Sunday, June 30, 2013

Short, Sweet & Easy to Repeat: Gettysburg’s Lessons for Association Speeches

There is no plaque for Edward Everett (right), the main speaker at Gettysburg  in 1863

Bob Greene recently wrote a masterful column in the Wall Street Journal about the “forgotten Gettysburg Addresser.” 

This tale of two speakers (Edward Everett and Abraham Lincoln) offer insight for association executives, marketers and communicators.

As you probably know, we are approaching the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and (on November 19) of the Gettysburg Address.

Here are excerpts of Greene's column:
  • The poor guy who wrote and delivered the Gettysburg Address, and who then saw himself and his speech fade anonymously into the mists of history.
  • No, not that Gettysburg Address. The other one. The one that was supposed to be the main event that day.
  • The man's name was Edward Everett, and his story serves as a melancholy lesson for any of us who become cocksure that we're about to cross the finish line as the winner in something: our work, our play, any of the things at which we hope to succeed and prevail.
  • He nailed it. He had prepared meticulously. He had researched and recreated in lovely yet searing language the facts and meanings of the Battle of Gettysburg. He spoke for two hours, and used all of his considerable skills to mesmerize the audience. He would have been justly confident in believing that the first words of his address would go down in history.
  • As Everett returned to his seat, he might well have assumed that he had just delivered a speech for the ages. By my count of his text, he had spoken 13,508 words.
  • Then, after some music, Lincoln stood up. A two-to-three-minute speech. Fewer than 280 words.
Most of us were required to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. 

Most of our English instructors, however, misled us when they required us to write 500 or 1,000 word essays. 

By focusing on length over substance, they were teaching us to write like Edward Everett not like Abraham Lincoln.

All of us who work in associations can learn from the two speakers at Gettysburg. Whether in speeches, meetings, newsletters or blogs, association executives all have major communications responsibilities with our stakeholders.

Back when I worked at a very large international association, the CEO mailed (this was before internet) a “monthly activity report” to board members, chapter leaders and other stakeholders. Each department provided “highlights” for the report ... which sometimes reached 30 pages.

Jim Palmer, then one of our state executives, called me and said no one is reading the activity report. It’s too long. You should provide more frequent reports that are much shorter. And, his kicker was, “Steve, you’ve got to make it short, sweet and easy to repeat.”

After some testing showed poor readership of the monthly report, we convinced the CEO to switch from a 30-page monthly activity report to a 2-page (legal) Leader Letter that was faxed every Friday afternoon. Shorter and more timely, Leader Letter became a communications staple until the arrival of the Internet.

Today, associations can follow the short, sweet and easy to repeat strategy in multiple ways. It could be Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagrams or more. It might be a blog just for leaders and stakeholders.

Your communications should be impactful. They might be as short as a 140-character tweet or a 700 word blog or a 12 minute speech. 

In addition to the “short, sweet and easy to repeat” strategy, the three keys are:

  1. Make it only as long as needed to get the point across and no longer
  2. Use the “broadcast format” of “tell’em what you’re gonna tell’em; tell them; tell’em what you told’em.”
  3. Answer their “what’s in it for me” question.
Bob Greene’s column concluded:
“We would all do well to keep in mind: Sometimes, regardless of how diligently you prepare, of how splendidly you do your job, of how thoroughly you consider every aspect of the task, you get blindsided by fate.”

No comments:

Post a Comment