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January 21st, 2009

Developing An Executive Voice

Yesterday I read The New York Times article on President Obama’s head speechwriter, 26 year old Jon Favreau (no, not that Jon Favreau). The article discussed some of the ‘tricks’ of speechwriting and how Favreau channels the newly elected President when he sits down to write.

The article brought to mind an episode from the penultimate season of the long-running television series, The West Wing. In the episode, Jimmy Smits’ character, Democratic presidential candidate Matt Santos, is doing pre-debate prep with his communications team and a consultant brought in that specializes in media and debate training. Throughout the episode, Santos’ comms team is trying to help him find ‘the presidential voice.’ Santos struggles with this throughout the episode, until someone finally tells him, “always seemed to me the President made the voice, not the other way around.”

Jimmy Smits (The West Wing's President Santos) with President Obama

This correlates to something we do in the communications field – media training CEOs and other corporate executives. The West Wing quote applies to the ‘executive voice’ the previously mentioned group uses as well – the exec makes the voice. Each one has his or her own personal style and they have to find and develop the voice that they’re comfortable with. That voice that execs have is an important part of their job for things such converting a media briefing into coverage, creating awareness and securing investors, among other things.

In contrast to the President of the United States, it’s important for executives to develop the different ‘tones’ of their voice these days. For example, the voice that a CEO would use for an interview on CNBC is a bit different than the one they would use on their executive blog and is also different than the one they would use for a panel presentation at a trade conference. A good executive will learn to adapt his or her voice to the audience they’re speaking to and it’s up to their communications team to help them with refining those differing tones. A good comms person should be able to clearly articulate the differences in those tones so it’s easy for an exec to understand why they must develop each individual one.

About the Author
Kevin is a senior client executive at Voce working to lead, develop and execute communication programs that focus on public relations and social media. Read his previous contributions to the Voce Nation Blog and follow Kevin on twitter @kevin_york.

Filed in Public Relations

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