How to help “The CEO who couldn’t say no”

By Bill Hiniker
I once worked with a Fortune 100 CEO I affectionately called “The CEO who couldn’t say no.”
He answered to a demanding board. His company had operations, customers and employees in almost every country. He was a smart guy and a dynamic leader. He was a skilled communicator, who truly believed that communicating was a critical part of his job and a means to accomplishing everything in his all-encompassing job description. Great, right?
So here’s the downside: He said yes to just about every speaking opportunity his secretary could crowbar into his schedule. Employee meeting in Florida? Yes. Ribbon cutting in India? Sure. A few words at Joe’s retirement party? Absolutely! Sales conference, press event, trade show? Yes, yes and yes. Service club meeting in a town in which his company no significant presence? What the heck.
Word spread quickly that he was a willing and capable speaker, so the number of invitations multiplied. With the support of his VP of Communications, I developed a simple Speech Opportunity Evaluation Tool to help separate the wheat from the chaff … or in this case the important stakeholders from the Rotarians.
The tool helps speakers, communications advisers and speechwriters evaluate speaking opportunities along five dimensions:
1. Audience. Is the audience made up of influential people important to the organization’s success? Is the audience size appropriate (i.e., are we reaching enough people to make it worth the executive’s time?)?
2. Venue. Is this a premium venue (e.g., top conference, forum, university, etc.)? Who else is on the program? Who else has spoken at this forum in the past?
3. Relevant message. Do we have something important and relevant to say on the topic being covered or to the audience assembled? Is the topic important to us? Is the executive an authority on the topic?
4. Ancillary opportunities. Can this speech be merchandised through reprints, publications, web postings, etc., or can valuable publicity be gained through the executive’s participation? Are there other things that the executive can accomplish in the same geographic area as the speaking opportunity (e.g., customer meetings, editorial board meetings, media interviews, employee location visits, etc.)?
5. Availability. Is the executive’s schedule open? If not, how does the importance of this opportunity stack up against other scheduled events? If not, should we consider offering a substitute?

The tool helped us inject a little discipline in the CEO’s decision-making process. Sometimes it worked; sometimes he thanked us for our input as he headed out for the Optimist Club luncheon.

Bill Hiniker is a veteran executive communication pro and speechwriter. He blogs at regularly at Messagepoint Blog.

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