What’s the difference between a great campaign message, one that cuts through and inspires your audience to take action, and a campaign that falls flat on its face? In this episode, we got to the bottom of exactly that as we chatted to Jeremy Connell-Waite, the Global Communications Designer of IBM, esteemed thought leader and storytelling wizard.
It isn’t every day that you get to meet one of your heroes, but The CEO.digital Show host Craig McCartney had the opportunity recently when we invited Jeremy Connell-Waite to appear on the show!
Jeremy is world-famous for his business storytelling acumen, having worked with global giants like Facebook, Salesforce and Adobe. He’s a disciple of great speech writers from the past like Ted Sorensen, and a keen climate action advocate. But above all, Jeremy is passionate about crafting stories that cut through the noise and capture the imaginations of his readers and listeners.
In this exclusive interview, we learned more about Jeremy’s career and his insights, including:
- What makes a great enterprise story, and what will make the C-Suite listen
- Details on new and exciting reports from IBM on building trust advantages in the data-driven era
- Inspirational stories from the world over, like runners attempting to maintain the pace of World Record Marathon holder Eiliud Kipchoge
- The neuroscience behind why well-crafted messages will prevail – and why others won’t
- Why the C-Suite now finds itself in the driving seat of societal change, especially when it comes to sustainability
- Details on Jeremy’s work with Al Gore on climate change (mentioned in the podcast is Al Gore’s TED talk, The new urgency of climate change)
- And key techniques for building a compelling, even irresistible message and story
The full podcast is available now on all major streaming services, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: Jeremy Connell-Waite works for IBM as the Global Communications Designer. He’s a renowned storyteller and speechwriter for IBM C-Suite, an inspirational thought leader, and king of the one-pager. In Jeremy’s role, he also works with purpose-driven brands to help them tell more meaningful stories that impact people, profits, and the planet.
He is the European leader for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. Earlier on in Jeremy’s career, he founded a brand consultancy. In 2001, he had written four books and had worked with companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce, and Adobe. As if those accolades weren’t enough, he has also worked briefly as a giraffe keeper. Craig, how did you find the interview with Jeremy?
Craig McCartney: I’ve been waiting for this interview for a while now. I’ve been following Jeremy, and when he gets up online. What a marvelous storyteller. What about you?
Darcie Thompson-Fields: It is one of the highlights. I enjoyed speaking with Jeremy and understanding his storytelling perspective. I felt like I learned a lot from it.
Craig McCartney: This is a bittersweet moment for us. It’s a great episode, but your final one with the show.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: I’m sad to be leaving but excited that I got to be a part of it. I can’t wait to keep reading. I’ve enjoyed all the amazing guests that we’ve got to speak to and host with you, Craig. I’ll remain an avid fan, don’t you worry.
Craig McCartney: You’ve been the rock that’s kept it together throughout. I got big shoes to fill. Let’s not dwell on that. Let’s get on the episode.
Craig McCartney: Welcome to the show, Jeremy. I am personally excited to have you here and looking forward to unpacking some of the highlights for that introduction.
Jeremy Connell-Waite: Thanks for having me. It’s probably all downhill from here after an intro like that, inspirational thought leader. I don’t know how we’ll live up to that. We’ll try our best.
Craig McCartney: I can assure you all of it is true, Jeremy. I’ve seen you speak many times. I’ve watched all the content you created, and I’m always impressed and inspired. Let’s get straight into it. Can you tell us how you became the Global Communications Designer at IBM?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: I invented it. I’m a big believer that if you’ve not got the job you want, not necessarily, you don’t leave and go and find something somewhere else. You build the perfect job. We’ve got quite an entrepreneurial spirit inside our organization. I’m sure a lot of us have this round peg in a square hole that didn’t quite fit.
I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing, but there are parts of my job that either I don’t like, I’m not inspired by, or I’m not a salesperson or a traditional consultant. I have some wonderful bosses and a lot of freedom within the organization. I created a job title that’s never existed before, which we’re coming to this 110 years old. It’s quite a big deal.
There was a lot of baggage, some politics, and some box to think that needed to go along with that. I’ve created a storytelling role. It’s my job to help other people to do that job better. It’s a pretty simple job. It’s tons of fun. How do I help people to tell better stories that make a difference? In some way, we can have an impact on the planet. I’m several months into my role. So far, so good.
Craig McCartney: Not everyone can say they’ve created their own job title. That is some great advice right there. Can you tell us more about why you do the things that you do and what gets you out of bed in the morning, ready to take on the role as a storyteller?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: It’s a good question. We should debate afterward why you should never ask the question why either, which is also interesting. We’re all obsessed with why in business. Simon Sinek solves everybody’s problems. There’s a good reason why you should never ask why ever, but we’ll park that for now. The fact that storytelling, we all know it’s important. Even storytelling, like whatever’s popping into your mind now as you’re reading this.
You might be thinking soft-skill, and it’s the way that you present decks. It’s your tone. If you’re going to be presenting on stage, you may have even been in a workshop. When some of the females are in a group, this is about what you should and shouldn’t wear. This is all the storytelling, soft skills stuff. Storytelling is flipping difficult. It’s one of those things that’s easy to do when you don’t know how but incredibly difficult when you do.
The fact that we’re storytelling animals naturally as humans, yet in business, we struggle with it a lot. Some companies have got it within their DNA. They’re amazing natural storytelling organizations. I came from Salesforce. Salesforce is phenomenal. Storytelling is built into its DNA, a visionary leader that is a communicator with a brand unto himself. He coached Steve Jobs.
IBM is a different organization. We’re a big collective organization driven by a mission. As opposed to looking at the storytelling, we spend a lot of time problem solving around technology and research. We talk a lot about innovation. That missing piece sometimes is that you focus too much on the tech and not enough on the human side of the story. My mission is to try and help bring more of that into IBM’s DNA so that we can bring the stuff that we do, the technology to life a little bit more.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: You started in your role, which you created. They didn’t have the job you wanted. You wanted to create something where you could bring your skills, but you’ve only been there several months. What big projects are you working on? What are you starting off the role with?We make decisions with our hearts. We just fight with our heads afterward. Click To Tweet
Jeremy Connell-Waite: Most of what I do is internal. It’s helping our partner community. I live mostly within the consulting side of our business but work alongside research, marketing, and internal comms. It’s probably the best part of what I do because traditionally, if you were to look at a communication storytelling role like this, you might think, “That belongs in marketing. It belongs in internal and external comms. It belongs in maybe even learning and development, some type of enablement training role.” I’m not any of those things.
One of the first projects I ever had when I was working at Facebook was valuing audiences. I’m trying to put a value on an audience. What is the audience worth? If you’ve got 20 million fans on a page. I was working with brands that were spending $500,000 a day on Facebook ads back in the day when Facebook used to work. You’ve got to justify, “Why should I put my money into Facebook and not put it into TV if you’re Heineken looking at the Champions League or something?”
A lot of what I did was trying to put an economic value on a story. That’s what I do inside IBM. I’m trying to sit in between all of these different departments and trying to help whichever the executive is that I’m working with, not just to write a better speech, to engage an audience in a different way, and to bring through their personality but how do you have some economic value on the end of it? If you boil everything that we’re about to talk about, whatever happens next, it’s a simple idea.
Storytelling only exists to do one thing. It’s to entertain people. There are lots of structures we could talk about how you do that, but it’s there to entertain people. It’s to make people feel something. In business, that’s not enough. We need something more in business. We need action. You want to make somebody feel something so that they do something.
That’s where I worked with neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and people that are looking at behavioral systems as much as they’re looking at the creative side. How does the brain work? What’s the decision-making process that goes on in the C-Suite? Why are many people overwhelmed? How would you tell stories around that? That’s where the job starts to become fun, but also not a traditional storytelling role, as you might have known it before. It’s unique. It’s a hybrid of lots of things.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: How do you inspire the C-Suite to make better decisions when it comes to storytelling?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: It would be arrogant of me to say I’m going to try and inspire the C-Suite to make it better. People make good decisions, and people have got good intentions. You’re making a decision based upon what you know, sometimes with a limited amount of information. We couldn’t get into the weeds talking about what you know at the time, and retrospectively, I don’t know what I don’t know, and no one knows or that thing.
Here’s what I found to be true of the C-Suite. In IBM, we do some C-Suite research. It’s the biggest C-Suite study of its kind in the world. You guys know it. We did go to about 12,500 C-Suite execs every year. We’re asking them, “What matters to you? How do you make decisions? What are you worried the most about? Trends, what is going to happen next year?”
What we’ve found over the last couple of years are two powerful things. It is what we’ll probably find next year. After the year that we’ve gone through, it might be even worse. 4 out of 5 executives feel overwhelmed and prepared for the challenges they’re facing in business. They don’t know who to trust, what platform to build on, who to partner with, and what consultants to bring in.
You’re like, “People are overwhelmed.” They’re operating or making decisions based out of sometimes anxiety, fear, and stress. You don’t know what you don’t know. Here’s the interesting thing about all of that. We think that executives make those major strategic decisions about the future of their business based upon data or logic and rational thought.
Like any other human, “Where I’m going to go on holiday? What car am I going to buy? Who I’m going to sleep with? What do I want for food tonight?” Those are not rational decisions. What we’re seeing is that up to 75% of executives are making major decisions with their hearts, or sometimes they say their gut. Often, that decision goes completely against the data.
Even if the data is accurate, you’ve got confidence in it, business model, ROI, and this is the right thing to do, a lot of people are still like, “It doesn’t feel right.” They make a different decision. That creates a whole host of problems, but one of the main ways to get around it, is if we want to come back to how do we inspire C-Suite to make better decisions and stronger decisions, you need to give people more emotional intelligence as well as the data.
Brené Brown, a gorgeous human, generally says, “The story is data with a soul.” You’re good at giving data-driven stories to the C-Suite. We need to give it a little bit more soul. I break it down into six areas that are simple. All great stories do six things. They’d get a load of research on this at Facebook about what makes viral content, a horrible V-word, but all great content does six things. Arguably, it’s three on the left and three on the right. Left brain and right brain. Not as simple as that neocortex limbic brain, but we could deal with that later.
What we often do is inform, educate, and solve the problem. That’s how the C-suite works. We inform and educate them about stuff they don’t know, “Here’s how are we going to solve the problem. Please do it. It’s going to cost this, make money, save money, cost, takeout, whatever.” That’s not how we make decisions. Humans make decisions based upon the part of their brain that is triggered by feelings and emotions, hormones, dopamine, endorphins, or oxytocin. Those hormones that trigger decision-making come when you inspire, excite, engage or entertain, or challenge people with a unique point of view.
What I try hard to do whenever we present any information is the data has got to be accurate, but we make decisions with our heart, and we justify with our heads afterward. Neuroscience backs that up. Our C-Suite studies seem to back that up. I don’t just want to inform, educate, and solve your problem. I want to show you how this is also going to inspire, entertain, and challenge you. Once you tick all six boxes, you’re well and away to make a more informed decision.
Craig McCartney: It translates to any situation where you need to tell a story to inspire someone. I’m curious to know which stories or speeches have inspired you, Jeremy?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: Let me give you two answers. You’ve put me on the spot now. We’ve not planned for this. A story out a speech. Let me give you the speech first because I was leading a seminar, and he’s my hero. JFK, the moon speech. We choose to go to the Moon, 12th of September, 1962. He opened up a presentation with a line that could have been written last week.
Ted Sorensen wrote it. It took him a long time, a couple of weeks apparently, to write the opening sentence, “We meet in an hour of change and challenge in a decade of hope and fear in an age of both knowledge and ignorance.” It is a phenomenal line. There are structures of 4 words and 5 lines. We might talk later about where that came from, but that’s an awesome speech.
I loved the main speech, not just because it’s a gorgeous speech and what happened and how it inspired people, but IBM was the key industry partner to help make that work. It’s a story close to our hearts. When you think about the story, this is a new one, but if you look at Eliud Kipchoge’s documentary on whatever your favorite platform is, he’s the guy that broke the two-hour marathon record. Nobody thought it was possible. It’s phenomenal.
Dave Brailsford used to be GB Performance Director. He runs Sky cycling, the marginal gains guy. It goes through the art and science of high-performance athletes, everything it takes in every little marginal gain, all these incremental improvements. It’s not only a beautiful documentary. I have goosebumps and cried at the end of it because it’s phenomenal, but the amount of lessons in that documentary for executives about what it means to be a high-performing athlete and how you would make the top 1% even better is a beautiful story. It’s well worth the watch.
Craig McCartney: Speaking of Kipchoge and that world record marathon time, there is a great clip you should see. I’ll send it to you after this, Jeremy. They’re at some exhibition at the shopping mall, but they set up a treadmill at Kipchoge’s pace across the whole marathon. As regular humans get to jump on and see how long we can keep up with the treadmill, and needless to say, no one can. People hit the ground pretty soon off of that. Moving away from breaking impossible records and moon landings, let’s get our focus back on the C-Suites. I’m curious to know from your perspective, which C-level exec should be responsible for driving change?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: I’m a little bit biased because I’ve been in the marketing industry for several years. They don’t have the respect they deserve. They often don’t have positions on the board, sometimes for sensible reasons. That’s been raised in many ways now. We have transformation officers, digital officers, and innovation officers, but you look at the heart of a CMO, especially historically, what a CMO stood for.
They’re on the front lines, not only responsible for sales, strategy, and pricing, but if anybody understands the customer, it’s the CMOs. They are often incredibly creative people that need to be able to justify the numbers in the boardroom to get more budget. You have to be left brain and right brain. The problem with CMOs is they’re also incredibly seduced by shiny things.
They’re not always the hardest people in the world to impress because they like shiny. It’s like, “Here’s this new amazing thing. It is a new platform. It’s what’s going to be our new Clubhouse strategy. Now we need a TikTok channel.” Awesome, good luck with that, but you’re still not good on LinkedIn or whatever.What you stand for is more important than what you sell or say. Click To Tweet
There is always going to be this next to the thing. In terms of storytelling, the fact that they are commercial and creative. I’ve found most of my heroes, most of the people I work with, and people at marketing society and academy. Not only are they a ton of fun, but they’re driven by a bigger purpose. They need to work more on and apply more economic value to their stories because measuring reach engagement, preference, and consideration awareness doesn’t cut it. People outside of marketing don’t care. In terms of storytelling, they’re among the best in the business in the C-Suite. Hopefully, I won’t get into trouble for that.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: As marketers, we are hopeful to agree with you. You mentioned it’s about the four words and five lines. Can you tell us a bit more about what your formula is for speech writing for storytelling? I’d love to bring back one of the points you made earlier and ask, why you should never ask why?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: It was my formula or my framework. I’ve written a few and invented a couple of processes, but somebody asked Ted Sorensen who wrote the moon speech. JFK wrote a lot of his own material, much like Barack Obama. People like Jon Favreau were behind the scenes for Obama, trying to make it work.
Now you’ve got multiple people. All have got singular jobs. Back in the 60s, you didn’t have that. Ted Sorensen, who’s one of my heroes, said he’s a policy advisor. He’s there negotiating around the Cuban missile crisis one minute, and he’s writing speeches the next. The idea was that he’s getting his hands dirty and understanding policy, but he’s also able to go and communicate that. That’s part of the inspiration that I took for a communications designer.
You’re not just here to deal with rhetoric, language, visuals, and stuff. You’ve got to be client-side, solving problems, trying to work with people in the C-Suite to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. I was very much inspired by Ted Sorensen. Somebody asked him once, “How’d you write a speech?” He said, “Four words and five lines. It’s that easy.” Brevity, levity, clarity, and charity.
Brevity, you’ve got to keep it short. Everybody loves the short speech. Levity, keep it light. Try and have some fun with it. Don’t be too heavy. Even if you’ve got a dark topic, you want to try and lighten the mood a little bit because people get overwhelmed. Charity, you got to have a purpose. What you stand for is more important than what you sell or what you say. Clarity, we’ve got to simplify complexity. Put it in a language that my mom can understand, the person on the street.
C-Suites are incredibly time short and attention spans. Put it in simple language, forward, brevity, levity, clarity, and charity. In terms of how you created that speech, you said, “It’s these five lines.” It’s the outline, the headline, the frontline, the sideline, and the bottom line. The outline is a framework. I’ve done a lot of work in venting some stuff around how you build a framework of a story, but that’s ultimately what your plan is.
The headline might be the ten-word device that political speech writers use a lot. They’re trained to encourage you to write tomorrow’s headline. We could speak now for 50 minutes. Chances are, when somebody says, “Did you listen to the podcast? It was Jeremy, Craig, and Darcie. What was it?” They’re probably going to say one sentence, and it might be around about 10 to 14 words. That’s your headline. That’s important. What’s the one line?
The frontline is the most important part of the speech that you should move to the top. Don’t leave it last. Lead with it. Sideline, have some fun with your favorite song lyric, motivational quote, anecdote, or something from your own life. In the bottom line, what’s the purpose? What’s your call to action? We don’t want to make people feel something. We want them to do something. Whether it’s your vote, use your voice, change your choices, buy my stuff, whatever the thing is, we need action at the end of it, the bottom line. You can’t beat that. That’s about as good as it gets, four words and five lines. That’s brilliant.
Craig McCartney: Jeremy, I have to admit I have heard some of these things before. That’s only because I do follow a lot of what you do online, but it was inspiring. I’ve since briefed our content team to use this structure when writing our event themes for the chief wine officer events that we run. Thank you for all of that. Can you apply the same formula to speech writing to whatever business content you are writing or to whatever story you’re telling?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: It does. The thing is, if you were to dig back into all of that stuff and say, “Where did it come from?” Depending upon how far you want to go, you’re going to end up at 335 B.C., and you’re going to end up standing in front of Aristotle, talking about Poetics, which is his pamphlet that he published. It was about 65 pages long. I think you can read it on Wikipedia if you’re interested. It’s where the three-act structure came from.
Not necessarily the beginning, the middle, and end, but the way that every speech, it’s the way that theatrical productions work, movies, the vast majority of the most famous books and narratives, not poems because they don’t have that structure. Aristotle’s Poetics is still used as much now as it ever was thousands of years ago. You could almost break that down with the shape of the story, intention, obstacle, heroes, and villains.
Somebody wants something bad, something standing in their way of getting it. They meet a trusted guide or an advisor that helps show them the way. The guide gives them a plan. The plan calls into action. Hopefully, everybody will live happily ever after. It sounds like a business story for transformation. Hopefully, it doesn’t all go to nothing. Eighty-five percent of transformation projects fail.
If you’re Frodo and you’re looking for the ring through Middle-earth, there’s a pretty high chance it’s not going to end well. It’s no different in business. Telling those stories with heroes, villains, conflicts, and obstacles is super important. Any story, you say four words and five lines. It’s about intention and obstacle.
If you want to create an emotion, or intention, what do they want bad? Obstacle, what’s standing in their way of getting it? As soon as you use the word, but that little three-letter word, you’ve introduced the obstacle or the conflict. Potentially, you’ve introduced a villain. Now we’ve got a story because there’s tension. We’ve got drama, a bit of theater.
If you go back and think about most business speeches and if you think about maybe presentations you’ve heard, how often does that happen? Not as much as you’d think, “We’re going to do this. We’ve seen this problem. We’ve come up with this. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s a solution. Here’s what it’s going to make you. It’s going to be awesome. Thanks very much.” There’s no conflict or tension. It’s a smooth circle that goes up to try to get people to do stuff, and they don’t. Nobody acts because there’s no tension. It doesn’t drive the emotions and the hormones that drive decision-making.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: How do you get the balance between adding that tension and those villains but still maintaining the positivity in your message?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: It depends on who you’re speaking to. The worst thing in the world is to be the bouncy person that comes in full of optimism and hope if things are pretty dark. It’s quite likely that that’s going to piss off somebody in the C-Suite for sure, but executives, that’s sometimes the last thing that you need. It’s about being able to wait for what it is that they need.
It should be problem-solving. You guys are familiar with design thinking, empathy, hopes, and fears, putting yourself in a customer’s shoes, trying to understand through design thinking, to see things from that perspective. I called it communications thinking. I have five stages that you work through when you’re crafting these big industrial narratives.
Communication thinking is almost exactly the same thing. You’re trying to put yourself in the audience’s shoes and see things from their perspective. Sometimes I’m going to walk into a room, and the last thing they want is inspiration, hope, boundless positivity, and optimism. They might want a little bit of positive energy, but they also want to know what the problem is straight away and that we’re going to fix it.
It is why things like the frontline are important. There might be an elephant in the room. You’ve messed up. This went horribly wrong. This didn’t work. We’ve got a resource action. We’ve had a crisis. Deal with that first. It’s all about trying to weigh up. Heroes and villains are looking at, “What we’re trying to do ultimately?” Nancy Duarte is the superstar on this. Anything you need to know about structure, search Nancy Duarte. She’s one of my favorite people in the world.
You have taken the world from where it is to where it could be. That suits anywhere. That could be off the back of a crisis. It could be challenging business circumstances. It could be growth or celebration. If that’s a tough conversation that you’re about to have, you’re still trying to look for those peaks and those troughs to try and elevate the conversation. We’re not here now, but we could be. At the moment, we’re done here, and we’ve done these things, but here’s how we’re going to make it better next time.
What you’re looking to do is to find the gaps where you can have those elevated points and the reality of where we are right now. The bigger that gap is and the more of them that you have, the more engaging your story’s going to be. You’ve got to keep up with the audience. To use a basic example, if you’ve got a three-minute speech or three-act structure, some people in sales might say, “Excite, disturb, ashore.” That’s how you tell a story.
One minute to excite them. One minute to disturb them, “Here’s everything that went wrong.” One minute to assure them, “Here’s how we fix it. You’re in a safe pair of hands. We’re the only company in the world that can do this.” The greatest TED Talk of all time by miles, Sir Ken Robinson. You look at the peaks and troughs. It goes up and down many times. He made people laugh every 29 seconds. He told eight stories, on average, about two minutes every story. It was a heavily data-driven talk. I only ever used two numbers in the whole talk. It’s phenomenal. It’s an absolute masterclass in communications.What we should be talking about, first of all, is what gets you out of bed? What makes you excited? Click To Tweet
Steve Jobs, the best business presentation of all time, the launch of the iPhone, Google, Nancy Duarte, and Steve Jobs, you’ll see the graphic. You’ll see how many times it goes up and down. It’s all about understanding what your audience wants. What I do is walk backward. What do they want? Where are their heads? What mood are they going to be in them? What’s their attention span? Is it going to be in blocks of 75 seconds? Is it going to be in blocks of 3 minutes?
If you’re Chris Anderson at TED, he might argue the attention span is eighteen minutes, which is a three-act structure, three acts of six minutes because executives get bored after six minutes. We have three blocks of six, which is why a Ted Talk is eighteen minutes. That changes. There is no one size fits all as much as some people would have you believe.
It’s complicated and requires a huge amount of insight. That’s why when you talk about prepping for a talk, I take anywhere up to ten hours per minute that we present. The lowest is probably an hour per minute. If you want me to do 30-minute talks, it’s probably going to take me 30 hours. The vast majority of that is research on my audience and looking at what’s relevant and important now.
That’s where we don’t spend enough of our time. It’s cliché. Give me eight hours to chop down a tree. I’m going to spend six hours sharpening the ax. There’s a little bit of that, and sometimes we push too hard in business to get to the talk and the deck, but it doesn’t land. That’s why we’ve not done our research properly.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: You’ve done a lot of work with the C-Suites across the other organizations that you’ve worked at, including IBM. What could you say the biggest problems or challenges are that they’re facing now?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: There are lots of things going on, but here are two that are close to my heart that I see time and time again. First, think about the mindset. How many thoughts a day do you think the average person has? There’s this research MIT has been doing. What do you reckon? Subconsciously, we’re not aware of it when I need to breathe.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: Let’s say 100,000.
Jeremy Connell-Waite: Seventy thousand dollars on average, apparently. Here’s the thing about those thoughts. About 90% of them are the same as yesterday. Maybe in your mind, these are mostly subconscious. We can only process about seven thoughts at a time, probably men less. There are not that many things that we can do at the same time. It’s going to be a limited amount of seven thoughts.
Of all of the thoughts, 90% of the same as yesterday, but here’s the kicker, eighty percent are negative. We’re dealing with people, our colleagues, our peers, and C-Suite we want to influence. The vast majority of their mindset is going to come from a negative state of mind. What we often end up doing is having all these conversations about what keeps you up at night, which is back to being overwhelmed and under-prepared is back to anxiety and stress. The problem with that is that it doesn’t inspire anybody.
What we should be talking about, first of all, is what gets you out of bed? What makes you excited? Why do you do the why question? Why do you do what you do? Why should anybody care? Within that mindset, first of all, that’s one of the biggest challenges, understanding how negative or positive the people that we’re dealing with are and the decisions and the weight that is on their shoulders.
That is key. That’s why I spend so much time around science. Certainly, the neuroscience of decision-making. If I look at, “What about the responsibility of the C-Suite?” They were credibly smart, well-educated, usually tenured, and been in their jobs a long time, maybe not so much CMOs, but the vast majority in a fair amount of time, social impact.
If you’re reading this and you’re wondering, “Where I can go and get inspired, get some new data. I need to go and steal some slides?” Edelman Trust Barometer report is one of my favorite pieces of research. It comes out at the beginning of every year. It goes out to about 33,000 people. I’m sure it’s in line 160 plus countries.
I don’t work with Edelman, but it’s a fantastic report. They’re looking at the levels of trust. They’ve been doing this for over several years. In 2021, for the first time, we found out something that’s never happened before. Business is going to become the most trusted institution. It used to be. Was it charities, non-profits, academia, government, and the public sector? No, business is going to be the number one most trusted.
What about the people within those businesses? It started looking at the C-Suite. Here’s what’s going to happen. The C-Suites are going to be responsible for driving a social impact agenda, which might be how much is this going to improve the quality of people’s lives are reduced and impact the planet. Historically, that’s never happened.
We’ve got CSR, chief supply chain, environmental officers, and sustainability officers. Generally, you’re looking for the people that drive certainly the public agenda, but you’re looking for that to be driven by government, by environment, and NGOs. The fact that responsibility may now rest upon the C-Suite, especially a CEO, is even more reason to be overwhelmed.
What we’re going to probably see over the backend of this year instead of the beginning of 2022 is we’re going to see articles in Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and a lot of the trade press is going to be looking at how the C-Suite adopt the sustainability mindset, triple bottom line, people planet profit. How are you going to impact the social agenda, you personally?
That’s where the C-Suite needs help. That’s why they need trusted advisors, guides, and people that can help them. At the moment, it’s a lonely job. That’s tough. Sometimes you say it’s tough at the top. A lot of C-Suites are lonely because it’s hard making those decisions. There are not always enough people around you to help and support you.
Craig McCartney: It’s something that we’ve seen come up time and time again. We’ve brought out a sustainability panel featuring different leaders and talking about where this responsibility should lie within the C-Suite. It’s interesting what you say about businesses becoming the most trusted institution and where we’re going to be looking. I know we mentioned a little bit more about your work as a European leader for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. Can you tell us a little bit more about the work you’re doing there?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: I’m not particularly special. I’m one of many leaders across climate reality. I had the fortune of being with him and being introduced to amazing journalists people like Thom Friedman. He is another one of my heroes, writer for the New York Times. Anybody can be coached by Al Gore. There is a lot of virtual training if you go on climate reality now, or you search Climate Reality Leadership Core that I think twice a year. Virtual courses to become climate leaders.
This is Al Gore. He’s a vice-president. He’s someone that knows everything that there is to know about speech writing and about delivering a presentation about politics, winning hearts and minds, and trying to conquer people. You remember he had an incredibly eventful political career himself. You’ve got someone that’s been on the inside and gets this inside out.
If you want to understand exactly how to start movements or inspire people and influence them, he’s the guy. If you could do a leadership program that isn’t going to help show you what’s going on with the climate, sustainability, and how to apply sustainable development goals to the work that you do in a way that makes sense to you.
Not everyone’s turned on by the climate. It could be education, poverty, or clean energy. There is insert your favorite sustainable development goal. What you get when you get coached as a climate reality leader is access to his box folder. Imagine that. All of his decks, videos, research, a community of 20,000 plus climate leaders, and you’ve got these people on call. Whenever you need to give a presentation, you need the most up-to-the-minute statistic because you can’t be fluffy when you’re telling the story in climate. Either the numbers are right or wrong. Often, it’s binary.
There are a lot of political agendas going on in the way that people interpret some of the data. For the most part, you’ve got to get the science right. Otherwise, nobody trusts you. Being able to have the most up-to-date information is one of the most crucial parts of being a climate leader.
Not only do you learn how to give those presentations, but you get access to that data. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from it myself is when you hear him give his presentation like you did on Inconvenient Truth and the sequel that you wrote a couple of years later, two brilliant documentaries. His full slide deck is three hours long in one go. There’s no break. It’s 615 slides. I kid you not, it feels like it’s twenty minutes long. It’s one of the most phenomenal presentations you’ve ever seen. You’re on the edge of your seat. It’s like Aaron Sorkin wrote it. It’s brilliant.Trees are all the technology we need to solve the climate crisis. Click To Tweet
Not only is it three hours long, but what he does is he teaches you how to give the ten-minute version. It’s called the Truth in 10. How do you give a three-hour lecture and simplify the complexity of that into a language that someone on the street can understand in order to get them to act your vote, voice, or change your choices, it’s going to impact the planet in a positive way, to do that in ten minutes? I have a little tiny blog. If you click on listen or watch, you’ll see me giving a version of the Truth in 10. Al Gore, and you’ll see it for yourself, but it’s a great exercise for any leader to be able to do that. It’s quite something, so sign up.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: As the European leader for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, what technology excites you the most when it comes to fighting the climate crisis?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: We’re going to be a feature in Wired and Fast Company, trees. Trees are the best technology that we have, all of the technology that we need to solve the climate crisis is already here. There’s a lot going on around carbon capture. We’re spending an obscene amount of money on IBM research at the moment, looking at new materials to be able to draw down more carbon from the atmosphere and looking at different types of molecular structures in order to do that.
For the most part, there are political and people problems. If you want to get into the nuts and bolts of it, you’re going to start looking at the subsidies that might be given to fossil fuel companies, as opposed to the subsidies that should be going towards more renewable and clean energy. That’s a political problem. It’s not a technology problem.
We’ve already got far too much oil and fossil fuels that we need already. We don’t need to get any more. We don’t need to keep digging. We’ve got this huge problem already of these assets in the ground that some of these fossil fuel companies are sitting on because they’re on their balance sheets. They’re worthless because they can never be pulled up.
You’re not allowed to pull it because of The Paris Agreement. If we’re looking at a transition to the net-zero, for the most part, you can’t pull them up. That creates a huge financial problem for organizations, first of all. You start looking at what it takes to change policy in order to have more investment in renewable and clean energy. Without being flippant and in the interest of time, I’m not going to stand on my soap box and go down a foxhole consumption.
It is people, population explosion, growth, and the fact we’re not going to have enough food. We’ve got huge electricity problems all over the world. It was technology scaling incredibly well, especially in developing countries around wind and solar. It’s not going fast enough, partly because they’re not supported financially fast enough.
To think that there’s a magic silver bullet of some technology that’s going to pull it all down and solve our problem, technology people want to say that, or sometimes fossil fuel people want to say that because that’s easy. That’s the least of our problems. Focus on the people and the politics, and stop consuming more stuff.
Craig McCartney From your perspective, Jeremy, is there hope on the horizon?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: Of course, 100%. Hope is an interesting thing, especially back to storytelling. Each of us got an amount of hope. Sometimes, it’s not much. Sometimes, we do get overwhelmed. The key to a great storyteller, especially someone that’s going to try and drive a campaign or build a movement, is understanding in your audience exactly how much hope they have.
Here’s how you get people to act. You erode the hope as far as you can before it disappears. If you get right to the bottom, where there’s only a little bit of hope left, what does it do? It makes you angry, pisses you off, and makes you want to do something. If you give people too much information and you give them the weight of everything, they get overwhelmed.
You completely destroy all that hope. What happens? You do nothing. They’re like, “I’m too overwhelmed. What can one person do?” If you don’t give them enough information, they get engaged. They like it and support you, but they won’t do anything. Hope budgets. No one’s ever spoken about that, but hope budgets should be a thing.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: I am sadly aware of time in the respect that we ought to be wrapping up soon, but before we do, we always like to end our episode on some short, sharp questions. It’s some slightly lighter questions and more about you as a person. I’d like to kick off by asking you what’s your guilty technology pleasure.
Jeremy Connell-Waite: The fact that I’m struggling to answer that. Can I say a fountain pen? I’m not kidding either. I have ADHD. I have partially expensive fountain pens. I write in ink. I loved the whole process, but it forced me to slow down. You have to wait for the ink to dry. It looks gorgeous on the page. It forces you to make sense of your thoughts. I write everything long hand and a write it all in a fountain pen. There’s something quite special about it. When the top comes off, I’d like to think something magical is about to happen. In terms of technology, I think with my pen.
Craig McCartney: Can you tell me, what do your friends think you do versus what your family thinks you do versus what your boss thinks you do?
Jeremy Connell-Waite: My friends think I’m a storyteller. They don’t understand how I get paid anything for doing it. Some of my Northern friends, I’m from Manchester, probably think I’ve sold my soul to the devil instead of being in the weeds with my start-up in Manchester. Now, I’m in the big corporate world of London, trying to make a difference from boardrooms.
My mom and dad, I love them dearly, have no scooby whatsoever about what I do. I try and explain to them. They’re like, “We think he writes speeches every now and again. Sometimes he draws stuff. I’ve seen his stuff on LinkedIn. He seems to spend a lot of his time coloring in.” It was not what I liked to do when I was five years old.
My boss is amazing. She knows exactly what I do. We’re careful with how we measure the impact of the work that we do. We’re scaling this out across IBM. We’re a big company with a lot of challenges. We are rebranding. We’ve got 220,000 employees. This is important to us. I’m lucky that ever since I joined IBM, not only have I had a great boss who, every single one, has been female. I never had a male boss. They always had my back and supported me to try and make a difference.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: I don’t think I can leave Jeremy without getting my answer for why we should never ask why.
Jeremy Connell-Waite: What happens when you’re growing up or when you’re a baby and you knock something off the table, and it smashes, or you knock a drink all over the floor? Your mom and dad shout at you, “Why did you do that?” From a very young age, we are pre-programmed to have this visceral reaction to the word why.
Jeremy Connell-Waite: If you think about it, it’s an aggressive word. You listen to people like Tony Robbins and Dan Pink. It’s all about, “I ask why five times or seven times.” There’s a huge amount of truth in that. I’ve seen executives crying in front of Tony Robbins when he’s asked them why seven times to get to the truth. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. It does. Does it make them angry and piss them off? Does it work for everybody? No.
The person I heard that from is Chris Voss at the FBI. He’s a wonderful guy. He wrote, Never Split The Difference, which I’m sure many of your readers have read. It’s an amazing book. He’s a guy that negotiates with terrorists, hostage negotiators, and bank robbers, where somebody might die in 60 seconds if they don’t do what he needs them to do. He’s got to build a relationship in the most accelerated timescale possible.
Bear with me for a second, but think about what we do in the boardroom. It’s not 1 million miles away. You’ve got to build a relationship as quickly as possible with someone you’ve never met before that you might not even like. We want to have empathy and put ourselves in their shoes, but what if we don’t like them or we don’t agree I believe with them? You need something called tactical empathy. I need to put myself in your shoes, even if I don’t like or agree with you in order to reach a common goal to do the thing that we need to do.
Whenever you listen to Chris Voss negotiate, he has something on Masterclass.com. He has a whole class where he teaches this. He says, “Never ask why. You mirror, you label.” Sometimes you repeat the last three words that they said with an upwards inflection. Sometimes you say, “What it sounds like you said is this. It feels like what you’re saying is that.” What I’m hearing is a big, long silence, and you let them speak without realizing it, they pour their soul out, and they tell you what the real truth is quick. Never once asked why. If that works in hostage negotiations, I’m pretty sure we could make more use of it in the boardroom.
Craig McCartney: Jeremy, I honestly could listen to you speak all day. I am grateful you’ve joined us. I’m sure the reader is too. I can’t wait to read it back. Thank you so much for joining. Continue what you’re doing. I will always be looking out for it.
Jeremy Connell-Waite: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Hopefully, we’ll do it again.
Darcie Thompson-Fields: Thank you so much for joining us, Jeremy. It was a pleasure. Thank you so much to all of our readers. I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we did. As always, please rate, review, and subscribe. We’ve got some fantastic guests coming up. We’ll see you again.
What [CMOs] need to work more on is applying more economic value to their stories. Because measuring reach, engagement, preference, consideration, awareness, just doesn’t cut it. People outside of marketing don’t care. But in terms of storytelling, they’re among the best in the business.
Global Communications Designer,
Global Communications Designer, IBM
Jeremy Connell-Waite is IBM’s Global Communications Designer, working with purpose-driven brands to help them tell more meaningful stories that impact, people, profits and the planet. He is also proud to be a European leader for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. Jeremy founded a brand consultancy in 2001, has written four books and worked with Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce and Adobe. (He also worked briefly as a giraffe keeper!)
Head of Digital & Content,
Welcome to The CEO.digital Show, a new peer-to-peer podcast series where we’ll be talking to influential thought leaders about how tech is continuing to change the way the world does business.
The CEO.digital Show is brought to you by hosts Darcie Thompson-Fields and Craig McCartney. Each week, we’ll be interviewing major thought and industry leaders to learn how they are embracing new technologies and strategies to create new value and success for their companies. Find us on all major podcast streaming platforms.