A Client Challenges Me: You Can’t Make This Slide Better

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 6, 2015 – 2:03 am

During a recent presentation training workshop, I discussed the best practices for PowerPoint design.

As usual, I made the case that words and bullets are ineffective mechanisms through which to transfer knowledge to an audience. Instead, I told the audience, well-designed visuals do more to make your points memorable than bullet points ever could. 

To reinforce my point, I showed several examples of my “before and after” slides. (Those slides are proprietary, but these sample slides will give you a good idea of the approach I take.)

After making my impassioned case for cleaner slides, one woman in the audience—a lawyer who lectures about copyright law—raised her hand. She said, “I like what your slides look like, but there’s just no way we can do that here. Our content doesn’t work for those types of visual slides.”

I noticed that she had a rather large printout of her slides in front of her, so I asked her to flip to any random slide in her deck. She turned to a page that looked like this: 

PowerPoint Example Producers2

“See what I mean?” she said. “There’s not a creative way to do that.”

I asked her to tell me what point she wanted to make while showing that slide. “I want people to realize that those are four different things—and that obtaining legal clearance from only one of those parties may not be sufficient.”

I asked the audience to give me a moment to try to come up with something better. For the first several seconds of silence, I’ll admit that I was stumped—and as the seconds ticked away, I got increasingly nervous that I’d have to concede defeat.

Suddenly, I had an idea. I whipped out my iPhone and did a quick Google search. I got the facts I needed, turned back to the audience, and announced:

“The best slide you could show to make this point is to show no slide at all!”

Then, I pressed play on the song I had queued up on my phone, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. The audience looked a bit confused as the song’s opening bass line kicked in, but I had their attention. Then, I said:

“Michael Jackson wrote and performed this song. But he didn’t produce it. Quincy Jones was the producer of this track. And Epic Records, a division of Sony, is the record label. If you want to use this song and think that all you’d have to do is clear it with Michael Jackson—or, in this case, his estate—you could set yourself up for serious legal risk.”


Billie Jean 45


Without much prompting, she agreed that would be a much more effective approach. And it didn’t require a single bullet point.

If she had still wanted to use a slide, she could have shown a full-screen still from the Billie Jean video, an image of the 45 (remember those?), or just a shot of Michael Jackson. She could have embedded the audio into the slide, pressed play, and allowed the audience to wonder what her point was for a few seconds before delivering it. 

With enough thought, there is almost always a better way to make your on-message visuals more memorable. And sometimes, you might find that your creative thought eliminates the need for a slide altogether.

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Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk: An Important Clarion Call

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 21, 2015 – 7:10 pm

On Thursday, Monica Lewinsky delivered a much-anticipated TED Talk about her experience as “Patient Zero” in the Internet age of public humiliation.

Her story—and President Clinton’s—dominated the headlines in 1998, threw an administration off-topic for a year, and contributed to the impeachment of a sitting U.S. president. I was eager to hear what she had to say, both from the perspective of American history and her personal narrative.

Ms. Lewinsky proceeded to deliver a gripping 20-minute talk full of poise, integrity, humor, vulnerability, and seriousness of purpose. Although she might have been thrust into the headlines for unfortunate reasons, her reemergence onto the public scene stands to make society better.

Lewinsky discussed her own case, during which she was so low at one point that her parents insisted she shower with the bathroom door open to make sure she didn’t commit suicide. She was compelled to reemerge as a public figure, she says, for a related reason—the 2010 suicide of an 18-year-old Rutgers student whose same-sex kiss was taped and shared online without his knowledge.  

“Every day online, people—especially young people who are not developmentally equipped to handle this—are so abused and humiliated that they can’t imagine living to the next day. And some, tragically, don’t.”

Although offline bullying, shaming, and humiliation have been around almost as long as humankind itself, Lewinsky points out that the Internet has changed the scale dramatically.

“Online, technologically enhanced shame is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible.”

“Millions of people, often anonymously, can stab you with their words, and that’s a lot of pain.”

“There is a very public price to humiliation, and the growth of the Internet has jacked up that price.” 

Monica Lewinsky TED Talk

Lewinsky issued a clarion call to action: Don’t be bystanders to online bullying. Speak out against it, offer compassion to those who are being targeted, and refuse to click on links that lead to the for-profit humiliation of others. As she says in her closing remarks, “Public shaming as blood sport has to stop.”

One thing I hope Ms. Lewinsky addresses in future talks is the question of where the line is between tough but responsible analysis and unnecessary humiliation. At times, that line is easy to spot—those who called her a “tramp,” “slut,” or “whore” should be granted no corner in which to hide from their words. But other parts of the story are trickier.

For example, we can argue about whether The Starr Report, which contained sordid details about their relationship, should have been released publicly. But once it was, didn’t news organizations, which were covering the potential impeachment of a U.S. president, have a responsibility to report on its contents? If so, that would inevitably lead to humiliation for those involved. But I’m not sure such a decision, although uncomfortable, is wrong.

Is the difference between acceptable and unacceptable coverage of a newsworthy figure a matter of tone? If the reporter treats the subject in the limelight as a complete human being rather than a one-dimensional figure, does that mark the difference?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I suspect Ms. Lewinsky has considered them, and hope she will choose to address to some point. 

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Google Executive Celebrates Women By Interrupting Them

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 19, 2015 – 12:02 am

When we prepare executives for panel presentations, we typically focus on the message they want to convey and the manner in which they deliver it.

We focus less on how they interact with other panelists—but after reading an article about Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, we’ll probably bulk up that section of our trainings.

“Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt had a lot to say Monday about the lack of racial and gender diversity in the technology industry.

In fact, Schmidt had so much to say that he often interrupted and spoke over his co-panelist, Megan Smith, the U.S.’s chief technology officer and a former Google executive. The two appeared on a panel at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Tex.

At one point, Schmidt opined on which of two questions Smith should respond to. Later, he interjected mid-sentence with thoughts on Raspberry Pi, a small computer popular with digital tinkerers that Smith was promoting.

Toward the end of the session, one woman in the audience asked the two to address how personality biases in men and women affect workplace dynamics. She noted that Schmidt repeatedly talked over his former colleague — prompting applause from a full exhibit hall.”

Eric Schmidt Google via Wikimedia Commons Gisela Giardino

It’s entirely possible that Mr. Schmidt didn’t interrupt Ms. Smith because he’s sexist. He may just be a serial interrupter. Or perhaps he was particularly excited about the subject matter. Or maybe he viewed himself as a stronger presenter than his colleague.

But as I recently wrote, men on stage with women have to be keyed into certain gender-related issues—or risk being perceived as boorish. And that’s particularly true during a presentation about the lack of gender equality in the workplace.

Mr. Schmidt’s interruptions not only stepped on his core message about the need for greater gender equality in the tech industry, but generated a bevy of negative headlines, such as these:

CBS San Francisco: “Google’s Eric Schmidt Called Out For Repeatedly Interrupting Woman Tech Leader During Diversity Talk At SXSW”

The Verge: “Google executive Eric Schmidt, man, makes total ass of himself at SXSW”

Slate: “Google Chairman Gets Called Out by His Own Employee for Interrupting a Female Panelist at SXSW”

That said, interrupting your fellow panelists can occasionally be appropriate during panel discussions. In fact, some crosstalk can help electrify an otherwise soporific conversation.

Just remember that the audience is judging not only your words and your delivery, but the manner in which you interact with your fellow panelists. Be judicious with your interruptions, save them for the moments that truly matter, and work to contain your enthusiasm every time your id feels the need to express itself.

Photo credit: Gisela Giardino via Wikimedia Commons

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The Words Of Apology That Undermine Your Presentations

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 16, 2015 – 5:02 am

My wife and I recently had plans to leave our house earlier than usual for a Sunday morning. As I went upstairs to shower, I turned back toward her and said, “Let’s try to aim to leave around 7:30.”

As soon as I said that, I knew there would be no chance of us leaving at 7:30. I had heard my own words, which packed three hedge words into a single short sentence:

“Let’s TRY to AIM to leave AROUND 7:30.”

That choice of words suggested to me that I wasn’t particularly committed to my own idea (we ended up leaving closer to 7:50). And it made me think about all of the times I hear speakers use hedge words—or their kissing cousin, words of apology—which are the focus of this post.

Speaker Saying Just

I often hear speakers using these types of phrases:

“I’m just going to take a minute to tell you about….”

“Real quickly, I’ll explain why…”

“”I’m sorry if you’ve heard this before, but…”

Like the phrase I used when speaking to my wife, each of those phrases signal something to an audience.

The first two phrases send a message of insecurity, that the speaker doesn’t feel confident enough in his or her content or position to simply say what they had planned to. As I say to our clients, it’s going to take you the same amount of time to share that content whether you pre-apologize for it or not—so why pre-apologize? Doing so only makes you look insecure and unnecessarily threatens your credibility. 

The third sentence sends a message of either poor planning or poor framing. Instead of apologizing and barreling through the content anyway, the speaker could have either looked for a new way to share the same information or at least sold the repeated content as an asset (“For those of you who have heard this before, this will serve as a useful refresher.”).

In her post about the word “just” published last spring by PR Daily, leadership strategist Ellen Petry Leanse writes that she sees more women using these “permission” words than men. I’ve made the same observation in my own workshops. There are all sorts of cultural reasons for why that may be the case, but it can undermine an otherwise confident message nonetheless.

As Leanse says:

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that [just] was a “child” word…As such, it put the conversation partner into the “parent” position, granting them more authority and control.”

Using these words or phrases of apology are not going to doom your next presentation. But it’s a good idea to remain aware of the potential message they send and work to remove them from your talks.

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Why Being Witty Can Kill Your Presentations

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 25, 2015 – 4:59 am

In the mid-1990s, my cousin invited me to join her for a bar crawl in Washington, DC. At some point during the day, we swung by an apartment in Dupont Circle to pick up one of her friends.

When we entered her friend’s basement apartment, I noticed a flier on a coffee table supporting Joe Biden’s 1996 Senate reelection campaign. Biden, you may remember, dropped out of the presidential race in 1988 after being accused of plagiarizing a speech—so I turned to my cousin and jokingly said, “I wonder if he plagiarized that flier?”

“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” she said, a look of horror crossing her face. “This is his son’s apartment!”

Joe Biden 1988

It’s been many years, so I don’t know which Biden son lived there (we were there to pick up one of his roommates). I also don’t know if he ever heard the comment—to the best of my memory, I never saw him, so I don’t even know if he was home at the time.

But that moment, which my cousin still needles me about, is etched in my memory and serves as a regular caution for me about the dangers of ad libbing.

Still, I like topical quips—so that moment aside, I remain prone to occasionally making a comment about someone in the news. Last week, for example, I delivered a presentation to a group of 40 communications professionals in Washington. As I was setting up a story, I was on the cusp of saying something along the lines of, “This is a real story, not a Brian Williams one.”

Brian Williams

I hit the brakes right before saying it and held myself back. I realized that I had no idea who was in that audience. For all I knew, one of Brian Williams’s relatives, former colleagues, or friends could have been in the audience—and if that was the case, my witty aside could have made that person (and everyone else in the room aware of that relationship) uncomfortable.

Certainly, I could have referenced the Williams case if it was in context and if the analysis served a relevant point. But just for the sake of demonstrating my wit? It wasn’t worth the risk.

I often talk about the need to remain spontaneous and “in the moment” during presentations. But there are a lot of other, less risky ways to exhibit humor. Therefore, unless I know my audience well, I’m going to try hard to leave the irrelevant quips behind.

Note: The Biden story above is true to the best of my and my cousin’s recollection—we both remember that incident similarly. I tried to corroborate it by searching for where the Biden sons lived in 1996, but was unable to find verifying information.

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Sorry, But You’re Not “Better When You Wing It”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 23, 2015 – 2:23 am

Every so often, speakers resist my advice to practice for an interview or presentation, claiming that practice robs their talks of spontaneity and reduces their performance. They insist that they’re “better when they wing it.” It’s tempting to tell them they’re wrong—and they almost always are—but I thought I’d turn this one over to a few familiar names.


Men's and Women's Olympic Swimming.  National Aquatics Center


According to Discovery Health, “He’s usually at the pool by 6:30 am where he swims for an average six hours a day or around 8 miles per day. He swims six days per week including holidays.”




Yo-Yo_Ma by Sam FelderCELLIST YO-YO MA

Ma tells The New York Times that: “Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes. Practicing is not only playing your instrument, either by yourself or rehearsing with others — it also includes imagining yourself practicing. Your brain forms the same neural connections and muscle memory whether you are imagining the task or actually doing it.”



According to Business Insider, “Cy Young award winning pitcher Roy Halladay is one of the hardest working men in baseball. According to Sports Illustrated, he routinely puts in a 90 minute workout before his teammates make to the field.”




I attribute people’s reluctance to practice to one of four things: insecurity, fear, arrogance, or (most typically) a genuine but misguided belief that they’re better without it. I understand why they might have reached that conclusion: practice can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and it’s that very lack of familiarity that convinces people that they’re better off-the-cuff.

But unless you’re a better speaker than Phelps is a swimmer, odds are you can benefit from practice. As Yo-Yo Ma suggested, the goal is to develop muscle memory through practice that automatically guides you when you hit the stage.


TigerWoods_thumb.jpgGOLFER TIGER WOODS

“At a tournament, I don’t really spend a whole lot of time there on the range, or even on the putting green or anything like that. When I get to a tournament site, I feel like my game should be ready. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t play as many weeks as a lot of these guys do, because I spend a lot of time practicing at home. I do most of my preparation at home. Once I’m at a tournament site, I’m there just to find my rhythm, tune up a little bit, and get myself ready to go play the next day.” – via Human Kinetics


When I watch people practice their presentations, we often uncover a few soft spots. It could be an abstract point without the rich supporting material that makes it more memorable. It might be an awkward transition. It may be a visual that interferes with the spoken delivery. Those gaps cannot be identified without practice, and the “off-the-cuff” speaker usually ends up committing those otherwise preventable errors while standing in front of an audience.

The quality of practice is imperative, though, and too much practice can be a bad thing. This post offers some tips on how to practice for a media interview. How to practice for a speech or presentation while keeping the material fresh for you as a speaker will be the focus of a post soon—but in the meantime, here’s one tip: pay close attention to the transitions between points, as that’s often a place where everything falls apart.

All images from Wikimedia Commons. Michael Phelps in public domain; Yo-Yo Ma by Sam Felder; Roy Halladay by Keith Allison.

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Monty Python: Walking Your Way To A Better Speech

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 19, 2015 – 4:02 am

Through his pioneering body language research, psychologist Paul Ekman found that a feedback loop exists between the physical actions you take and the emotions you feel.

“If you put on your face all of the muscular movements for an emotion, that emotion will generally begin to occur…Our research shows that if you make those movements on your face, you will trigger changes in your physiology, both in your body and in your brain.”

From that, you might conclude that other feedback loops exist between your mind and body—and you would be right. Take, for example, the manner in which you walk. If you added a “bounce in your step,” could you actually begin to feel happier? Was Monty Python’s John Cleese onto something?

According to recent research from Ontario’s Queen’s University and clinical psychologists from the University of Hildesheim, Germany, Cleese was on the right track. They report that “walking in a happy or sad style actually affects our mood.”

“[Queen’s University professor Nikolaus Troje] presented the participants of the study with a list of positive and negative words, such as “pretty,” “afraid” and “anxious” and then asked them to walk on a treadmill while the researchers measured and analyzed gait and posture in real time. While walking, participants were looking at a gauge whose reading depended on the result of this analysis – namely if their gait appeared to be rather happy or rather sad as indicated by features such as slump-shouldered (sad) or vertical bouncing (happy). Participants didn’t know what the gauge was measuring. They were simply asked to make the gauge deflect from the neutral position. Some had to try to move the gauge left, while others were told to move it right.

Afterward, they had to write down as many words as they could remember from the earlier list of positive and negative words. Those who had been walking in a depressed style remembered many more negative words. The difference in recall suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood.”

That study had only 39 participants—a low number from which to form a hard conclusion—but it squares with a growing body of other research that shows similar results.

Beautiful female speaker in conference

This “feedback loop” has direct implications for public speakers, particularly those gripped with negative thoughts and fear. If that sounds like you, put a smile on your face and walk with a slight bounce the next time you approach a stage. Allow yourself to benefit from the automatic changes in your body’s and brain’s physiology.

Even if this doesn’t work for you, your more confident demeanor will send a positive message to your audience, which will likely mirror your positive body language back toward you through their own (confident speakers breed more confident audiences). The feedback loop doesn’t only occur within yourself, after all. It also occurs between you and your audience.

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Power Posing: A TED Talk You Should Watch

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 10, 2015 – 6:02 am

Olympic swimmers spend years trying to shave a few tenths of a second off their racing times. Ambitious students learn to become more efficient studiers. Daily commuters learn how to avoid peak traffic by leaving the house at precisely the right time.

We’re all looking to gain small advantages in our daily routines, and yet, most of us have missed a technique that can have a dramatic impact on our personal and professional lives. And to benefit from it, all you need to do is find two minutes and a private space (a bathroom stall is fine) before the next situation in which you’ll be evaluated (e.g. a job interview, a date, a presentation). 

In her 2012 TED Talk (the second most-viewed TED Talk ever), social psychologist and Harvard Business School associate professor Amy Cuddy discussed her research into “power poses”—and concluded that your body language shapes who you are.

TEDGlobal 2012 - June 25 - 29, 2012, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Cuddy’s research found that people who adopted “high-power poses” (such as the one she’s displaying above) for two minutes prior to an evaluative situation experienced a 20 percent increase in testosterone (the “dominance” hormone) and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol (the “stress” hormone).

She also found that the reverse is true: People who adopted a “low-power pose” (such as the one displayed in the slide above Ms. Cuddy) for two minutes before an evaluative situation experienced a 10 percent drop in testosterone and a 15 percent increase in cortisol. 

Based on those results, Ms. Cuddy says that, “Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves.” Her conclusion? Just two minutes of power posing can increase our dominance and decrease our stress.

I encourage you to watch her talk. And don’t miss the ending, in which she shares a moving personal story that explains why she doesn’t encourage you to “fake it until you make it,” but to “fake it until you become it.”

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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.

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    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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