"Here’s what I think: Communication is not what the speaker knows – to a large extent, it’s not even what he or she says. Communication is about what the listener takes away and what happens as a result of that takeaway." Virgil Scudder, author, World Class Communication: How great CEOs win with the public, shareholders, employees, and the media
I heard Virgil Scudder on a webinar in November about the secrets of world-class communicators, and I was pretty taken by his remarks, so I bought his book. While World Class Communication is written primarily for CEOs, there’s plenty about how their personal brand affects the corporate brand they lead. In fact, Chapter 2 is titled You Are a Brand: Make It the Right One, which dives into a CEO’s presence, look, public behavior and philantropic pursuits.
But my takeaway from the book? Most of what a CEO does – both in and away from the office – affects the corporate brand. And as we know from Marty Neumeier, a brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what they say it is, i.e., the public. So what are they saying?
The interesting thing is it doesn’t start with a CEO doing something; it starts with listening, not only to the right people but consciously spending 80% of a conversation listening and 20% talking – i.e., active listening. You don’t need to look far to find examples of organizations with CEOs that didn’t listen to the right people or ask the right questions. Virgil provides a lot of great examples throughout the book, including some from as recently as last year, so it’s contemporary from that standpoint.
Another great point along those same lines is word choice – and in Virgil’s view, the wrong words last a lifetime, especially on the Internet. "Simple, common language is often the only the most eloquent, but invariably the most appreciated by the listener," Virgil says." Executive speech should sound fresh, warm, and friendly. Cliched words and phrases, along with overused expressions, create a sense of distance between speaker and listener." I might add, it also creates distance between a brand and its audience.
Those are just a few reasons why Virgil strongly advocates establishment of the role of Chief Communications Officer (CCO) in corporations. That position should be part of the C-suite and report directly to the CEO, he says, and would encompass the current roles of PR director and head of corporate communications. Why? They are focused on counsel, strategy and managing risk, and can help capture and refine the voice of the CEO. Plus, they are the eyes and ears of the organization to the larger world and can provide counsel with those key insights.
The book has separate sections on how a CEO should communicate to vital constituencies like investors, the board and employees; working with the media; making public appearances; and crisis communications, which I thought was intensely important. Virgil debunks the common reasons companies aren’t ready for a crisis ("It can’t happen here," etc.) and the crucial need for preparation. That includes a crisis response plan, of course, but also the need to test it from time to time and what to say (and not say) in a crisis.
This is the kind of book I am going to need to read every year, because I represent a brand in my day job, and I aspire to be a CCO someday. So bravo, Virgil, thanks for a great addition to my library.