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A Conversation with communications strategist, Merrie Spaeth

September 26, 2011

As we prepare for our Global Institute for Leadership Development (GILD), we look back at our one-on-one interview with communications strategist Merrie Spaeth on-site last year. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What does the topic of communication mean to you?

That is a wonderful question, [if] you ask people what communication means, you will get as many different definitions as you ask people.  So we have a very specific description of effective communication that we want people to share.  And it is based on our initial recognition, some 20 plus years ago.

But everyone approaches communication thinking what do I want to say, or what do I think my listener/audience needs to know?  Of course, when we ask how much do they remember from what you say, everyone knows it is just a little.  That is what has fascinated me for my adult life, is what makes people remember some things and not others.

We say good communication is knowing who your audience is and who you want to influence.  What makes them hear, believe, and remember some things and not others?  Frequently you want to enlist them to pass along your messages.

Tell me a little bit about your journey to GILD.  Why did you decide to join us here at the Institute?

I want people to think that communication is a skill and a strategic tool that they can learn.  So any place there are more than four people gathered together, I am happy to stand up and present. Coming to participate in GILD is a life’s dream, because you get hundreds of smart people representing the very best companies, and I get to share best practices with them. I am confident they are going to go back to their own companies and say, “Hey, guess what I learned,” and [discuss] some of the benchmarks that I gave them.  Do your executives have an agreed upon list of what we call good words?  That is, the words that represent the soul and value of the company.  Do they use those words?  Do they use them proactively, or do they think it is somebody else’s job to sell those words?  I could see the wheels turning, and I know that those people in my session are going to go back to their companies and they are going to look at things much differently.

You mentioned the good words and tools.  What are some other specific great communication tools?

One of them is the structure of information.  Rather than just opening your mouth and starting to talk, you want to have what we call a clear headline, and the reason we use the term headline is because it means the same thing to people all over the world.  Everybody knows a headline is short, they know it is catchy and the best headlines make a claim.  When you articulate a clear headline or claim, people wait for you to prove it.  That means they are waiting for you to go on.  You would be astonished at how many people just open their mouths and start talking, hoping that people will figure out what they are trying to say.  You can do that, but it is risky.  Having a structure that you follow that influences how people hear things, very sound.

What did you get out of GILD this year?  You have talked a lot about the participant experience and what they are going to walk away with.  What about you?

I have two things, and it may seem as if they contradict each other.  First of all, I saw an enormous receptivity for what we are talking about and the importance of communication, which was traditionally considered a soft skill.  I also saw that we have fertile ground for teaching, because it looked to me in my sessions as if everybody is approaching communication, thinking what do I want to say?  Revolutionizing and transforming that to who is the audience and how do I influence what they hear–that is a big step.

Thank you so much Merrie.

To learn more about GILD, visit or call 781-402-5555.

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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