Speakeasy’s CEO Scott Weiss In The News!

By David Markiewicz

3:05 p.m. Saturday, May 21, 2011

It’s a classic story: Businessman tries product. Businessman likes product. Businessman buys company.

That’s what happened when Scott Weiss, then a Turner Broadcasting System executive, participated in a communication development program at Atlanta-based Speakeasy, a communications consulting firm.

“I had a profound experience,” he recalled. “I got very interested in the subject.”

So profound that he left Turner where he’d been an executive vice president and went to work in 1995 for Speakeasy, which was founded in 1974. A decade later, Scott Weiss bought the company. It now has 350 client companies including Coca-Cola and Home Depot, serves 3,500 to 4,000 people per year, and employs 30. It operates from offices in New York, San Francisco and Buckhead, and delivers its workshops in 10 countries.

While Speakeasy’s workshops are open to all, business managers and executives make up the majority of clients. They come for one-day, content-planning sessions, and for the far more intense and personal three-day sessions that focus on communication style and delivery.

The latter program had an especially big impact on Weiss, who said he discovered plenty about himself in the process, much of it surprising.

What happened, for the better, was that “I became more of who I really wanted to be.” The primary motivation of Speakeasy’s work, Weiss said, is “helping individuals become more of who they are through effective communication. It’s very rewarding.”

Weiss talked about his company with reporter David Markiewicz:

Q: Do business executives value communication skills?

A: Yes. There have been a number of studies done where CEOs rank business competencies in terms of importance, and communication is always No. 1 or No. 2. The irony of that research is they don’t teach it in school. They absolutely value it, but there’s no path for becoming a more effective communicator. Which is why we’ve been able to carve out a very nice niche.

Q: Why don’t some executives communicate well?

A: What’s lacking is their own self-awareness around how good they are or are not. In my experience, eight of 10 executives would say they are good or excellent communicators. The actual truth is that of eight of 10 are really average or poor. The gap between their perception of reality and actual reality is an abyss, and no one wants to share that reality with them. Execs lack self-awareness about what they need help with.

Q: What’s an example of an executive communicating the wrong way?

A: Executive walks into a conference room, fires up his PowerPoint presentation — and uses his PowerPoint deck as a script. He doesn’t authentically connect with the listeners in the room. He provides way too much information, 75 percent of which the audience could care less about. He delivers it with little energy, little authenticity. And then he wonders why he didn’t achieve his objective.

Q: Got a better way?

A: Prior to the meeting, the exec directly asks the participants what would make the meeting of value to them. He then creates a communication strategy to do just that. Driving an actionable and measurable result that’s a win-win for him and the listener. This strategy involves a very specific message in response to a very specific need of the listener.

Q: Can anybody become a better communicator?

A: You saw “The King’s Speech.” That’s an excellent example of what can be accomplished. Yes, it was a made-for-Hollywood movie, but we have five full-time licensed speech and language pathologists who do that work here. Would I say everybody can be turned into a world-class communicator? That might be far-reaching. But everybody can learn to be a better communicator than they are.

Q: This sounds like it’s as much about personal growth as it is about improving business communication.

A: So much of who you are manifests itself in the spoken word. A lot of execs who come through our program experience themselves in a completely different way. And that self-awareness is what motivates them to be the kind of communicator they want to be. Then when they experience the results from that different kind of communication it’s remarkable.

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