Magazine article Management Today

Speak for Yourself. (Vital Signs)

Magazine article Management Today

Speak for Yourself. (Vital Signs)

Article excerpt

Do they mean me? Those introductions from the conference ring-master make one sound so extraordinarily interesting. They also mean that in about 20 seconds you've got to enter stage-left and walk impressively to the lectern or, worse, stumble from the front row of the audience up some little steps in the half-light [real danger of foolish trips) or, most worrying of all, rise to your feet at the top table from the ruins of a factory-made pavlova and get them in the first two minutes.

My favorite line is always 'I stand naked before you', because, of course, it's utterly true [aschor-man, however, I favour 'I hope you'll give him a warm had on his opening' -- you can't go wrong with those dignified classic sentiments).

Speeches provoke the most delicious Schadenfreude. In Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe describes how intellectuals just love seeing a rival's rhetorical flights and elaborate constructions collapse in a tangle of banalities and incomplete sub-clauses. It's shameful and certainly not team playing, but it's also one of the greatest private pleasures known to management man.

Speech-making is the management equivalent of the academic's 'publish or perish'. It's part of the process of moving from middle to senior management, from specialist to star. As a board member, you'll make at least eight to 12 big set-piece speeches a year. Externally, you'll be marking the firm's financial calendar with the City, with journalists, at discreet lunches for 12 and at AGMs packed with absolute nutters. Internally, you're rallying the ranks, breaking bad news an setting off the annual hooleys (the awayday, the Christmas party, the lot). It's an opportunity to shine, to sell, to get people on-side. It's your one chance to convince people who really matter that you've got it.

But back to Schadenfreude. What constantly astonishes me is how many clever, engaging, articulate men and women, people capable of reaching FTSE boards before they're 40, people who are direct, forensic and funny when unscripted on their home turf, can be quite so awful on a platform.

The commonest mistake is to start speaking a sort of foreign language -- a more dignified, elaborately constructed language than you normally use. You start talking like the first, worst business textbook you read at 21, like an academic paper, dense with show-off references, a mass of aural footnotes. …

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