Let’s not leave it to our elders to teach us Leadership Communication 2.0

I’m a message guy, all about the words, constantly feeling overwhelmed by the profusion of new gadgets we have to learn to read and hear them on.

So I reckon I’m the last person who should be telling speechwriters that they’re woefully behind the curve on social media.

Then why am I the first?

Because nobody else seems to be thinking very much—or very well—about how they might use social media to profoundly broaden, deepen and enrich executive communication. A couple of Silicon Valley executive communicators were astonished last week at Leadership Communication Days, at how rarely the talk turned toward blogs and Twitter, podcasts and YouTube. A dedicated conversation about video revealed that only the high-tech companies are even beginning to use it well.

And by “using it well,” I do not mean posting videos of speeches on YouTube. Onetime Reagan White House speechwriter Hal Gordon writes today on the PunditWire blog that, “With the Internet, a speech can reach a far wider audience. For one thing, it’s possible to stream a speech live. For another, it’s even easier to videotape a speech and post in on a company’s web site or YouTube.”

Yes, except I don’t like the chances of anyone but speechwriting savants like us watching one 20-minute speech on the same medium where it’s possible in the same time frame to watch 20 one-minute cute cat videos.

It wasn’t Gordon’s idea to post whole videotaped speeches on YouTube. He was only writing about Reagan White House speechwriter, Clark Judge, who shared it this week with members of the Houston Speechwriters Roundtable. And you can tell, even Judge sensed his notion wasn’t about to touch the face of God.

“Admittedly, said Mr. Judge, the Internet is vast and there is the risk that your video will be like a drop of water in the ocean. Still, he insisted, there will be lots of little audience ‘pools’ that will be interested in the content of your speech. Friendly bloggers can help publicize the speech by imbedding it in their commentaries. Bloggers always need new material.”

Little audience pools?

Wise speechwriters, Messrs. Judge and Gordon are. And it is not their fault that it has been left up to them to wonder fruitlessly why the business of executive communication hasn’t changed much with the advent of the Internet. They are speechwriters, whose job it is to write speeches.

Who’s to blame for the arrested development of Executive Communication 2.0? Everybody who dares to describe their work in terms such as “thought leadership” and “leadership communication.”

You can still make the case that good speeches are the intellectual foundation of a modern executive communication program. But you can’t say they’re anything more than that. The speech is the constitution, and the rest of the program—the CEO’s blog, the Twitter handle, the spontaneous video interviews, the listening tour, the exec’s YouTube channel, the execs’ participation in the company Facebook site, the podcast interviews—is the country itself.

How much energy and time and treasure should an executive communication director and his or her staff should spend writing speeches vs. finding novel ways to develop and disseminate execs’ ideas and personalities through the myriad channels available now (and interacting with the people who respond)? I’m thinking, 20-80.

“What has the digital age done to speechwriting?” Gordon asked rhetorically to begin his column. “There are few people in our profession better qualified to answer that question than Clark Judge, managing director of the Washington-based White House Writers Group.”

People, let’s let Clark and Hal off the hook.

Let’s come up with some ideas of our own. —DM

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