Transitional, Transactional, or Transformational Speeches
By Dan Coughlin
Mary, a vice-president of operations, had to give a 30-minute speech at her company's annual conference. She asked if I would discuss her presentation with her. I asked her the first question I always ask a professional about a speech, "Is this a transitional, transactional, or transformational speech?"
She said, "Why does it matter what type of speech it is? I've been given 30 minutes to talk. I thought I would give people an update on what we've been up to, and thank them for all of their hard work."
So, I countered, "In other words, you're going to give them a speech they've already heard about 300 times, and you're going to tell them stuff that has already happened that they already know about. Why not use your time more purposefully?"
Mary acquiesced, "Ok, fine. I see your point. So what do I do now?"
The Nuances of Different Types of Speeches
As I noted above, the first step when preparing a speech is to decide whether this is a transitional, transactional, or transformational speech. This will define the purpose of your speech and guide your outline.
The purpose of a transitional speech is to help the audience more effectively deal with a major change. But if your goal is to persuade the audience to buy into an idea that they might otherwise reject, you would be in transactional speech territory. Or, if you want to guide the group to behave in new ways, you'd use a transformational speech.
After explaining this to Mary, her first question was an obvious one, "How do I decide which one to go with, and why can't I do all three?"
She's right. You could use all three approaches in one speech, but you would dilute the impact of each of them.
When I probed Mary more about her work situation she stated, "Our competitors are slashing prices on products that are very similar to ours. We don't want to compete on low prices because we know that's a game that could put us out of business. Instead we need to enhance the value of our products by improving the value they deliver to our customers. So, my speech audience doesn't really have a choice. We either do it or we die."
With that last statement, Mary immediately eliminated one type of speech. Clearly this wasn't going to be a transactional speech because the audience didn't have a choice to make. They had to accept the change in the organization. But this change was tricky. It wasn't a change in policy or a change in initiatives, but instead required a completely new set of behaviors.
Consequently, it wasn't a transitional speech she needed to give because she's not asking the group to change its activities, but to change the way they think. Mary's group needed to move from selling commodities that were moderately priced to selling high quality items that were priced at higher levels. To accomplish such a change in thought, a transformational speech was in order.
The Guts of a Transformational Speech
An organizational transformation demands that a company start doing business in an altogether new fashion. Mary had to get that point across in 30 minutes. No small task.
She knew she had to convey the message that a radical change was needed in her company, so she'd have to deliver the message in a radical way. It had to spur the audience to see and believe that a new way of doing business absolutely had to replace the old way of doing business. The audience had to walk away with a transformed idea of what their business should be all about.
The Making of a Speech
Once we had her approach focused, it was time to assemble her speech. We laid out our parameters: time (30 minutes) and technology (video clips, PowerPoint slides, and a wireless lavaliere microphone).
We chose to start the speech with a 60 second video that showed a steady stream of faces morphing -- transforming -- into new faces. As the video ended, Mary opened by saying, "Our competition is radically slashing prices. We have three choices..."
Each of these choices was shown on a PowerPoint slide:
- We can continue business as usual and keep our same products at their same prices, which is what our customers are used to from us.
- We can keep the same products and lower our prices, which is what our customers are getting from our competition.
- We can radically improve the value of our products and services, and raise our prices significantly.
She then noted that choice three was, in reality, the choice if the company was to remain in the market. Mary went on to explain that if the company were to get into a price war with their competition, they would end up eroding their profit margins, resulting in a quality and staff cut to achieve the same level of profit they had currently.
"Our only choice is to radically transform the face of our business and the way we do business. We must drastically increase the value our customers receive from our products and services. Then we must completely change the way we market the value our customers receive from our products and services. And we have to have the guts to charge for the value we will be delivering."
As you might imagine, this opening caught the audience completely by surprise, which is exactly what Mary was hoping for. She wanted to challenge the audience to think differently about their business.
"Look at our business today," she begged as she showed a slide of a customer interacting with the sales staff. "Now look at what our customer interactions could and should look like in the future." She showed a short video clip of an employee interacting with a customer and explaining a host of new products and services that were vastly more solution-oriented than the current way of doing business.
Mary then explained that other major companies had gone through the same sort of transformation. She showed a series of slides of Apple moving into the music and cell phone industry, GE selling commodities like light bulbs and appliances then moving into medical imaging, and finally IBM moving from mainframe computers into IBM's business consulting services.
She closed by asking, "Transformation or annihilation? Do we have the guts to grow our business in a new way, or will we stay stuck in the quicksand of same old, same old? I believe our greatness lies in our willingness to change."
And then she walked off.
The audience didn't know how to respond. So they sat and thought -- exactly what Mary wanted to have happen.
Over the next 24 months the company changed radically, although not to the total degree that Mary had described. They kept a foundation of products at reduced prices, and then added an array of new products and services at higher prices. Slowly but surely the company began to head in a different direction from its former competition.
Accelerate Your Career through Speeches
The ability to deliver purposeful speeches that improve results will affect your career as much as any other skill. It all starts by deciding if a given speech is a transitional, transactional, or transformational speech. Make that decision, build your speech, and deliver the goods.
About Dan Coughlin
Visit Dan Coughlin’s Free Resource Center on Business Acceleration at http://www.businessacceleration.com/. Dan Coughlin is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, and author of Accelerate: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum. He has been quoted in USA Today, the New York Times, and Investor’s Business Daily. Dan’s clients include Coca-Cola, Toyota, Boeing, Marriott, McDonald’s, AT&T, American Bar Association, and the St. Louis Cardinals. He speaks on entrepreneurial habits, quality, leadership, branding, sales, and innovation.