We sat down with VTLO Account Director Brian Keefer, who has extensive expertise in change management, media relations, and employee engagement, to discuss the topic of executive communications. He’s worked with leaders in complex, global corporations as well as small, entrepreneurial organizations in highly-regulated industries including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and health services.
Q: What’s one of the greatest communication challenges for an executive?
A: Knowing what your audience doesn’t know, which is where a communications professional can add value. For example, I worked with a divisional EVP as we were going through a merger. He was one of the first people to know about it, and was involved in all the initial discussions and decisions. He grew tired of delivering the same message over and over again, but I reminded him that it was the first time that the majority of his audience would be hearing it. While I know he wanted to move on, he appreciated my counsel and we achieved the outcome that we needed.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would offer to an executive?
A: Be authentic and look for opportunities to let your authenticity show. Whether you’re delivering an investor presentation, giving a speech to industry peers, or being interviewed on MSNBC, there are many opportunities to be more engaging while maintaining a polished image. In formal settings, you can use anecdotes to bolster your message. In other cases, such as communicating with employees, you can use blogs or videos to speak to your audience instead of sending them an email.
Q: Can you share an example of a critical executive communications moment?
A: I was working with a president who had to speak to 4,000 employees during a product launch. I’d learned that his presentations could be a bit stilted (and he refused to rehearse), so I had to be creative. I scheduled him for a mix-and-mingle session in the hallway right before his speech. He was very engaging and animated in small-group discussions, so it served as an excellent way to warm him up. When he stepped onto the stage, he was relaxed and conversational, and it was the best presentation I’d ever seen him give.
Q: Presentations are a common component of executive communications. Do you have any suggestions on how to make them more effective?
A: Besides building a killer PowerPoint template? Yes. In fact, modeling my suggestion for executives to use various communication channels, I recorded a brief video (shown below) with tips to improve any type of presentation.