Selling the vision

At many higher education institutions, presidents give an annual “state of the university (or college)” presentation that highlights recent accomplishments and plans for the coming year.   I have typically given these talks at the beginning of fall semester, after faculty have returned to campus and before fall classes begin, to update everyone on the summer’s activities and to talk about the agenda for the upcoming academic year.  I know that other presidents use a mid-semester convocation or a January gathering as the opportunity to share this information.  These types of presentations are also used by vice presidents, deans, directors, and department chairs with their faculty, staff, and students.

As I have been reading about how such presentations are used in the corporate world, I realize that I can improve my approach.  Sally Williamson, of Sally Williamson & Associates, has written a great summary about how to approach such talks in her February 2012 newsletter.

Sally’s guidelines are to use this structure for a presentation that will communicate and motivate:

  • Structure the talk to last no more than 30 minutes.
  • Spend 50% of the time on “where you want to be” (the vision).
  • Spend 20% of the time on “where you are today” (the reality).
  • Spend 30% of the time on “what it will take to get there” (the strategy).

In reflecting on my own “state of the university” speeches, I realize that I have spent about 65% of the talk on “how we got here” (the history) and 35% on “what we are going to focus on this year” (the implementation).   I have used the historical perspective to highlight the contributions of members of the University community and to celebrate our achievements, as a community, but I’m questioning whether the “state of” speech is the right place to do this.  I plan to experiment with this suggested structure and increase the focus on vision and strategy in my future presentations.  I know that my colleagues will provide candid feedback on the value of the changes!

Interested in more?   You can read Sally’s archived newsletter on her web site at  As of now, the February issues hasn’t been posted, but I’m sure it will be soon.

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