Keynote speeches have become a conventional way of communicating a firm’s strategy. Popularized by firms such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, more and more executives announce strategic moves such as market entries or the introduction of a new product or service at staged, large-scale events. The benefits of relying on keynote speeches for strategy communication are vast. Among others, the broadcast nature of keynote speeches enables firms to reach great numbers, partly even millions of stakeholders at an instant. Furthermore, the staged setup allows executives to maintain control over the message being conveyed.
However, as a detailed analysis of Apple Inc.’s keynote speeches published in the Strategic Management Journal suggests, effective strategy communication encompasses more than a clear message about the announced strategic move. Here are two things you should know about communicating your firm’s strategy effectively through keynote speeches.
Novel vs. Familiar: Watch Your Story
Given their staged, “grand” nature, one might be tempted to use keynote speeches to communicate strategic moves as “breakthrough”, “revolutionary”, or “incredible” initiatives. The strategy being announced would, then, be considered “novel”, i.e., unknown to or different from what audiences would expect. For example, Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, introduced the first-generation iPod as a “major, major breakthrough”.
Yet, the audience does not necessarily ignore the fact that keynote speeches are “grand” orchestrations. Therefore, they may not broadly buy into hyperbolic claims for novelty.
Consequently, effective keynote speeches build on stories that combine claims for novelty with statements that render a strategy “familiar”, i.e., known to an audience. For example, Steve Jobs introduced the “revolutionary” iPod touch by suggesting that, “If you’ve used an iPhone, you’ll feel very much at home”.
Leaping vs. Leveling: Watch Your Body
The careful balance of claims for familiarity and novelty can be prepared at the storyboard. However, keynote speeches are more than just a story conveyed through talk. This format also draws attention to nonverbal communication on stage, especially through bodily movements such as gestures and gazes. Such movements may irritate the audience when they are misaligned with what is said. Yet, bodily movements may underline or even reinforce the conveyed story when done well.
Claims for novelty may be supported by “leaping gestures”, i.e., excited, forward-pointed bodily movements. For example, Steve Jobs introduced a new version of iTunes that “doesn’t look that different” to the previous version with such bodily movements in order to “show you the difference”.
In turn, claims for familiarity may be underlined by “leveling gestures”, i.e., unexcited and relaxed bodily movements. For example, Steve Jobs used such bodily movements to praise the iPod shuffle as a known product that “worked”.
Prepare and Exercise
In summary, effective keynote speeches combine two things. First, they are well-prepared stories that render a strategy both “novel” and “familiar”. Second, keynote speeches draw special attention to bodily movements on stage. Fortunately, the staged nature of keynote speeches enables executives to prepare and exercise both aspects in advance.
On the Author
Matthias Wenzel is Professor of Organization Studies at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany. He also serves as Coeditor for Media Innovations at the Strategic Management Society.