Teresa Zumwald, CEO of Zumwald & Company, LLC, is a master storyteller, speechwriter, and coach. In one-on-one sessions, she coaches CEOs, presidents, VPs, and board members through her signature interview process to develop communications that resonate on every level. Since 2013, her speeches have won 12 international, national, and regional awards. She has also been published in 50 magazines, journals, and corporate and online publications.

Chuck Gose: Welcome to Chuck Chats Teresa! How are things in Ohio today?

Teresa Zumwald: Wrapping up a couple of projects and getting ready to head out for the holidays. Can’t wait!

Chuck: We’ve known each other for several years but it was just this past summer that I got to see you speak for the first time. And I’m so glad I did.

Teresa: Yes! at Internal Comms Pro in July. That was fun because we got the audience involved and gave them a new tip for planning speeches.

Chuck: And that’s why I wanted to have you on a chat. It’s an area that I haven’t covered with a guest before.

In my past life, I was once an executive speechwriter—like my full-time job—and it was for the world’s worst public speaker.


Teresa: Hah! So you had your work cut out for you.

What were the challenges you faced?

Chuck: Oh man. We’d spend weeks hashing out “this word” over “that word.” And rehearsing timing. And then he’d go up on stage and talk about something else.

Teresa: Holy cow! Sounds like this person needed some help with a process.

That’s where I typically start—so that we are all on the same page, especially about process, so that surprises like what you describe don’t happen. But I know sometimes it’s tough to rein people in.

Chuck: One time he was like, “Oh I forgot my glasses so I can’t read what I was going to say so let me tell everyone a story…”

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Teresa: Wow. That’s tough for the audience, because they came expecting to gain something from his talk.

Sometimes executives don’t take the opportunity to speak seriously enough.

A speech can either help you or harm you. If you’re not careful, it can cause you to lose reputational capital. And that’s dangerous, especially for a leader.

Chuck: Let’s talk about communicators. If they have to make their own presentations or speak in front of a group, internal or external how do you recommend they start?

Teresa: Audience, audience, audience. Communicators who are planning a presentation or a speech must start with the audience. Not with themselves.

Sometimes executives don’t take the opportunity to speak seriously enough.

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And what should they think about when it comes to the audience?

Teresa: They must paint a very clear picture of who is in the audience.

Get specific. What are the demographics?

Is your audience mostly men, or mostly women? Are they boomers? What is their education level? Are they folks who have been around the organization for a long time, or newer?

Knowing who you are speaking to will drive the content, the stories and even the anecdotes, quotes, stats, and cultural references you use.

You also have to understand exactly how an audience feels about the issue that you will speak about. Where are they starting from?

Audience analysis is so important because it will drive every single element of your talk.

Audience, audience, audience. Communicators who are planning a presentation or a speech must start with the audience. Not with themselves.

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I’m going to go off track here but I promise I’ll get back on.

It seems like some speakers/presenters are there to inform and educate. But others seem to want to shock people.

Take Gary Vee’s approach. Very “in-your-face,” lots of swear words, etc.

What are your thoughts on those different styles?

Teresa: Yikes! Not recommended, in my book.

No matter what you are speaking about, you have two goals: to get the audience to change the way they think or the way they behave.

Because otherwise, why are you wasting your breath? You could simply give them an article to read. It’s your job to do one or both of those two things.

And if you can change someone’s behavior with a speech you have accomplished a lot.

Chuck: That’s a great yet simple way to think about the goals. Sometimes it could be one of them. Or possibly even both. Great suggestion.

No matter what you are speaking about, you have two goals: to get the audience to change the way they think or the way they behave.

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If you have a presentation to deliver, you really need to know the answers to the “thinking” and “behaving” questions.

How will I change this audience’s thinking? How can I change the audience’s behavior?

This is very relevant in the workplace, because we’re always trying to get employees to make one change or another, right?

Chuck: In your opinion, which one is easier, changing how people behave, or changing how they think?

Teresa: I’ve never thought about that, but off the top of my head, it’s probably harder to change behavior, because you don’t know if that’s happened until long after the presentation.

You can ask someone after a talk what they thought and you can get a feel right away whether you moved the needle in terms of thinking.

But when it comes to behavior, it might take weeks or months to see if there has been a change in how people are acting or what people are doing differently.

Chuck: I agree. Just think about smoking. We KNOW it’s really bad for you but yet people still do it even they know the dangers. Behavior changes take time, effort, and patience.

I remember in your talk over the summer, you shared a very visual way of planning out a speech.

Teresa: Yes. I know internal comms folks are looking for simplicity, so I boiled it down to a very simple acronym: AIM.




If you can answer those three questions, you are on your way to a great presentation.

And then you can outline your talk quickly with Post-It notes.

I can outline a speech in 30 to 60 minutes with colored Post-It notes. It’s a fast way to storyboard what you are going to say.

The visual aspect of doing this with pencils and Post-Its keeps you focused on storytelling and creativity.

If you can change someone’s behavior with a speech you have accomplished a lot.

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Chuck: Oh I do love me some Post-Its—maybe too much.

So after you’ve gone through and planned it out, now can we start building?!

Teresa: Absolutely. Because here’s the thing: The thinking part is the hardest part. It’s not writing the speech!

If you spend time thinking it through first, then the speech writes itself.

All you have to do is get your Post-Its arranged—with an opening, a body, a conclusion (and all the right stuff in-between, of course)—and you can transfer those key points to an outline on your computer and start writing.

The idea of doing the Post-Its first is so that you can easily and quickly change your mind—and that happens a lot when you are thinking through the structure and storyline of a speech.

Chuck: Where do you stand on the PowerPoint debate—love it, like it, hate it?

Teresa: That depends.

When an executive I’m working with has an inspirational message to share or a keynote, sometimes a PowerPoint isn’t necessary. I tell these folks—hey, they are coming to hear YOU, not watch a PowerPoint presentation!

Regardless, the PowerPoint must enhance what the speaker is saying—not replace what the speaker is saying.

My favorite PowerPoint slides have a single image on the slide, and maybe a word or two. That’s it. No bullets.

You just can’t comprehend a bunch of text on a slide and listen to what the speaker is saying.

In one presentation, I had an executive tell a story about what things were like for him when he first joined the organization. The slide had a photo of him as a very young man and maybe three words. It helped endear the audience to him and allowed them to imagine the story he was telling, while seeing what he looked like 30 some years ago.

That was an effective use of PowerPoint.

The visual aspect of [planning your speech] with pencils and Post-Its keeps you focused on storytelling and creativity.

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I agree with you on the style of PowerPoint. I rarely have more than a few words on each slide. And my goal afterward is to have one person ask me what I used to create the presentation. When I tell them PowerPoint, they usually don’t believe me.

Oh and my other goal is to have my slides be worthless without my talk.

There’s  thinking that communicators should do less “doing” and more consulting and advising with their leaders.

How can communicators coach managers and leaders to be better speakers and storytellers?

Teresa: When I work with an executive, we start with a finished speech that is ready for rehearsals. They MUST practice it on their own and  only then is it time for coaching.

During the first run-through, I take notes and we review them together. No one usually tells an executive where he/she is struggling when delivering a talk, so a coaching practice like this is helpful.

Then we break down the separate parts of the speech that need work, and I help the executive learn how those lines were intended to be delivered.

After we run through those parts, the executive ALWAYS does better.

Then it’s time for the executive to go back and do more rehearsing on their own. When we meet again, we repeat the process.

The confidence the executive gains after this is incredible. This process helps them get excited about delivering a talk instead of dreading it, or putting it off until the very last moment (now THAT’s dangerous!).

If you spend time thinking it through first, then the speech writes itself.

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I want to go back to an earlier point you made about an executive struggling. I think this is feedback that a lot of communicators would fear giving.

What’s a safe way to share ways they can get better?

Teresa: Job number one is building trust. It helps to not have a whole roomful of people weighing in.

The executive must trust who is providing the coaching. So how do you build trust? By a track record of helping the executive with other projects, perhaps. That is a start.

This kind of work should be done in a conference room, with closed doors, for no more than 90 minutes at a time.

Chuck: What I think is fascinating about presenting is that everyone has a style and a comfort zone. I think it’s important for a communicator to help their leader or executive find that and then take everything from there.

Teresa: Right. And I’ll share a piece of advice I learned a couple years ago.

If you are writing a speech, at some point, you have to let it go. It's no longer your speech. It’s your speaker’s speech. They own it.

Chuck: Is there such a thing as too much practice or too much preparation?

Teresa: I think it’s more about “doses” of preparation.

Some tips:

  • Start early.

  • Practice in 90-minute blocks.

  • Stop and give it a rest.

  • Internalize the message.

  • Own it.

The more prepared you are, the better you will be.

“Cramming” to rehearse creates nerves. That I don’t recommend.

Chuck: Thanks for taking the time to be on the chat today. But here’s the real final question. Share your passion about internal comms. . . or speech writing. . . via only emojis.

Teresa: 🎁🙌💕🤩

Chuck: Thanks for being on Chuck Chats!

Teresa: Thanks for the opportunity! Really fun! 😁