Recently Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, was forced to reverse an unpopular revision to the firm’s employee benefits plan. In an employee call, detailed HERE, Mr. Armstrong announced an adjustment to the company’s 401(k) matching program. Pretty straightforward although unpopular with employees, the change in itself should not have been a news event, let alone garner front-page coverage and hours of airtime, with “Armstrong distressed babies” generating more than 54 million hits on Google. All of this could have been avoided. During the aftermath, much of the conversation has been about the content of his comments and the subsequent apology. Had Mr. Armstrong mapped out and vetted his content, as well as stuck to a script, this self-inflicted PR bullet would have never been loaded let alone shot in such spectacular fashion.
Mr. Armstrong has a history of just speaking what he thinks, and he seems to lack empathy when he goes off the rails. As you may recall, last year he abruptly fired a staff member while on a company-wide conference call, HERE.
If you are prone to making off-the-cuff, inflammatory statements, you are best suited to being well-rehearsed and scripted. We also recommend an objective sounding board to run through your statements beforehand.
Even if you are a thoughtful person who does not tend to make outlandish remarks, you are still better off being prepared and seeking a gut check from a trusted advisor who will offer an honest perspective and thoughtful feedback.
Simply, prepare remarks in advance and read through them with someone who can flag a statement that isn’t clear, contains inaccurate information or may come across as insensitive. Seek honest feedback, not just things you want to hear. Then stick to the script. Practice and rehearse until everyone is comfortable with the content and the delivery. If you are on a call, it’s ok to read from a script. If you are presenting in front of an audience, bring your notes. Don’t change up the language or decide to wing it.
The resistance to this approach has been that an executive may sound stilted or like he is reading. But with the right preparation and practice for a smooth, comfortable delivery of a script, that does not have to be the case. Even so, honestly, would you rather sound like you are reading from a script—or sound like a jerk?
Melissa F Daly has 20 years of financial communications experience, with a special focus on key message development and media relations around critical issues. Melissa formed MFD Communications after spending three years at Goldman Sachs as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Prior to that, she was a Director at Brunswick Group, a London-based financial and business communications firm. There, she spearheaded its financial services business in the US, managing communications for hedge fund, private equity, insurance and traditional asset management firms. Melissa also worked at Fred Alger Management, The Hartford and Lipper in communications and media relations roles and has frequently appeared on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator. Her experience spans across business sectors and continents.