If I can speak corporate, will you love me?
Recently, I sat mesmerized while listening to an executive’s explanation of how he prepares to give a quarterly report to his board of directors. After listing the facts and figures that the board “most definitely wants to hear”, he finished by glancing around the room nervously and becoming silent. Eight other smart executives were there as well, looking at him, or through him: it was hard for me to tell. I don’t however, think they were as fascinated. Now, I have to tell you, I was not interested in the actual list of numbers he droned through. I was taken by how this intelligent, interesting guy, who had a lot to say about sports, family, and the current economy’s effect on business while chatting informally with his colleagues just 1o minutes before, had turned into a soft-spoken and perhaps inconsequential bore. No passion, no information analysis, and no indication of just how smart he is and why he’s good at his job. And I wondered; why I would ever want to friend him on Facebook, or connect with him on LinkedIn, or, worst of all, follow his tweets on Twitter? Who would this fellow be if he is representing his company in the social media environment?
As smart and engaging as he is personally, once he stood up to talk as a corporate executive (and, I would assume, if he had to speak to others as a “businessperson”), he lapsed into a dialect of thick corporate speak; a concoction of numbers, catch phrases and acronyms. In the 5 minutes he spoke, he never told us what course of action to take based on the numbers he disclosed nor did he reveal the consequences of what might happen if nothing changed. Sadder still, I doubt the board would have gained anything from his report, even though they really want to know what matters and what he would recommend.
So, with everyone rushing to get companies on the bandwagon of Social Media, I am concerned that there can be a wall that keeps content of value safely locked behind boring, undigested informational blather. The idea of “safety in numbers” has an ironic twist in meaning when executives and professionals do not offer insight or comprehension to the conversation, hiding behind the less-risky method of offering volumes of content with little depth. Data gathering is not enough, it needs to be pressed into service and given meaning.
So, please do not ask a C-level executive or, for that matter, anyone in the company, to jump into social media if that person isn’t willing or able to have a forthright conversation. If the person communicating from the company’s desk cannot speak clearly, with depth and presence, and project some real saavy about what’s going on, that conversation will end more quickly than someone can leave the room if they were there in person. Actually, we’re normally far too polite to just walk out of a room when we’re bored, but the online world is a cruel place, and being “unfollowed” is just a click away.
I’m not asking for flip personal conversation or chatty filler to seem “human” or that even more abused buzzword, “authentic”. Corporate communication cannot afford to be jargon-filled and rote or superficial; it must be active and authorities should speak, authoritatively and with purpose when speaking from a corporate setting.
Otherwise, whether it’s 140 characters or 140 pages, there is no reason for anyone to listen, much less be mesmerized, engaged, or even interested.
If you have the dreaded job of delivering reports on some kind of regular basis, I’d suggest first spending the time to create conclusions that make numbers, facts and calculations have relevance and meaning. Then, whether you share them in face-to-face meetings or use a blog or any other kind of media to present them, you’ll have engaged listeners.
Whether it’s “We have a problem, Houston” or “We’re good to go”, putting thoughtful perspective on even the most routine information-sharing will be the strongest way to create respect and engagement.