolio of pre-defined modules intended for re-use?
- To what extent does your Executive share topics with peers in your company?
- How long do you get as a team to put together a new talk?
- How much time can your Executive invest in preparing for each talk?
- What is the target team within your company required for proactive and dedicated talk track development?
Additional reading suggestions
- Speech writing for C-level Executives [BLOGPOST] – by Matthew Schwartz, Stanton PR
- What was it like to writing speeches for Apple Executives [ARTICLE] – by Bouree Lam
- Storytelling for leaders: what makes a great story [BLOGPOST] – by Julian Mayhew, VirtualSpeech
- How to make a memorable executive speech: 14 expert tips [ARTICLE] – Forbes
- Before the Mic [BOOK] – by Glenn Gibson Presentations
- How to develop and master executive presence [ARTICLE] – by Caroline Castrillon
- Tom Henschel: Establishing your executive presence [PODCAST] – by Business Made Simple with Donald Miller