A communication expert’s top executive speakers
Mary Civiello is president of Civiello Communications Group, a media consultancy that works with top executives and others on their communications and presentation skills. (Full disclosure: She has advised some Fortune editors and writers.) She’s the author, with Arlene Matthews, of Communications Counts: Business Presentations for Busy People. At Fortune’s request, she reviewed presentations and speeches of our
Fortune Fantasy Sports Executive League
roster and fielded an expert team based on leaders’ communications skills. (Anyone can play, and scoring depends, in part, on how closely the player’s picks match those of experts like Civiello.) Civiello shared some of the names on her team with Fortune’s Stephanie N. Mehta.
Mary Civiello: I focused on communications because to lead you need to get people to follow. So I looked at what they [Dream Team candidates] were doing in social media and other platforms. I looked at what they say, and how they say it. Often I looked at commencement speeches and other presentations to students because in some ways the bar isn’t as high as speaking to investors, and the way they talk to students is more akin to how they might talk internally.
I look at the verbal, the visual, and the vocal. With the visual, the big differentiator is eye contact. You wouldn’t believe how many executives even read the words, “Hello, it’s great to be here,” when giving a speech. With the vocal, it is being able to pause. It is quite a thing to be able to be comfortable and confident enough to stop and look. The verbal is passion and showing that they care.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks (SBUX) was my CEO pick. He really isn’t afraid to share the personal. So many executives I work with are reluctant to share a little bit about their background; he uses it well.
Carol Tome, my COO, is really dynamite. I looked at a speech she gave at the business school at the University of Denver, and she gives a big hello and she continues to say hello to the audience and then confesses, “I’m just looking for that clicker” for her presentation. She handles it all so well, she has great, great energy, she engaged the audience, just a terrific communicator.
IBM (IBM) CFO Mark Loughridge, just has a loose conversational style, doesn’t use a lot of jargon. I work with a lot of CFOs and they just have a heck of time [with jargon]. In the clips I watched he was really conversational, he was funny, and he really, really connected with his audience.
Beth Comstock of GE (GE) [Civiello’s pick for CMO] uses props all the time. That’s a risk, but she pulls it off.
For chief strategist I went with Jenifer Li of Baidu (BIDU). I loved her style, she’s businesslike but feminine, she talks about her kids and her family life, but I saw her in action with a group of executives and she can be really, really firm.
For non-executive chair I picked John Mack. He presented at Wharton and it was unbelievably good. He isn’t afraid of the personal story, but he also uses anecdotes that help you picture what he was talking about. In his presentations, he conjures up an image, he’ll say, “I told my wife, ‘I could be reading a book on the beach at Hilton Head,’” and that creates a picture you’ll remember. So many speakers could do this and fail to do so. It would add to their authenticity and to the effectiveness of their message.