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What Charles Woodson Can Teach Business Executives about Effective Communication

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Tom Kuplic

Charles WoodsonWe did a little work for the Green Bay Packers a few years ago when they launched the opening of their new stadium and beautiful atrium, so you can guess folks here at LSB were a little more than excited by the Super Bowl win. Hey, everyone from Wisconsin is riding a high right now, but something our PR folks noticed in the run-up and completion of the Super Bowl is that the Packers’ veteran cornerback Charles Woodson became a pretty effective spokesperson for his team. When we looked a little closer, we thought there might be some great tips that businesses and CEOs can learn from Woodson’s example.

The best footage of Charles Woodson comes from this short clip on the Packer’s website that contains his message after the NFC championship game in Chicago. But beyond this single speech, Woodson has these five lessons to teach us about being an effective communicator.

Lesson One: Credibility is key.

Whether it’s working in a field for 30 years, having multiple degrees in your specialty or having the personal experience that others lack, credibility is absolutely essential to getting the audience on your side.  Aristotle called it Ethos in his tripartite model of persuasion, and it was the foundation on which strong communication is built. Without credibility, no respect. Without respect, nobody listens.

Woodson’s teammates seem to understand this and it was part of the reason he was put forward as the designated locker room spokesperson.

“When he goes to speak, he’s got everybody’s attention,” Frank Zombo, Green Bay outside linebacker said. “And you know that’s coming straight from the heart. That’s just a guy who’s been through it all, everyone has a lot of respect for. When he talks, everyone stops and listens.”

Lesson Two: Don’t wing it. Prepare.

“You don’t want to just go up there and rant,” Woodson said. “You want to give it some thought because you’re talking to your peers, and at the same time you’re talking at a time where the games are bigger than ever.”

It almost goes without saying that any speech worth giving is worth practicing, but how much practice do you need? From months for keynotes to several weeks for a client presentation, let the importance and length of the speech be your guide. Good speeches and effective communication are not the result of some divine inspiration and a last minute all-nighter. That tactic never worked well in college and it works less well in the business world. Edit, edit, get feedback, edit some more, get more feedback, edit even more.  Make sure a diverse group of trusted people who represent your intended audience give you advice, and look for folks who aren’t afraid to give you unvarnished criticism and who will know when your work is done.

Even Woodson’s one-minute locker room speeches deserve significant attention because they play an important role in motivating others.

Lesson Three: Soothe then Surprise your audience.

In Woodson’s postgame speech to the team following the NFC Championship game, he begins with some classic rhetorical repetition. The ultimate message is about team unity that he ties together with a nice little repetition of the word “one,” and just when you think he might veer into the tried and true football clichés by invoking the Pittsburgh Steelers as the opponent they are going to challenge, Woodson throws his audience a curve.

If your audience knows what to expect from your speech and sees everything coming before you even deliver the message, then what’s the point? Woodson knows this and brings up a comment from President Barrack Obama to provide the surprise touch of motivation. Notice how much this turn inspires the audience in the video.

Bill Gates did it by releasing mosquitoes at his TED speech; Steve Jobs does it by pulling a computer out of a manila envelope. What kind of surprise can you insert in your speech to capture people’s attention?

But remember, the best kinds of surprises further emphasize your main point and are not purely shock for the sake of shock.

Lesson Four: Know when and how to end it.

If you have a keynote, then your audience will have different expectations from a one-minute locker room speech, but no matter the type or genre of your communication, you’ve got to know how to end it.

Endings like intros are notoriously difficult things to pull off well. That’s why it is wise to hold off until after you have thought long and hard about what you want to say in the middle of the speech before you even think about the intro and ending. Being able to move from a highpoint or an emotional pivot point within your speech to the close is not easy. Practicing this transition with an audience is key. Memorizing an entire speech is not practical for most people, but memorizing the transition from the final highpoint through the close can ensure that your work to create a successful ending pays off.

Woodson may have a ready-made ending in the call for a break, but it’s his creative use of this convention that makes the ending so memorable.

Here’s the text of Woodson’s closing:

“And check this,” Woodson said, his voice rising. “If the President don’t want to come watch us in the Super Bowl, guess what? We’ll go see him!”

Amid the shouts from his teammates, Woodson led a cheer: “1-2-3 … White House!”

Lesson Five: Don’t be afraid of emotion.

Real men don’t cry right? Maybe that was true for the Lombardi era Packers, when you could just rub a little dirt on the wound, but when Charles Woodson addressed his teammates after learning he would not be returning to the second half of the most important game of his life, he went beyond telling his teammates what this meant to him. He showed them what it meant emotionally by breaking down.

Did he lose respect, cause spirits in the locker room to dampen? On the contrary, Tramon Williams noticed what everyone else did as Woodson broke down, it was the look on his face that motivated Williams “to do what needed to be done.” Woodson’s example is an important reminder, if the situation and context is emotional, don’t run from it. Odds are everyone else is feeling it too, and they’re looking to you to express it.

Thank you to Charles and the rest of the Packers organization for an outstanding year.

Go Pack Go!!!

We did a little work for the Green Bay Packers a few years ago when they launched the opening of their new stadium and beautiful atrium, so you can guess folks here at LSB were a little more than excited by the Super Bowl win. Hey, everyone from Wisconsin is riding a high right now, but something our PR folks noticed in the run-up and completion of the Super Bowl, the Packers’ veteran cornerback Charles Woodson became a pretty effective spokesperson for his team. When we looked a little closer, we thought there are some great tips that businesses and CEOs can learn from Woodson’s example.

The best example of Charles Woodson comes from this short clip on the Packer’s website that contains his message after the NFC championship game in Chicago. But beyond this single speech, Woodson has these five lessons to teach us about being an effective communicator.

http://www.packers.com/media-center/videos/Woodsons-NFC-Championship-Speech-at-Bears/1b68dc25-edd8-4769-bf2f-f4c79e31502e

Lesson One: Credibility is key.

Whether it’s working in a field for 30 years, having multiple degrees in your specialty or having the personal experience that others lack, credibility is absolutely essential to getting the audience on your side. Aristotle called it Ethos in his tripartite model of persuasion, and it was the foundation on which strong communication is built. Without credibility, no respect. Without respect, nobody listens.

Woodson’s teammates seem to understand this and it was part of the reason he was put forward as the designated locker room spokesperson.

“When he goes to speak, he’s got everybody’s attention,” Frank Zombo, Green Bay outside linebacker said. “And you know that’s coming straight from the heart. That’s just a guy who’s been through it all, everyone has a lot of respect for. When he talks, everyone stops and listens.”

Lesson Two: Don’t wing it. Prepare.

“You don’t want to just go up there and rant,” Woodson said. “You want to give it some thought because you’re talking to your peers, and at the same time you’re talking at a time where the games are bigger than ever.”

It almost goes without saying that any speech worth giving is worth practicing, but how much practice do you need? From months for keynotes to several weeks for a client presentation, let the importance and length of the speech be your guide. Good speeches and effective communication are not the result of some divine inspiration and a last minute all-nighter. That tactic never worked well in college and it works less well in the business world. Edit, edit, get feedback, edit some more, get more feedback, edit even more. Make sure a diverse group of trusted people who represent your intended audience give you advice, and look for folks who aren’t afraid to give you unvarnished criticism and who will know when your work is done.

Even Woodson’s one-minute locker room speeches deserve significant attention because they play an important role in motivating others.

Lesson Three: Soothe then Surprise your audience.

In Woodson’s postgame speech to the team following the NFC Championship game, he begins with some classic rhetorical repetition. The ultimate message is about team unity that he ties together with a nice little repetition of the word “one,” and just when you think he might veer into the tried and true football clichés by invoking the Pittsburgh Steelers as the opponent they are going to challenge, Woodson throws his audience a curve.

If your audience knows what to expect from your speech and sees everything coming before you even deliver the message, then what’s the point? Woodson knows this and brings up a comment from President Barrack Obama to provide the surprise touch of motivation. Notice how much this turn inspires the audience in the video.

Bill Gates did it by releasing mosquitoes at his TED speech; Steve Jobs does it by pulling a computer out of a manila envelope. What kind of surprise you can insert in your speech to capture people’s attention?

But remember, the best kinds of surprises further emphasize your main point and are not purely shock for the sake of shock.

Lesson Four: Know when and how to end it.

If you have a keynote, then your audience will have different expectations from a one-minute locker room speech, but no matter the type or genre of your communication, you’ve got to know how to end it.

Endings like intros are notoriously difficult things to pull off well. That’s why it is wise to hold off until after you have thought long and hard about what you want to say in the middle of the speech before you even think about the intro and ending. Being able to move from a highpoint or an emotional pivot point within your speech to the close is not easy. Practicing this transition with an audience is key. Memorizing an entire speech is not practical for most people, but memorizing the transition from the final highpoint through the close can ensure that your work to create a successful ending pays off.

Woodson may have a ready-made ending in the call for a break, but it’s his creative use of this convention that makes the ending so memorable.

Here’s the text of Woodson’s closing:

“And check this,” Woodson said, his voice rising. “If the President don’t want to come watch us in the Super Bowl, guess what? We’ll go see him!”

Amid the shouts from his teammates, Woodson led a cheer: “1-2-3 … White House!”

Lesson Five: Don’t be afraid of emotion.

Real men don’t cry right? Maybe that was true for the Lombardi era Packers, when you could just rub a little dirt on the wound, but when Charles Woodson addressed his teammates after learning he would not be returning to the second half of the most important game of his life, he went behind telling his teammates what this meant to him. He showed them what it meant emotionally by breaking down.

Did he lose respect, cause spirits in the locker room to dampen? On the contrary, Tramon Williams noticed what everyone else did as Woodson broke down, it was the look on his face that motivated Williams “to what needed to be done.” Woodson’s example is an important reminder, if the situation and context is emotional, don’t run from it. Odds are everyone else is feeling it too, and they’re looking to you to express it.

Thank you to Charles and the rest of the Packers organization for an outstanding year.

Go Pack Go!!!

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