Toastmasters: The Platinum Rule of Speechmaking

Here’s the draft I wrote of the speech. It’s slightly different from what was actually given.

I joined Citibank in 2007, right as the financial crisis was starting, but before we realized it. At my first company Town Hall, Gary Crittenden, Citi’s CFO said, “You may have heard about this thing called the financial crisis but don’t worry about it, this is nothing for us to worry about it’s only about subprime loans.” I would later learn that Citi was the king of subprime which is the thing that almost brought the company down.

And for all of you who were taxpayers at that time, thank you for saving Citi.

This led to a painful but rewarding time to be at Citi over the next few years. I quickly learned that during a crisis, it’s not about what you want, it’s what people want from you. I had this wonderful boss, Whitney, who knew how to communicate different value propositions for the team. We went from being a strategy team, to a marketing strategy team, to a new product development team.

Whitney taught me how important it was to tailor my message to my audience. I remember when I needed to communicate to 2 senior business leaders in one week: Paula and Nancy. First I presented to Paula. It was a dream meeting where she latched on to everything I had to say. She would nod her head at each sentence and always want to hear more. I planted the idea to transform her business with innovation consultants.

I felt great! I’d gotten my communication down! So I tried the same technique with Nancy. I told her about all these great ideas I had for her business. I pulled out my whole bag of tricks. I told her about the great data we had, trends in the industry, … frankly everything I thought was useful. But throughout the presentation she had this strange look, like she was listening intently for something she cared about but just wasn’t getting it.

Afterward, Whitney told me that they are two different people who want very different things from a meeting. Paula wanted to hear my ideas but Nancy just wants the results. I was so annoyed! I had all these great things to say so why didn’t everyone want to hear them from me. It was a hard lesson to learn but it was the beginning of learning that it’s not what I want to say, it’s also what other people want to hear.

A couple of years later I was in a training class. We were talking about motivation and leadership style. We went into the four corners of the room based on what motiviates us. There were:

  • Inspirational Leaders set a vision to excite people. This is what I do.
  • Productivity Leaders like Nancy are motivated by productivity and getting the job done.
  • Relationship/Personal Leaders focus on emotions and build relationships with colleagues.
  • Positional Leaders focus on status and money.

So we went to our corners. I went to the inspirational corner. I thought everyone would go to my corner. Doesn’t everyone want to make a difference and try to save the world?! Apparently not. While we had some strong support, all the corners had a smattering of people, with the largest group being motivated by status and money.

When I came back to work, I saw this play out in real life. Kathy worked for Rahul and I was friends with both of them.

Rahul was telling me that he didn’t understand why Kathy didn’t feel appreciated. “Kathy is an incredible employee. Look at what I’m doing for her!” he said. “I fought to give her this great bonus and I’m working hard to get promoted. I’ve done everything to treat her well.”

When I was talking to Kathy soon afterward, she was really upset. “I feel like he doesn’t appreciate me. Yeah, he did fight to get me more money, but what I really want is to get promoted so I can work on more interesting projects.” What shocked me was how they both wanted the same thing, for Kathy to get promoted, but they kept talking past each other. I explained this to both of them, and it made a huge difference in their relationship. The next year Kathy was promoted and everyone lived happily ever after. At least as far as this speech goes.

I’ve learned how important it is to think about the audience when making a speech. I like to think about the Platinum Rule of Speechmaking. You probably know the golden rule: “Treat other people as you would want to be treated.” But not all people want to be treated like you. The Platinum Rule is: “Treat people like they want to be treated.” It may not be as fun to give the speech you want to give, but by giving the speech your audience wants to hear, you have a much better chance of changing their hearts and minds.