Hit Lyricist by Night, Hit Speechwriter by Day by Jimmy Star

I’ve known the name “Mike Greenly” for years. As a collaborator with artists, composers and producers, he’s written lyrics for eight Billboard-charted dance club songs, including four #1’s … choral songs in recordings and on sheet music … country songs, pop songs, even a state anthem. (“Our Great Virginia” is the Official Traditional Song of the State.)

Then I began to hear about the impressive executives he’s written for … not songs (although he’s written songs for sales meetings) but speeches, video scripts, PowerPoint presentations and more. In addition to writing for corporate leaders and teams, he also coaches their delivery on-stage.

Two very different contexts: corporate vs. musical. And yet he succeeds in both. I was curious to learn more about how a guy straddles these worlds, so I arranged to interview Mike ….

So – I know you as a songwriter. But I’ve learned that you’ve written for and have coached big-deal execs like the CEO of DuPont and the Presidents of major pharma companies, along with their teams. Also that you’ve run presentation workshops for ExxonMobil, Patrón Sprits and others. What’s your story?

The truth is, I’m quite mediocre at most of life’s pursuits. I can barely change a light bulb, am clueless about what’s under the hood of a car and can injure myself just trying to hang a picture. Zero mechanical skills!

But eventually I learned that words are my friends … whether for songs, speeches, scripts or whatever. I’m just “meant” to be a writer.

When did you find that out?

Not for the first half of my life – even though my parents said I sounded out my first poem at age four. But I read voraciously as a kid, majored in English Lit at Duke, loved the theater and raced up to New York City thinking I’d become a playwright … only to discover (hello?) that they don’t hire playwrights. I became a businessman so that at least I could buy a theater ticket.

I’m a very hard worker, thanks to a very strong work ethic from my parents. And I was lucky to have some great mentors. Eventually I became the youngest VP in the history of Avon Products. Among my assignments was to be in charge of all meetings and events. Avon held some gigantic ones. It was my job to review all the scripts and songs created for our meetings. (Business meetings used “theme songs” much more frequently back then.)

It turns out I was better at writing and editing our presentations than some of the agency folks who supported us. That realization was part of what gave me the courage to quit corporate life and go freelance. My clients say, it’s a real advantage that I once lived live on their side of the desk. I know what it’s like to be responsible for major business budgets … and how important it is to have clear and motivating communications for an organization.

So that’s how you discovered your skills as a writer. How about your ability to coach presentations?

I would never have risen in corporate life if I hadn’t learned to conquer a terrible case of “stage fright.” I contributed a chapter to the CHANGE book series about my self-transformation, from being terrified on-stage now to being comfortable and effective in front of an audience.

The lessons I learned in the process … about the paradox of being real and authentic onstage, while also being a bigger presence and actually “performing” to affect an audience … that learning was crucial to my success.

I’ve seen the research about stage fright: it’s much more common, even among senior execs, than most people realize. The clients I coach can tell that I know exactly how they feel. They’re always grateful when I help them learn to unlock their comfort on-stage.

I know you as a successful songwriter. How different is writing a speech or creating a PowerPoint presentation from writing a song?

Even though songs and business presentations are starkly different media, the overall principles of effective communication are the same – starting with determining the single, over-riding message you want to plant into the brains of an audience.

My song “Common Ground” is about respecting and supporting diversity, for example. “You’re Good for Me” is an appreciative love song, as is “I’m in Love With You”. “Our Great Virginia” is a tribute to the state, its history and its people. And so on: a core idea.

And writing an executive’s speech is no different: what’s the #1 take-away message? That a new product is superior for “X” reasons and deserves the enthusiastic commitment of its sales force? That two teams will be “better together” as the result of a re-organization?

Whatever the intended message, my clients are always the experts in whatever must be conveyed with impact. I’m just the communications expert who helps to make that happen.

Speech, video, presentation or song: it’s all about delivering a very clear message with impact.

What do you like best about doing what you do?

I took pride as a corporate exec, not only in what I accomplished but also in what I motivated my teams to achieve. I enjoyed it all — from running advertising campaigns for detergent and margarine at Lever Brothers … to creating 300 new products a year at Avon … to publishing the sales brochures for a half a million Avon reps.

Now I take pride in helping my clients achieve their goals. Clients often tell me that I live up to my tagline: “Sound like yourself … only better!”

I’ve seen a number of letters from your clients. They all do sound very happy with your work.

In fact, my work is 100% Guaranteed. I took the “no questions asked” Avon Guarantee with me when I left the company. I never accept an assignment unless I’m certain I can delight my clients. I can’t stand to disappoint, so I always do my best to under-promise and over-deliver.

How much longer do you expect to be writing songs, speeches, videos, etc., and to be coaching people in being more effective on-stage?

That’s easy! As long as I can think, type and talk! Maybe another 20 years, if I’m lucky? It makes such a difference in life to be doing something one loves.

I know just what you mean! Thanks for the interview.

Thank you, Jimmy. I enjoy following your work.


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