BRAIN FOOD: Speaking Out - George Cox, Director General, Institute of Directors

Every conference is keen to have a DG, if only to add kudos to an otherwise tedious event. Some speakers might like to appear an expert on every subject, but not George Cox. When he spoke to an audience of corporate social responsibility specialists in Birmingham, he sensibly offered a few thoughts on behalf of SMEs, which make up most of the IOD's membership.

by Khalid Aziz, chairman of spoken communications specialist The Aziz Corporation -

Cox has a stilted, almost strangulated delivery, a bit like Robin Cook, but he cuts immediately to the chase. 'There's nothing new about CSR - just look at Rowntree, Lever Brothers and Cadbury's; there's just more of it around today.' His message? All businesses could get involved.

He recently judged business awards in which a small bed manufacturer was pitted against a bank and Marks & Spencer. The bedmaker won with its idea of offering schoolchildren work experience that included sitting in on staff dispute procedures. Cox raised a laugh with that tale. He had a serious message too - there's a limit to how much cash businesses will stump up. 'These days, more money given away can mean more jobs shed.' Benefit in kind was arguably a better alternative, as it meant engagement, particularly for local firms. He had visited a school where the staff room had been transformed by a team from a local factory. In 15 minutes, Cox had empathised with his audience and made them feel good. No wonder he's in demand.

Key moment: The revelation that a company chairman takes a saw to branches that obscure road signs.

Key lesson: Celebrating your audience is a good ploy. No speaker goes wrong by giving their listeners a warm feeling.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth?...


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