Davos Diary: How to Talk Like a CEO

Andrew Ross Sorkin at the NY Times has a great Davos Diary from the current Swiss schmoozefest. I’m particularly fond of the following anecdote from a conversation he overheard today:

A Fortune 50 chief executive — I won’t tell you his name because he didn’t realize I was listening to his conversation — was sitting at a fast-food restaurant with a woman who was coaching him on how to talk to the media. “You’ve got to stay on message,’” she snapped when he would forget his lines. He sheepishly apologized and then managed to mangle his line again.

“Don’t answer the question being asked,” the woman said. “Get to your message,” she said, explaining that he should use “bridge phrases” such as “meanwhile” or “what we know is” to avoid the question being asked and change the context of the answer.

“Like the politicians do,” the chief executive exclaimed.

She also emphasized what she called “flagging,” telling the C.E.O. to insert phrases such as, “the most important thing is…” and “the main idea is…”

“Journalists are looking for complete sentences,” she instructed. “Especially on TV. You want to give them full messages.”

Before they got up, she told the executive, “Tell them what you do.”

He looked at her, slightly befuddled, and replied, “What do we do?”


  1. It’s a good thing he had his propaganda minister in tow, reminding him to speak in complete sentences.
    Otherwise, this poor soul might have started flailing about wildly, sputtering out sentence fragments and revealing the odd bits of truth in a dangerous attempt at self sufficiency.
    Doesn’t anyone find it sad that so many Americans have fallen prey to these myriad professional hangers-on?

  2. An adviser, who agrees to a coaching session in a fast food restaurant, should probably be fired. Or wait! Should that be the CEO who does not know what they do as a firm??