I was recently having dinner with my colleague, Terry Flannery, and while we caught up she said something that made me pause. Terry is vice president for communications at American University in Washington, DC, and she mentioned that her office had developed a video marking the retirement of President Neil Kerwin that is being rolled out to alumni. In the video, she and her creative team used his inauguration speech as the narrative to weave together campus successes.
Her actions reminded me of a principle my first boss taught me.
I reported directly to a university president in my first job after college and wrote some of his speeches. This president was perhaps the best orator I’ve ever worked for and he taught me something that I’ve kept top of mind throughout my career—talk about the future in a way that is aspirational and sets expectations for where you are going to lead people, and then exceed those expectations. Finally, and most importantly, give your internal constituents kudos, because they are the reason for your successes.
The next time you are presented with the challenge of writing a speech, statement or communication about a positive campus milestone like an inauguration, you should, of course, bridge from past successes and pride points to set the stage for the future. But think through how you plan to reference the content, reinforce the key points of the communication, and use the highlights in the future. Create content that you can use today and repurpose, positively, in the future.
And, perhaps most importantly, congratulations to President Kerwin on his retirement and amazing tenure at American.