Writing :: CEO commencement speech

This speech won a Public Relations Society of America Clarus Award for Speechwriting. Here is the award entry I submitted to PRSA.

1. Planning
After Cessna Aircraft Company Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jack J. Pelton accepted an invitation to be the commencement speaker at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), I began researching the audience.

I consulted the ERAU website, where I learned ERAU (1) is the largest and most prestigious university specializing in aviation/aerospace and (2) had spent the past year recovering from a devastating tornado. Then I contacted separately the school’s director of events as well as the school’s chancellor to discuss relevant topics and to get a better definition of the audience and logistics of the commencement ceremony. I learned the audience would be 2,000 people – 250 graduates, their guests and the ERAU administration. I also learned more on the campus’ rebuilding efforts. Other research included reading a collection of extraordinary commencement speeches.

Cessna Citation CJ3

I flew in this Cessna Citation CJ3 to Las Vegas in Oct. 2011

Based on this research, I determined the objective of the speech was to excite the students about entering the real world through a short, light-hearted speech that shared Mr. Pelton’s life experiences. Other objectives were to convey Cessna Aircraft Company as a successful, innovative company and to entertain the parents and administrators in the room.

2. Execution
I created an outline, which I shared with Mr. Pelton before interviewing him on his relevant life experiences. The result was “Top Five Lessons I’ve learned from the Aviation Industry,” which incorporated a reference to current events such as the tornado recovery and the writers strike.

3. Results
The 20-minute speech was a success with all audiences. An email from Mr. Pelton dated Dec. 17, 2007, expressed his satisfaction with the speech and the audience’s reaction.

“You made me a smashing success today at Embry-Riddle. At the dinner last night it was clear passion was a theme that resonated well with the Trustees. At the conclusion today, one of the professors who teaches speech classes pulled me aside to tell me he is going to use the video of the speech in his classes. I also gave him a copy of the actual speech. That seems to me to be the highest compliment. Plus I got asked to join the board of trustees. Thank you!!”

An email from an ERAU professor dated Dec. 18, 2007, provided insight into the thoughts of the audiences – graduates, parents, ERAU staff.

“On behalf of the Embry-Riddle faculty and staff who were lucky enough to hear your excellent graduation speech — a big Thank You!  Actually, your target audience — the graduates were certainly inspired by the clear, detailed, personal, and upbeat vision of the future of general aviation that came through — with humor and insight — in your presentation. But among the people who commented most about the “graduation speaker,” the parents of our newly minted professionals were the most vocal about their decision four, five or more years ago to send their teenagers to Embry-Riddle. Your message erased any “investment anxiety” they might have had in their minds about the aviation careers they had financed.
Having had the pleasure of listening to over sixty graduation speakers during my long tenure at ERAU, yours is the first I wanted a copy of (video and written) to use in my speech classes. It’s broad appeal — within the aviation niche — was perfectly focused and very well delivered. So, think of it this way — you will have unpaid advertising for Cessna, broadcast for the next few years at ERAU, as a recruiting vehicle!”

Read the full script of the speech in this pdf flipbook:

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