Prepackaged leader communication puts employees to sleep.


Got a cup of coffee or your caffeinated beverage of choice?

Good, because I need to talk to you about the ubiquitous executive interview: you know, the newsletter or website article in which a leader is profiled in article or Q&A format.

Hey, I think you nodded off there for a moment. I can understand why—these interviews are Boring (with a capital B). The unseen interviewer asks deadly dull questions like these:

  • Why do we need to embark upon the XYZ initiative?
  • What is the impact for the U.S. region?
  • In your new role, how will you be interacting with other regions?

That’s bad enough, but next come the answers: hundreds of words of carefully crafted Corporate Speak. The executive says what she thinks the CEO wants to hear, not what employees actually want to know.

The result? Zzzzzzzz.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve got news for you: Interviews can actually be interesting. (If the media can do it, you can, too.) Here are 5 ways to reboot the format:

1. Set clear objectives. “We need an executive interview” is not an objective. Spend time thinking about what you’re actually trying to accomplish. Establishing trust? Shedding light on an important issue? Then design the approach accordingly.

2. Interview regular people, too. I know you probably won’t be able to completely avoid executives, but aim for a mix of both leaders and employees (from all levels). Why? Employees relate more easily to their peers. 

3. Ask really good questions. Be unexpected. And provocative. Challenge the interviewee to think. Two questions I’ve used lately:

  • Name one company you admire. What can we learn from that organization?
  • What advice can you give to colleagues who want to accomplish X?

4. Write so answers sound like a person talking. You don’t have to create Elmore Leonard-style, but you should capture the person’s authentic voice. Resist the temptation to overcorrect. And be prepared to defend against editing that creates a packaged feel. 

5. Make answers very short. Depending on the question, one word is often enough. Here is how Amy Poehler answered Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: What do you consider the most overrated virtue? “Symmetry.”

No more boring executive interviews!  Start now to wake them up.

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