Rhetorical pink slime

A CEO introduces the new corporate mission by telling an "authentic" story, from his childhood. Vital Speeches editor calls b.s.

You can see it for yourself on the video at bottom:

The handsome young CEO takes the stage at an employee town hall meeting to introduce the company's new mission.

He begins by telling the employees, "So I've been thinking about my favorite memories as a kid."

Because isn't that how everyone goes about announcing a corporate mission statement? By thinking about their childhood memories? As a kid, "I would run up this dirt trail to the top of the Berkeley hills. And when I would get there, I would sit down, and I would stare out at San Francisco. And just looking at the city, it made me feel like anything was possible."

Now I don't know about you, but when I was a kid and gazed out across vast cityscapes, or even my messy bedroom floor, I didn't think, "Anything is possible." I wondered how the hell I was supposed to deal with all that. But he's a CEO and I'm just a dumb ole writer, so we'll give his inner child the benefit of the doubt.

"So this morning, I put on my running shoes, and ran up to the top of the same dirt trail, and I got there and … there was a log—the same log that I sat on as a kid."

Amazing! He ran up the trail this very morning and found the old childhood log and told his speechwriter in time to get the perfect anecdote loaded into the teleprompter!

"And it reminded me. It reminded me how I used to dream so much about what my life could look like, and the impact that I could hopefully have on the world."

Spoiler alert: The little shaver would one day decide he could change the world by running a real estate company. You didn't see that coming, did you?

Well, that's because you don't know the handsome CEO. You see, he came to become the CEO of the real estate company—and then he came to embody that real estate company's new mission!—as a result of something even more profound that happened to him as a child!

"Before I share with you Compass's newly articulated mission, I want to share with you something deeply personal from my own story. I have felt out of place my entire life. I'm the son of an Israeli immigrant mother, and an African American father from Louisiana who left me and my mom when I was just a baby. Through his actions, my dad told me that I don't belong. When my mom called my grandparents to say that I was born, they—knowing that she dated interracially—asked only one question: 'What is he?' They didn't ask, 'Is he happy?' They didn't ask, 'Is he healthy?' 'What is he?' My mom said, 'He is Jewish and black.' They immediately hung up the phone and disowned us both. To this day and to their death, I never met them, I never spoke to them. They made it clear that I don't belong."

Thanks to his mother who told him to dream big, a good college education and a number of instructive early jobs, the young man found his own personal mission in life. "To help people at pivotal and transformational moments in their lives."

Now that he's the CEO of the real estate company, he wants everyone to have a personal mission. "I want everyone—every agent, ever employee, every client we touch—to benefit from the same sense of purpose that I experienced."

Okay, but what does this have to do with the deeply personal story about being abandoned by his father and disowned by his grandparents? Well, check out the real estate company's new mission! "Our mission is to help everyone find their place in the world."

Get it? His father and his grandparents made him feel like he didn't belong, but now he runs a real estate company that makes people feel they belong! "At Compass, we know how transformational it is to open up a door and feel like you're finally home. To look out of a window and see a neighborhood that makes you feel like you belong."

There's that word again! It's all about belonging! (Reminds me of Buddy's Carpet commercials I saw growing up. "I don't care about makin' money," said Buddy. "I just love to sell carpet!")

Then the CEO gets solemn. "But too many people need more help finding their place. Every year, 40 million people in the United States alone move. … Every year, 40 million people are searching for their place. … At Compass, we're helping everyone find their place in the world. It's incredibly meaningful to me personally that I have finally found my place here, with all of you."

And the crowd went wild. They really did. A standing O. And the video of the employee town hall, posted onto the company's YouTube channel, has garnered 122,500 views.

And yet, the speech is utter bunk. This guy’s irresponsible father and racist grandparents had not one thing to do with the new mission this company dreamed up in focus groups. 

That "deeply personal" story he told about his childhood was nothing more than what he used to fill in the blank that says [insert seemingly searing personal anecdote here to establish "authenticity"].  

Had he indeed been telling employees something new or something private or something truly insightful about their business, the firm might not have posted the speech externally.

But no, the thing was just a big marketing smoke ring, blown out of this CEO's rather athletic asshole. Might as well let everybody see it.

But really, no harm done, right?

Well, not unless any employee or customer actually believed the guy about his personal mission and his deep feelings and his core passion about helping people at transformational points in their lives, and tries—perhaps in more difficult economic times—to hold him to it.

And not unless we mind that when a speaker says she's going to tell a "deeply personal story," audiences to start thinking, "window dressing."

What that bugs me about this is the distinct possibility that a clever speechwriter put the CEO up to telling this story on account of every speech needs a story. And what haunts me is that the speechwriter might have gotten this misguided idea at from a professional development event not sanctioned by the Professional Speechwriters Association.

You see, as the executive director of the PSA, I have a deep passion for authentic communication. And to make you understand why, we have to go back to one day when I was a little boy … —DM

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