Kat Cole–Captivating Corporate Communicator

Before I heard Kat Cole speak two days ago, I was quite familiar with her well documented rise to the top of Cinnabon—famed for its delicious cinnamon rolls and other delicacies– after serving an amazing apprenticeship with Hooters. Now 35, she became President of Cinnabon in 2011. The company has 50,000 global points of distribution, with $1 billion in annual retail sales.

As a Speech Coach, I was eager to see her in action. During TV interviews, she appeared articulate and poised. How strongly would her commanding presence transfer to the solo act of speaking?

Appropriately, Kat was the keynote speaker for an “Inspirational Leaders Luncheon,” honoring community servants. Certainly she merits that designation herself. During her hour-long presentation, I recognized these five prominent characteristics that make her the most compelling corporate communicator I have heard.


ONE: “Illusion of the First Time”
I first heard this phrase during my days in college dramatics. Our director told us that no matter how many times we rehearsed, the audience wanted to feel that the production was spontaneous and fresh.

Kat Cole may well have given this particular speech—tracing her personal and professional background, and giving the lessons she has learned—a hundred times. Yet she almost seemed to be speaking “off the cuff.” Far from “phoning in her message,” she spoke fervently. We welcomed her total immersion in the topic.

Willingness to Admit Mistakes
Midway in her speech, she described a major mistake she made—one so glaring that the founder of the company questioned her judgment, using salty language that didn’t match his usual demeanor.

“I goofed,” Kat told us. “I failed to ask the right questions before I distributed that message. That taught me to listen much more carefully to my team before declaring a new direction.”

Audiences respond positively to corporate heads who admit their fallibility, rather than looking for scapegoats in their Board of Directors, dips in the economy, or flawed managers.

THREE: Strong Value System
Audience members felt their hearts warmed as Cole talked about her mother divorcing when Kat and her sisters were ages 9, 5, and 3. She admired her mother’s determination to leave an alcoholic husband, though the mother had scant resources or work credentials. In all the years since, Cole has turned to her mother for advice when facing major decisions—such as whether to stay in college or accept the world wide responsibilities Hooters was offering her.

Aristotle said the speaker’s character (or ethos) may well be his or her most powerful mode of persuasion. That’s why value-driven Kat Cole attracts us, while an abrasive Jack Welch of General Electric or egotistical Steve Jobs of Apple might repel us.

Authentic Animation
Kat Cole’s nonverbal communication does not seem planned or canned. Rather, her lively gestures and her zestful walking around the stage happen because of the immense energy she feels for her topic and her audience. She smiles naturally and constantly because she is enjoying the opportunity to share her ideas with receptive listeners. A description of another speaker I read decades ago fits her well: “art without artifice.”

FIVE: Approachability
Have you heard renowned speakers who disappeared the instant the applause died, as though their dealings with the audience were completed? By contrast, Kat remained afterward. She mingled with the audience, posed for photos, and didn’t check her watch. As she met people, she accepted their compliments graciously, and asked questions that helped her become familiar with their interests and services. Though she has achieved speaking stardom, she has remained humble and receptive.

CONCLUSION: The company’s motto: “life needs frosting.” As a Speech Coach, I concluded quickly that Kat Cole’s speaking needs no frosting. The flavor of her content and delivery is absolutely delightful.

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