Use This Easy Exercise To Create A Winning Message

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 17, 2011 – 6:26 am

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Tim Horan, a media relations professional based in Sydney, Australia. I liked his straightforward approach to message creation, and asked him for permission to share his idea with this blog’s readers.

When I was in primary school, I loved English class. But the one thing I could never understand was the different parts of speech. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, I just didn’t get it.

That was until fifth grade, when my teacher said: “Verbs are doing words, adjectives are describing words.” That was great advice, and I used that lesson throughout the rest of primary and high school.

I’m going to take that advice and use it to help you create a message for your organization. What is your business doing? How is it doing it? That is your message. It’s your chance to start a conversation with an audience about what you have to offer.

Grab a pen and some paper and write your business name at the top. Now write two or three verbs and two or three adjectives that describe your business and tell people what it is doing.

I’ve created an example below to show how easy it is:

Business Name: New Life Gym
Verbs: Encourage, Promote, Help
Adjectives: Healthy, Active, Positive


Now that you have these down on paper, all you have to do is work them into one or two sentences, maybe something like:

New Life Gym promotes a healthy, active lifestyle for members. Our fully trained staff will provide you with the help and encouragement you need to make the positive changes you desire.


That message is short and to the point. It touches on the key aims and strengths of your organization, what you do and how you do it. Keep it simple, and don’t add three words where one is enough.

Getting your message right is key. Whether you are writing a media release, giving an interview or taking out advertising, your message needs to be at the forefront of your media strategy.

Tim Horan is a media relations professional based in Sydney, Australia. He blogs at www.FreeMediaTraining.Net and Tweets at @OzMediaTraining.

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Posted in Media Training: Message | 2 Comments »

Are You The Beach Boys Or The Beatles?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 13, 2011 – 6:35 am

Each year, I work with a few hundred public speakers. Many of them are good, and a few of them are very good.

But only a dozen or so are absolutely fabulous.

Those dozen trainees almost always ask me how they can continue growing as a speaker. And almost always, I ask them whether they want to be The Beach Boys or The Beatles.

The Beach Boys and The Beatles were both legendary 1960s bands. The Beach Boys had 36 U.S. Top 40 hits; The Beatles had 51. Both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Both have left an enduring influence on future generations of musicians.

But whereas you can almost always identify a Beach Boys song within a few notes, you can’t always tell which songs belong to The Beatles. The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” sounds a lot like “I Get Around,” which sounds a lot like “Good Vibrations” and “Kokomo.”

On the other hand, The Beatles were usually more difficult to pigeonhole. “She Loves You” sounded totally different from “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and “Norwegian Wood” sounded a whole lot different than “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

It may sound like I’m judging The Beatles as better than The Beach Boys, but that’s not necessarily the case. Many bands have made terrific careers out of doing just one thing, but doing it well (see ABBA, AC/DC, and Huey Lewis and the News). Similarly, many speakers have made successful careers out of doing just one thing, but doing it exceptionally well.

You can expand your public speaking skills by using more colors on your palette

You have to decide: Do you want to be The Beach Boys by excelling at just one thing, or do you want to be The Beatles by demonstrating a wider range? Both are acceptable choices, but I’d personally opt for expanding your range. Here are three ways you can do that:

1. Write A List of Adjectives: Jot down a dozen adjectives, such as “excited,” “melancholy,” “matter-of-fact,” “bold,” and “annoyed.” Practice delivering portions of your speech using the adjectives you’ve selected, one at a time. In my experience, most of the adjectives won’t be a natural fit for you – but a few will be, and you can expand your range by injecting them at strategic moments into your speeches.

2. Slow Down or Speed Up: Most presenters tend to speak at the same pace. By changing the tempo at critical moments in your talk, you can help your audiences separate your most important points from the less important ones.  

3. Mark Your Script: If you’ve written your speech in its entirety rather than speaking from notes, underline key words you’d like to emphasize during your talk (usually a couple of words or phrases per paragraph). Practice by speaking as a radio news anchor, really exaggerating – or “punching” – the words you’d like the audience to focus on. A little goes a long way here, but your increased vocal variety will help the audience remember your key points. 

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Related: 12 Things 1980s Songs Teach You About Public Speaking

Related: The Five Most Common PowerPoint Mistakes

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Scorecard: October 11, 2011 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 11, 2011 – 10:18 pm

Political reporters change storylines more often than Larry King changes wives.

For the past three debates, the media narrative was framed as an apparent two-man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. But after Gov. Perry had a couple of lousy debates, the media narrative has shifted away from Rick Perry and onto businessman Herman Cain, who has suddenly soared to (or near) the top of several Republican polls. 

But unexpectedly, my headline for tonight’s debate has less to do with the candidates and more to do with the moderators.

The moderators, led by PBS Host Charlie Rose, insisted upon serious, policy-focused answers  – and the format seemed to bring out the best in the candidates. I hope other moderators are taking notes, as our nation would benefit from more debates like this one.

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:

Photo Credit: AP


MITT ROMNEY (1st Place, Grade: A)

Mitt Romney wears an almost permanently bemused expression that suggests he sees himself as above the fray. He is. Gov. Romney delivered another impressive performance tonight, successfully deflecting attacks and easily parrying with his opponents. He also displayed a sense of humor, joking with Charlie Rose, who accidentally called on the wrong person.

Mr. Romney is terrific at remaining on message. He steadfastly refuses to answer hypothetical questions that don’t advance his message, opting to transition to the points he wants to make instead.

Mr. Romney is far from the most inspiring candidate the GOP has ever seen. But there’s a reason he’s leading the polls, albeit it barely – what he doesn’t earn in love, he’s earning through hard work and competence.

HERMAN CAIN: (2nd Place, Grade: A-)

You have to give this to Herman Cain: He’s the only candidate whose economic plan (“9-9-9”) is becoming a household phrase. That’s good for him, in that it made him a primary focus during tonight’s debate – but it’s also problematic, as it will increasingly make him a target.

Mr. Cain had an advantage during tonight’s debate, which was focused almost exclusively on the economy. He has fared less well on foreign policy issues, and will be more vulnerable when questioned on those topics.

Mr. Cain had one off note tonight when he cited Alan Greenspan as his favorite Fed Chairman. That will likely receive press over the next few days, as Mr. Greenspan’s policies are regularly blamed for this economic crisis.

NEWT GINGRICH (3rd Place, Grade: B)

Former House Speaker Gingrich appeared tough and smart again tonight, looking wiser than most of his competitors. He would have received a higher grade if he didn’t look so angry during a few of his answers. Yes, the American people are angry – but they have consistently rewarded presidential candidates who deliver tough truths with sunny optimism.

One off note occurred when Mr. Gingrich said that Fmr. Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank should go to prison for their legislation (which was approved by both Chambers of Congress). Mr. Gingrich’s message will never be heard if he continues to offer the press such irresistible sound bites.


RON PAUL (4th Place, Grade: B-)

Sure, Dr. Paul delivered the same answers he always does about the Fed, the gold standard, and government intervention. But the seated, roundtable seemed to soften his delivery a bit, making him look more like a senior statesman than like an old crank.

RICK SANTORUM (5th Place, tie, Grade: C+)

Former Senator Santorum is deeply passionate about his beliefs, and he threw some of the strongest punches during tonight’s debate. He convincingly argued that Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan couldn’t pass Congress, while his could. Still, there’s little optimistic about Mr. Santorum – and the less charismatic candidate has lost every general election since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980.

MICHELE BACHMANN (5th Place, tie, Grade: C+)

Rep. Bachmann had a good performance tonight, but did little to catapult herself back to the top of the GOP field. Plus, I can’t help wondering if her regular talking point of raising 28 kids – 23 foster children and five biological children – makes her appear eccentric to some voters.

Ms Bachmann got a good line off when she said if you turn the “9-9-9” plan upside down, the devil is in the details. The problem, though, is that she’s talking about Mr. Cain’s plan; nobody is talking about hers.

RICK PERRY (7th Place, Grade: C)

Rick Perry looks like he was culled from central casting on a Hollywood lot, but sounds like he was culled from the George W. Bush school of public speaking.

He may have staunched the bleeding tonight with a “do no harm” debate – but he did little to convince voters that he would be able to effectively debate President Obama in a presidential debate. Nor did he manage to get off a single memorable line.

It’s a good thing for his campaign that he’s raised a lot of money. He’s not going to win the nomination by being a convincing debater, so he’ll need the cash to produce slick, scripted ads.


JON HUNTSMAN (8th Place, Grade: D+)

Jon Huntsman is the uncle at your family picnic who makes a bunch of cringe-worthy jokes that require you to offer polite forced laughter. Tonight, his shtick seemed more appropriate for a bad comic warming up the headliner at Yuk Yuks than for a candidate for president.

By my count, he started three of his answers with jokes – that Washington, DC is the “gas” capital of the nation, that the “9-9-9” plan sounds like the price of a pizza, and that he wasn’t going to make Mitt Romney’s religion an issue (he, too, is Mormon).  It’s a shame, because Gov. Huntsman is a thoughtful candidate. But his jokes distract from his more serious points, and he has missed almost every opportunity to break through. 

Wondering what measurements I used to help grade tonight’s debate? Here are the seven traits all eight winning general election candidates have had since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

Related: September 22, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 12, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 7, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: August 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: June 13, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: May 5, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

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Posted in Election 2012 (GOP) | 26 Comments »

A Great Presentation: A Burn Survivor Wins The Day

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 11, 2011 – 6:28 am

Over the past three years, my firm has been doing pro bono work with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.

Among other things, I’ve taught survivors how to advocate for causes they believe in by communicating through the media, speeches, and conversations with legislators. Rob Feeney, a survivor of the awful Station Fire that killed 100 people at a Rhode Island nightclub in 2003, attended one of my advocacy courses last year.

Earlier this year, Rob was invited to testify before the Chattanooga, Tennessee City Council, which was considering a requirement for bars and nightclubs to install fire sprinklers. The vote was going to be close, and advocates for home fire sprinklers were trailing by one vote.

This video is worth watching as a brilliant example of how to do public speaking right.

To be clear, I had nothing to do with Rob’s presentation. He conceived, wrote, and delivered this passionate testimony entirely on his own.

Rob did many things right during his testimony – but here are four things that stood out:

  1. 1. He Began With a Powerful Analogy: Rob was only allowed three minutes to testify, so he began his testimony with this sentence: “The irony is that in three minutes…96 people in the Station Nightclub fire lost their life …including my fiancée and two of our friends.”
  2. He continued to use that analogy throughout his testimony. Thirty seconds into his testimony, he talked about what was happening in the nightclub at the 30-second mark, and he continued to use that powerful device throughout his testimony.
  3. 2. He Started Small, Then Zoomed Out: Toward the end of his testimony, Rob listed a series of major fires with their related death tolls. But that list wouldn’t have been effective if he had started with it. Instead, Rob started “small” – with his personal story – and then zoomed out to the larger picture. By beginning with something concrete, it made it much easier for the audience to understand the abstract.   
  4. 3. He Was Emotional: Rob’s emotion underscored just how “real” this issue was. But what struck me was how he managed it. When he got overwhelmed, he just put his head down, paused for a few seconds, and resumed when he was ready. Perfect.
  5. 4. He Was On Message: Even though he was emotional, Rob never lost sight of his objective – to get fire sprinklers installed in Chattanooga bars. Everything he said was intended to convey that message to the members of the City Council.

A photo taken 40 seconds after the Station fire began

Vickie Pritchett, who serves on the board of the fire prevention group Common Voices, watched Rob give his testimony. She told me that there was a hush in the room when he spoke – and that the City Councilors didn’t dare interrupt him when he exceeded his allotted three minutes.

Largely as a result of Rob’s testimony, the Chattanooga City Council passed the fire sprinkler requirement.

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Related: How to Tell a Good Story: Make It Small

Related: What To Do When You Get Emotional During a Speech

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Posted in Presentation Training | 4 Comments »

Male Senator Mocks Woman’s Body, Falls Into Gender Trap

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 6, 2011 – 8:02 pm

Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) fell into a predictable gender trap earlier today when he slammed the body of a female competitor for his Senate seat.

Here’s the background: In 1982, long before he became a U.S. Senator, Mr. Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan Magazine. During a Democratic primary debate earlier this week, Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was asked how she paid for college, given that Mr. Brown stripped to pay his tuition.

“I kept my clothes on,” Ms. Warren quipped, to the delight of the audience. (Video here, about 15:15 in).

Scott Brown posing nude for Cosmo in 1982

During a radio interview earlier today, Sen. Brown responded:

Hosts: “Have you officially responded to Elizabeth Warren’s comment about how she didn’t take her clothes off?”

Scott Brown, laughing: “Thank God.”


With that broadside, Mr. Brown stepped into a gender minefield that threatens to alienate many female voters. To be sure, Ms. Warren’s swipe was unnecessary and gratuitous – and the question itself was sophomoric. But regardless of whether or not Ms. Warren opened the door to Mr. Brown’s response (she did), the political price will be paid almost solely by Mr. Brown.

The list of male politicians who lost support by mistreating a female competitor is long. Here are three examples:

1. Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama (2008): After winning the Iowa caucus, Senator Barack Obama was widely expected to win the pivotal New Hampshire primary and cruise to an easy nomination. But after taking a gratuitous swipe at Senator Clinton’s likeability in a debate held just days before the vote, female voters handed Ms. Clinton an unexpected victory, helping to extend her campaign for months.   

2. Hillary Clinton vs. Rick Lazio (2000): During a New York Senate debate, Republican candidate Rick Lazio aggressively approached Ms. Clinton’s lectern. He handed her a paper pledge to refuse any soft money to the campaign – but the move was widely seen as inappropriate and boorish. Mr. Lazio lost the once-close race by double digits.

Rick Lazio approaches Hillary Clinton

3. Geraldine Ferraro vs. George H.W. Bush (1984): During the Vice Presidential debate, Vice President Bush took a patronizing tone with Rep. Ferraro when discussing foreign policy. Ms. Ferraro used her razor sharp tongue to let him know she didn’t appreciate it, earning her the applause of the audience and him the enmity of many opinion writers. In the end, it didn’t matter – Mr. Bush was part of a winning ticket that won 49 states.

To paraphrase Aerosmith, you don’t want to close your eyes, don’t want to fall asleep, cause you’d miss me baby, and you don’t want to miss a thing. Like me on Facebook so you don’t miss a thing! I’m at

Related: Don’t Hire Women: They Get Pregnant and Leave

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Posted in Media Training Disasters | 5 Comments »

How To Be a Better Interviewer (Part Three)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 6, 2011 – 6:31 am

The previous two articles (here and here) taught you how to become a better interviewer. Although this blog usually focuses on how to be a better interviewee, many of our trainees want to know how to become a better interviewer when they moderate panels or host podcasts.

Today, I’m going to show you an exercise you can use to become a better interviewer.

The great news is that you can practice this exercise with your friends, family members, and co-workers – and they’ll never even know you’re doing it.



Let’s start with the usual, boring interview. When I ask a client to interview another co-worker, the interview typically goes like this:

Interviewer: “How are you?”

Interviewee: “Good.”

Interviewer: “So, where did you grow up?”

Interviewee: “Boston.”

Interviewer: “How long did you live there?”

Interviewee: “Five years.”

I know, riveting stuff, right? The problem is that the interviewer only asked closed-ended questions, which didn’t allow for any interesting answers.

Good interviewers know to use open-ended questions instead, which tend to elicit much more interesting answers. Words and phrases such as “How,” “Why,” “What do you think,” “What was it like,” and “Tell me about” are good open-ended question starters. Here’s another example:

Interviewer: “Tell me about where you grew up?”

Interviewee: “I grew up just outside of Boston in Newton Center, Massachusetts. We lived in a two-family home – we had the bottom floor, and the owners had the top floor. It was a great place to grow up – we had a backyard to run around in and a big, spooky basement where we played for hours.”

Interviewer: “What was it like to have your landlords living above you?”

Interviewee: “I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I guess my parents knew they had to be on their best behavior – the Furmans were an older couple and liked it when things were quiet.”

Interviewer: “Why did your family leave Boston?”

Interviewee: “My Dad got a promotion, so we moved to Washington, DC when I was 11.”

Interviewer: “What was that like for you, entering a new school when you were at that age?”

 Better, right? So here’s your exercise. Have a conversation with someone and begin every question with “How,” “Why,” “What do you think,” “What was it like,” or “Tell me about.” Please let me know how it goes by leaving your comment in the comment section below.

In the words of The Cardigans, the 1990s one-hit wonder, love me, love me, say that you love me. Show me your love by liking my Facebook page at

Related: How To Be a Better Interviewer (Part One)

Related: How To Be a Better Interviewer (Part Two)

Posted in Media Training Tips | 5 Comments »

How To Be A Better Interviewer (Part Two)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 5, 2011 – 6:32 am

Many of our trainees moderate panel discussions or host podcasts, so they’re usually eager to become better interviewers.

In part one of this series yesterday, Katie Couric shared five tips to help you become a better interviewer.

In part two today, I’ll offer you an additional five tips to up your game as an interviewer.


Use these techniques the next time you moderate a panel discussion.


1. Don’t Give Questions to Your Interviewee in Advance: Doing so often leads to an interviewee over-preparing. Plus, a good interview consists of many unplanned follow-up questions that react to the interviewee’s answers. Instead of sharing questions, just give the interviewee a broad sense of the interview topic.

2.  An Interview Should Sound Like a Conversation: A good interview sounds like an informal chat. If it sounds like the interviewer is reading off a list of pre-planned questions, the interview will sound stilted. By listening closely and asking thoughtful follow-ups based on the interviewee’s answers, you can remove some of the unhelpful formality from the interview.

3. Remember That Your Guest (Not You) Is The Star: John Sawatsky made his name as one of Canada’s top investigative reporters. The American Journalism Review captured his views on interviewing as follows: “The best questions are like clean windows. A clean window gives a perfect view. When we ask a question, we want to get a window into the source. When you put values in your questions, it’s like putting dirt on the window. It obscures the view of the lake beyond. People shouldn’t notice the question in an interview, just like they shouldn’t notice the window. They should be looking at the lake.”

4. Shut Up: Writer Matthew Stibbe offers this blunt advice: “Shut up! Talk 10-20 percent of the time, at most. Listen hard….Interviews aren’t scripted Q&A’s – they are intense professional conversations, and you need to concentrate.”

5. Play Back a Key Word or Phrase: Great interviewers listen carefully to what interviewees say, and often play a key word or phrase back to glean more information.

HOST: “What do you think about President Obama’s performance in office?”

GUEST: “Well, he can be a bit too cautious at times.”

HOST: “What do you mean, cautious?”

One of my favorite interviewers is PBS host Charlie Rose, who always expresses a sense of excitement about his guests. In the below clip from 1995, Mr. Rose plays back a few words to the late writer Michael Crichton.

Tune in tomorrow for the final part of the series, which will offer you an interviewing exercise you can practice with your friends and family – without them even knowing it!

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Click here to read part three of this series.


Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »

How To Be A Better Interviewer (Part One)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 4, 2011 – 6:27 am

Media trainers usually coach spokespersons how to become better interviewees. But over the past few years, an increasing number of our clients have asked us to help them become better interviewers.

Some people want to become better interviewers because they moderate panel discussions. Others host podcasts which require them to interview outside experts.

Over the next three days, this blog will help you learn how to become a better interviewer.

There are many effective styles of interviewing: Ted Koppel is known as a tough interrogator, Tim Russert was known for being direct but affable, Charlie Rose is known for being chummy and curious, and James Lipton is known for being well-researched and sycophantic.


The late Tim Russert was known for being friendly but tough.


Four men, four totally different styles. As I said, there’s more than one effective style of interviewing. For now, build upon your innate personality traits. If you’re naturally warm, be a warm interviewer. If you’re naturally skeptical, play the devil’s advocate.

Regardless of which style of interviewer you become, some traits are common to almost all good interviewers. In this video, former CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric offers some terrific interviewing advice:

Here are five of the most important things Katie Couric teaches you about interviewing in this video:

  1. 1. Interviews aren’t about you. You’re there to serve the audience, not to demonstrate your impressive knowledge.
  2. 2. Ask short questions.
  3. 3. Avoid yes/no (and other dead-end) questions. Ask open-ended questions instead, since they elicit open-ended answers.
  4. 4. Anticipate the interviewee’s likely answers before the interview so you can form smart follow-up questions in advance.
  5. 5. Most importantly, listen. As Ms. Couric said, good interviewers “use questions as a template,” but are willing to veer off in a different direction if the guest says something interesting.

Click here to read part two of this series.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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