Several years ago, I went on a date with a woman I had met on a dating website. She listed her age as 33—but after I had gone on several dates with her, she confessed to being 37.
I’m well aware of the sensitivities regarding age and understand the motivations behind someone lying about theirs. But I couldn’t get out of my mind that she had deceived me before we had even met and continued the lie for several dates—and for that reason (and not due to her actual age), I ended our brief relationship.
Voters in Laguna Beach, California must be feeling a similar sense of deception from Laguna Beach City Council candidate Jon Madison. According to the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, Mr. Madison—if that’s his real name, which is also in doubt—“falsified his age, educational and work histories on his campaign website.”
Mr. Madison had a rather interesting response to questions posed by the Coastline Pilot about his numerous biographical inconsistencies:
“I am who I am,” Madison said in an interview after the forum. “I don’t think my educational history or my age or voter registration has anything to do with what I’m trying to do in this city.”
The Orange County Register reported Sunday that Madison may have lied on his campaign website about degrees he earned from two universities, in addition to apparent discrepancies in his birth date and work history….
“This is my first rodeo, and I’m disappointed that the media are bringing me down,” Madison said, adding that he is confused about why the six other council candidates are not receiving similar media attention. “I feel like I’m being ambushed. Come to my restaurant, even when I’m not there, and ask people what they think of me. They’ll tell you who I am.”
What Could He Do Now?
To me, those unanswered allegations are disqualifying. But his case made me wonder what I would advise Mr. Madison to do if he asked me to take him on as a client (this is hypothetical; I’d respectfully turn down the work).
Assuming these media reports are true, I’d advise Madison to do three things: Admit, apologize and ask forgiveness. I’d want to learn what forces led Mr. Madison to lie about his biography. If it was due to a normal human vulnerability—insecurity about his age or educational background, for example—I suspect some voters would be willing to overlook his past. But in order to do that, they would require complete honesty from this point on.
As an example, I could imagine him saying something like this:
“Media reports about my age and educational background are true. I didn’t complete the level of education I wish I had and always felt badly about that—so I made up a backstory about myself that allowed me to get through the day with a bit more pride. I’m sorry about that. Once I started telling those stories, it always felt like it was too late to come clean.
Over the past many years, I’ve met thousands of people at my restaurant—and they know the type of man I am. I’m asking people to look past the mistakes I’ve made in the past, make judgments about me based on the person they’ve gotten to know, and promise to always be truthful with voters as their public servant.”
Would that persuade me personally? No. But I suspect many people would appreciate that candor and give Madison a second look. Remember: Anthony Weiner briefly led in polls for the New York City mayor’s race last year, a sign that voters are often willing to overlook bad personal decisions.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
h/t Political Wire
Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of “breaking the pattern” when delivering a presentation.
That post discussed what you can do as a speaker to change your delivery approach frequently in order to maintain and regain your audience’s attention. But that article focused solely on the contrast you can provide during your own presentation—and there’s another key way to break the pattern that occurs when you’re speaking at a conference or multi-speaker workshop.
Before planning your own presentation at a conference, get a feel for the “default” speaking style most speakers plan to use. Hold a conference call with other speakers. Start an email chain. Talk to the conference planner.
Then, look for ways to break the default pattern.
Here are a few examples of providing a contrast between yourself and other speakers:
- If other speakers plan on using PowerPoint, consider going without it (or at least keep the screen dark for the first several minutes).
- If other speakers put complex technical information on the screen, consider handing out a well-designed one-page handout instead. Give the audience a few minutes to take in the content (they won’t be able to hear you until they’ve digested your content anyway), and then add context to the handout they just read.
- If other speakers will deliver their presentations from behind a lectern, request a lavaliere microphone and speak in front of the stage.
- If other speakers are dressed in business attire but your professional or personal brand is more business casual, dress in a manner consistent with your own brand (assuming, of course, that doing so would be appropriate to the occasion).
- If other speakers plan on taking audience questions only after they finish their prepared remarks, consider allowing questions and interacting with the audience throughout your presentation.
Doing something that breaks convention takes some boldness and courage. But the payoff for speakers who choose smart ways to stand out from their “competition”—and the battle to earn the audience’s long-term memory is competition—can be huge.
What are your favorite “pattern breakers?” Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Humans evolved with a keen ability to detect motion and change in the environment. That was a particularly helpful trait for our ancestors, who were (hopefully) able to use their peripheral vision to detect large animals preparing to attack.
Although most of us are no longer fending off animal attacks, the evolutionary gift we inherited from our ancestors remains with us. We’re good at detecting change.
We’re not as good, however, with sameness. We acclimate quickly. Therefore, in order to maintain or regain an audience’s attention, speakers must frequently “break the pattern.” As Dr. Susan Weinschenk advises in 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, “Because people habituate to stimuli, it helps to keep things at least a little unpredictable.”
You can break the pattern in many different ways:
- After sharing a few facts, tell a story
- If you’ve been using PowerPoint, turn it off and move toward your audience
- If you’ve been standing to the right of your audience, move to its left
- If you’ve been speaking in a quiet tone, add volume to emphasize a key point
- If you’ve been lecturing, pause and ask for a volunteer
- Ask the audience a question, real or rhetorical
- If you’ve been speaking, show a video or distribute a handout
Breaking the pattern should never feel gratuitous to the audience—and it won’t, if your pattern-changers occur at logical points during your talk, such as in between key points.
An unofficial trick of the trade is to mindful of “The Ten-Minute Rule,” which maintains that you should break your pattern at least once every ten minutes, the amount of time at which many audience members begin to lose their focus. Although ten minutes isn’t a fixed number (some people’s attention will begin to drift after four seconds, others after forty minutes), the rule serves as a useful reminder to break the pattern often.
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JOY—the fashion and lifestyle chain that has 26 locations throughout the United Kingdom—is the latest brand to create unnecessary controversy by tweeting something stupid.
The trouble started yesterday when a customer complained via Twitter about a greeting card that the store has for sale.
At first glance, I didn’t find this card offensive. But that’s the thing about offense: I don’t get to decide what’s sincerely offensive to other people; they do. And if a customer makes their sincere objection to this greeting card known to JOY, the company—at the very least—should know better than to antagonize the person who complained.
Instead, JOY said this:
The customer responded by tweeting:
To which JOY responded with its biggest error of all:
Now that offends me. To dismiss a polite customer who raises a sincere concern about stigmatizing mental illness by mocking people with bipolar disorder is completely beyond reason.
But Then They Made It Worse…
As is predictable in these situations, JOY apologized earlier today, but with one of those insincere, completely inauthentic apologies:
How, exactly, their tweets were intended to “create dialogue” about mental illness is beyond my comprehension. The company’s Facebook apology was even worse:
As their Facebook comments section shows, their customers aren’t buying it:
Why JOY’s Customers Shouldn’t Be So Quick To Forgive…
There have been far too many social media fails by this point for a brand to be quickly forgiven for committing its own. By now, they should know better—and if they don’t, their ignorance is no longer an excuse. There are only three possibilities in this case:
1. This is a deliberate strategy: It’s entirely possible that JOY is intentionally using outrage to spark a “crisis,” get attention for the brand, and increase name recognition. Giving credence to this theory is that Kenneth Cole—who has admitted creating these “social media crises” on purpose—apologized with almost the same response, that he was trying to “provoke a dialogue.”
2. The social media team is poorly trained: It’s 2014. There is no shortage of great consultants and experts available to help brands get their social media right. If the brand failed to train its staff properly, this incident is very much its own fault.
3. The employee went rogue. I doubt this one. Since the apology—which should have involved executives—had the same unapologetic tone, this incident strikes me as far more reflective of the brand than an exception to the rule.
UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 22, 2014, 1:16 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time
JOY just issued its second apology in as many days. Unfortunately, this apology comes only after botching the first apology. As a result, its sincerity will immediately be called into question by many people—including me—who wonder why a heartfelt apology should take two takes to get right.
Even though this apology is better than the first, it’s still not great. The store is placing the blame onto a staffer, but not acknowledging that management itself bears responsibility for insufficiently training its staff or for making the wrong person responsible for its Twitter feed.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally faced reporters today in an effort to save his job and quell growing public outrage over his poor handling of a domestic abuse case involving a player.
The crisis began when this video, showing Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice dragging his fiancée’s unconscious body off an elevator, appeared on TMZ.
Despite seeing that video and confirming directly with Ray Rice that he had hit his fiancée, Goodell decided to suspend him for just two games, far less than many players get for smoking a joint. When TMZ released new video of Rice actually punching her, the public reaction was even more profound.
How Did He Do Today?
Goodell adhered to many crisis communications best practices. Among other things, he:
- 1. Apologized directly and unequivocally: “I got it wrong with the Ray Rice matter, and I apologize for that…I let myself down. I let everyone else down.”
- 2. Expressed his commitment to make it right: “We have seen too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me…but now I will get it right and do whatever it takes to accomplish that.”
- 3. Appointed a third party investigator—former FBI director Robert Mueller—to examine the League’s handling of this situation and make recommendations to strengthen its personal conduct policies.
- 4. Partnered with and made significant financial contributions to domestic abuse organizations.
- 5. Brought in experts on domestic abuse to help the League improve its policies.
- 6. Conveyed a serious tone that made clear that he was chastened by this incident and committed to doing better.
There are times when checking all of the “Crisis Communications 101” boxes isn’t enough, and when doing many of the right things simply comes too late.
What’s inescapable is that Mr. Goodell is only giving this press conference now because he missed numerous opportunities to do the right thing when he originally had the chance. He appeared to blame the League’s pathetic two-game suspension of Rice on an outdated personal conduct policy written in 2007, as if domestic abuse is a new issue that’s cropped up in the past seven years.
As a result, this entire press conference was reactive, not proactive. It was done out of necessity, not choice, which tends to at least partially undercut even the most sincere statements of apology.
The Question I’m Still Left Asking
It appears that the NFL, rightfully bruised by this crisis, has finally committed to taking this issue more seriously. But Mr. Goodell failed to answer one critical question during his press conference: Why does he need to be the person to lead the NFL through these changes? Why is this man, who just a few months ago thought that a brutal assault of a woman warranted a mere two-game suspension, the best person to demonstrate the seriousness with which the NFL suddenly treats this topic?
As the clip above shows, Goodell tries to answer that by saying that he’s still capable of leading since he has now acknowledged his mistake. That’s a thin rationale, and it’s one that appears at odds with the stance he takes with players. As Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted:
Will His Press Conference Work?
Goodell’s job today wasn’t to end the crisis but to staunch the bleeding. He might have succeeded in that.
Appearing before cameras—even if his performance was far from perfect—might serve to take some of the air out of this story. He might even get lucky if another non-NFL sports crisis breaks and distracts reporters and fans from the NFL’s problems for a while.
The League’s owners appear to be giving him time to make things right. Based on today’s performance, my hunch is that he’ll hang on as commissioner for a while and that his resignation isn’t imminent. What do you think?
Nathan Gonzales, an old friend and colleague who serves as the Deputy Editor of the well-regarded Rothenberg Political Report, recently sent me an interesting theory:
“Here is a working hypothesis for politicians: The more stupid things you say, the more leeway you are allowed. Basically, if you have a reputation for being a straight talker or saying politically incorrect things, then you are allowed to say politically incorrect things.”
He included two examples—Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), whose recent remarks to an Asian Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas generated some unflattering headlines—and Vice President Joe Biden, who Nathan calls “probably the best example of this.”
Although Nathan sent me his theory a few weeks ago, Biden helped validate it on Tuesday by committing yet another of his infamous gaffes.
According to Yahoo News:
“Vice President Joe Biden drew fire from a prominent Jewish group on Tuesday after he described unscrupulous bankers who prey on servicemen and servicewomen deployed overseas as ‘Shylocks’ — a term frequently condemned as an anti-Semitic caricature.
‘Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day. The Vice President should have been more careful,’ Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said.”
Biden compounded his error by also referring to Asia as “The Orient” earlier this week which, as ABC News noted, “is considered widely outdated and could be perceived as offensive, or insensitive, especially when used in reference to people.”
It’s not just Harry Reid and Joe Biden, of course—examples on the political right include flamethrowers like these two Texas congressmen: Rep. Louie Gohmert (sample quote: “[The Obama] administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.”) and Rep. Steve Stockman (sample quote: “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.”).
Nathan is onto something. These politicians—all of whom commit gaffes and/or say outrageous things with some regularity—seem to at least partially inoculate themselves from future criticism for subsequent gaffes since they’ve already created an expectation of committing such gaffes. (For example, many people are likely to greet a Biden gaffe at this point with a shoulder shrug and a half-hearted “Ah, that’s just Biden.”)
To stick with Biden-as-case-study, I suspect many people like his style (he’s a straight-shooter who doesn’t spin me) while others view him as thoroughly undisciplined. Most people have already chosen their side by this point, meaning Biden’s gaffes are already baked into his approval rating, as are those of the other politicians mentioned in this post, and many others who aren’t.
Would I recommend this “gaffe inoculation” as a purposeful strategy? No. Few people can make it work for themselves long term without their gaffes and outrageousness backfiring on them. But does it work for many public officials? The answer, for better or worse, appears to be yes.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Since starting my company in 2004, I’ve never been late to a training or speaking engagement. I take my obligation to clients seriously, and I do what I must to ensure that I’ll be in the front of the room, on time and well prepared, as I’ve been contracted to be.
A few years ago, I even drove through the night from New York to Columbus, Ohio (562 miles) when my flight was canceled due to inclement weather and the airline couldn’t guarantee an alternate flight that would get me to my training on time. (My wife wasn’t thrilled with my decision, and in hindsight, driving through a snowstorm might not have been the smartest call.)
Fast forward to last week, when I was slated to speak to a group of about 35 financial professionals in Boston. Here’s what happened.
I was due to begin my speech at 1:00 p.m. I booked an Acela (Amtrak’s fast train, which I take frequently and has a good track record of on-time arrivals) that would have had me in Boston (from New York) by 11:25 a.m. If everything ran on time, I would have arrived to the client site by 11:50 a.m.
Because I know things go wrong during travel, I gave myself an hour of buffer time. Clearly, that wasn’t enough. My train arrived almost two hours late. I missed my own presentation.
My client was more forgiving than they needed to be—I would have understood if they had expressed their disappointment in me—but I felt awful and have been beating myself up since. (They rescheduled the speech for two hours later, and fortunately, most of the attendees were able to make it at the later time.)
As I reflect on what went wrong and try to prevent it from happening again, it seems that I have three options:
1. I could count it as a fluke and change nothing
I could view this as a mere fluke—an anomaly that’s occurred only once in a decade of travel. (I’ve had many flight delays through the years, but always allowed sufficient time.) After all, what I owe clients is an honest effort to fulfill my obligations to them—and if there are unexpected travel delays that couldn’t reasonably be anticipated, I shouldn’t be held accountable.
2. I could take an earlier train
On the surface, this probably seems like the most obvious option. But I would have had to wake up by 5:00 a.m. to make an earlier train, and I calculated that I would be too exhausted to be at the top of my speaking game by the afternoon. My general preference is to balance a reasonable amount of buffer time with sufficient sleep—but perhaps I’m being a bit too precious about my sleep.
3. I could travel the day before
This, too, may seem like an obvious choice. But if I travel the day before, it means I lose yet another night with my wife and toddler son. If it seems necessary to travel the day before to make it on time, I’ll happily do it—but for shorter-distance travel with an afternoon start time, I try to avoid doing so.
Reader Bob LeDrew recently made me aware of a media interview featuring a Toronto School Board trustee named Sam Sotiropoulos. (By the way, what is the deal with Toronto public officials lately?)
Mr. Sotiropoulos generated some controversy late last month when he sent out the following tweet:
Shortly thereafter, a reporter from Canada’s Global News interviewed Mr. Sotiropoulos about his incendiary comments. The interview was an utter disaster and is worth watching in its entirety.
As I watched this interview—which lasted almost nine excruciating minutes—I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t he walk away already? Does this man not have feet?”
It’s clear that Sotiropoulos thought his rapier wit was winning the interview, but he appeared blithely unaware that he was coming across as a smug dope who failed to score a single point.
Among the tactics he tried were:
- Repeating the same talking point almost verbatim numerous times
- Giving the reporter the silent treatment
- Denying that he had sent another controversial tweet that had appeared in his timeline
- Telling the reporter that while he could speak about his current tweet, he couldn’t discuss previous and related tweets he had sent
- Attacking the reporter for suggesting that there is a stigma attached to mental illness
- Claiming that his tweet was not expressing an opinion, but merely reserving the right to “form” an opinion
His last point was particularly disingenuous. He refused to acknowledge that his inference that transgenderism may be a form of mental illness could reasonably be read as a suggestion that it is. (For the record, the American Psychiatric Association ruled that “gender dysphoria” is not, by itself, a mental illness.) Using his logic, it would be completely fair of me to tweet the following:
But doing so would be a smear, and Satiropoulos would have a right to be upset at my inference. (I preceded and followed that tweet, sent yesterday, with an explanation that it was intended only as part of this story, not as a personal attack.)
Mr. Satiropoulos is entitled to his views, but he shouldn’t have sent his tweets if he was unprepared to defend them. For the same reason, he shouldn’t have agreed to an on-camera interview; a written statement would have served him far better.
Instead, he agreed to an on-camera interview without a time limit, during which he committed at least half a dozen interview errors. But of all his interview sins, the one that demonstrated his lack of judgment most is that he stood there like a punching bag instead of having the sense to end the interview and walk away.
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