Guest Post by Mary Civiello
College commencement speech season may be the best time to learn how to communicate powerfully. This season is off to a good start with President Obama at Morehouse College, Arianna Huffington at Smith, Steven Colbert at the University of Virginia and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo at the University of Michigan. From their talks, we can derive a few takeaways:
There's no excuse for not knowing your audience.
Arianna Huffington and Steven Colbert show that if you do a little to understand your audience, you can connect with them much more effectively. Arianna told Smith grads that she had stalked them online to learn what they were thinking, doing and blogging about. She picked up a few tidbits to make the students laugh, to praise their achievements and to inspire them to higher callings.
And after making the UVa grads laugh, Colbert showed his serious side to inspire them.
People don't care how much you know unless they know how much you care.
President Obama has been criticized for coming across tired and unenthusiastic. Business execs with too much on their plates take the same rap. My advice: Get personal. At Morehouse, Obama talked about wishing that his father had been present in his childhood and how he feel motivated to be a better father and husband…and a better man. Be brave enough to let your caring show.
Acknowledge your weakness. It makes others stronger.
Highly successful people often have trouble acknowledging shortcomings. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo played up his vulnerabilities and limitations to show the students at the University of Michigan that you don't have to be the most dynamic guy to run one of the most dynamic businesses in the world. That's something to Tweet about.
And let's not forget: Keep it simple.
No compilation of commencement greats would be complete without referencing Steve Jobs' speech at Stanford in 2005. The late Apple (AAPL) founder shared three "stories from my life"—and if you're not one of the 17 million people who have watched the speech on YouTube, you might want to do so before you try your next inspiring talk.
Mary Civiello is an executive communications coach. She works with leaders at companies and not-for-profit organizations including Morgan Stanley (MS), Merck (MRK), American Express (AXP), AIG (AIG) and MetLife (MET).
The former homeland security advisor offers insight into President Obama's decision to raid Osama bin Laden's compound.
by Leigh Gallagher and Patricia Sellers
FORTUNE -- Less than 24 hours after Washington and the world learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. special forces, Bush Administration homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend sat on a State Department stage before a group of Washington's most powerful women and lauded President Obama MOREmeganbarnett - May 3, 2011 11:54 AM ET
"First of all, I think it's important to realize that I was actually black before the election."
-- President Barack Obama, on the Late Show with David Letterman Tuesday night. In the first appearance of a sitting President on Letterman's show, Obama covered health care and Afghanistan, but also addressed concerns that the rage seen at recent town hall meetings was rooted in racism. He doesn't think it has anything to MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Sep 22, 2009 6:02 PM ET
"When he's not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy."
-- Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., after the "beer summit" with Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department, Vice President Biden and President Obama. Race relations have taken center stage ever since Sgt. Crowley arrested Prof. Gates for disorderly conduct in his own home last week. Of the moniker given to the gathering, the President called it MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jul 31, 2009 2:56 AM ET
"Find someone to be successful for."
-- Barack Obama in his speech to Arizona State University grads on Wednesday in Tempe, Arizona. He borrowed the phrase from an ASU engineering student who said that watching video of the people who would benefit from the medical devices she was designing, "made us want to be successful for them."
The President acknowledged that while many graduates might not know what they are going to MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - May 15, 2009 6:39 PM ET
"Put yourself in the path of lightning."
- Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's longtime friend and senior adviser. This is what Jarrett told young Barack and Michelle early on in their friendship -- years before she or even they imagined he might become President. Jarrett's rule -- one of her 21 rules of life -- came up tonight as I was talking with Ann Moore, Time Inc.'s CEO, at a reception we MOREPatricia Sellers - May 14, 2009 8:29 PM ET
"We need to simplify a monstrous tax code that is far too complicated for most Americans to understand, but just complicated enough for the insiders who know how to game the system."
-- President Barack Obama in a speech at the White House on Wednesday. The first couple paid about $855,000 in federal taxes and would have gotten $26,000 back, but applied the amount to their 2009 income taxes instead. Happy MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Apr 15, 2009 7:10 PM ET
"Why didn't the waters part, the sun shine and all the ills of the world disappear because President Obama came to Europe? That wasn't our expectation. That'll take at least a few weeks."
--White House senior adviser David Axelrod, in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. As Axelrod quips, repairing U.S. relations with Europe won't happen overnight, but Obama got off on the right foot--helped no doubt by his rock-star status on the MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Apr 8, 2009 5:51 PM ET
"I think if you're only thinking about yourself, your life becomes diminished."
--President Obama at a French town hall, on the importance of public service. For more on people embracing Obama's "new era of responsibility" read yesterday's post where I talk about the Serve America Act passed by Congress this week. --Jessica ShamboraJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Apr 3, 2009 6:59 PM ET
"Sorry buddy, you've still got the job."
-- President Obama quipped that this would be his response to Tim Geithner were the Treasury Secretary to try and quit the job. On CBS's 60 Minutes last night, Obama called Geithner "as sharp and as skilled a public servant as we have." The embattled Treasury boss can finally claim a win today. His public-private partnership plan to clear toxic assets from bank MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Mar 23, 2009 6:20 PM ET
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