10 Key Qualities for CEO Speeches

Updated: Mar 1

This is your big moment. You’ve been named CEO or elected president of an association or chosen as the head of a college. You are now faced with giving your followers some sort of address. Thoughts race through your head, “What in the world do I even say? How will I appear to them? Will they like me? Will they believe me?” What should leaders say in their CEO speeches?

CEO speeches are key leadership moments where many of your followers will confirm or reject their initial impressions of you for good or for bad. It’s your chance to set the tone of the upcoming year and steer the direction of the group. When planning your CEO speeches—whether to a company, professional organization, college, or constituency—make sure that they contain the following 10 elements. Unsurprisingly, they are the same 10 that anyone would want in a leader.

Honesty: No one wants a leader who is going to hide the truth or true to sugarcoat it. You should own up to any problems faced in the past years or obstacles to overcome in the year ahead. Vulnerability doesn’t make you weak, it makes you stronger.

Humility: You’re now the leader, but the speech is not about you. Your followers do not want to hear about your resume or long list of past accomplishments. Sure, provide some context of where you’re coming from, but approach the speech with a perspective of serving rather than bragging.

Positive: Your followers are looking for hope and a positive message. You don’t need to gloss over upcoming obstacles and you don’t need to keep it strictly informational. Talk about what’s possible and what your group can achieve. Talk about your company’s past accomplishments and how those have laid the groundwork for another successful year.

Realistic: Don’t promise the world. You aren’t going to increase sales tenfold within the first quarter. Set goals for your followers that are realistic but also a bit of a stretch—ones that will cause the group to grow as they reach for them but ones that are so insurmountable as to have your followers doubt whether or not they can achieve those goals. Sure, some people out there claim that you have to set unimaginable goals and those will ultimately motivate people to achieve them. But your credibility is on the line. If you’ve done things like that in the past, sure go ahead. Chances are, you want to keep your credibility and would be much better with what’s possible.

Brief: Keep it under 20 minutes. The temptation is there to say everything. You want to give all of your ideas to your followers in one grand speech. Some executive addresses surpass the one hour mark! You now have to compete with smart phones and tablets—once they come out you know your time is up.

Entertaining: Endless recitations of facts and figures are never in someone’s description of “entertaining.” While there is nothing wrong with bragging about last year’s sales numbers or talking about this year’s forecast, people still want a grand arching vision rather than an accounting meeting. Use stories, audience participation, and even videos, to add variety to your address.

Visionary: While you want to keep the speech realistic, don’t shy away from setting out a long-term vision of what you imagine the group can become. This doesn’t have to be something you complete in one year, but a vision for how the group will last into the future.

Grateful: Make sure to thank the people in the room for their hard work. Thank the unsung heroes of the organization and the people who helped build it up. Don’t dwell too much on thanking everyone, but recognize hard work and success when you see it.

Group above individual: Along the same line as showing gratitude, leaders often want to thank individuals who stood out from others in the past. Or they want to thank people who got them to where they are today. This can be a challenge for any leader. If you want to thank a mentor or special person in your life, then go for it. But when you recognize individuals within the company, others may feel left out that you didn’t recognize them for their equal or even greater accomplishments.

Inspirational: If your speech has all of the qualities above, it will be nothing short of inspirational. Keep in mind the key goal of the executive address: You want to inspire rather than inform. Take advice from Mario Cuomo, “Campaign in poetry, govern in prose.” Your address is closer to an inaugural speech than a boardroom strategic planning session.

Your first address to your followers is a pivotal moment in your tenure as their leader. It’s your chance to set your vision and tone of your leadership. Leave your followers with a great first impression and good results will follow.

Photo by Alexandre Pellaes on Unsplash

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