March 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 31, 2014 – 12:02 am

Last summer, media critic Jay Rosen announced he would no longer criticize CNN. “As of today, I have retired from criticism of CNN for falling short of some sort of journalistic standard that news providers should maintain. That activity no longer makes sense.”

Rosen argued that since CNN no longer holds itself to news standards, it would be pointless to do so himself.

I agreed with much of his premise at the time, but wasn’t ready to give up on my former employer quite yet (I worked at CNN from 1999-2001). I cherish the role that CNN should be playing—a straight-up-the-middle news outlet—and wanted to believe that the network would eventually wander back to its roots.

Instead, with its saturation coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, CNN has taken a giant step backward in its evolution from well-respected news outlet to The Jerry Springer Show.

Don Lemon Black Hole

The coverage reached its nadir during Don Lemon’s newscasts. First, Mr. Lemon speculated that the supernatural could be responsible for the plane’s disappearance:

“Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural, we go to church, the supernatural power of God. You deal with all of that. People are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility—and I’m just putting it out there—that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”

Next, he wondered whether a black hole could have somehow sucked the plane out of the universe, a suggestion his guest batted down immediately.

Not to be outdone, CNN’s sister network, CNN Headline News, hosted a psychic who said she doesn’t like to rely on facts (the passengers are alive, she claimed).

CNN Headline News Psychics

Psychics. Black holes. Supernatural forces. Baseless speculation. This is CNN.

As atrocious as CNN’s coverage has been, the network’s ratings are up. That prompted Piers Morgan’s executive producer to tweet this:

Jonathan Wald Tweet

Wald appears to be conflating popularity with quality. That’s like saying McDonald’s sells the best burgers since it sells the most hamburgers. No, quality and popularity aren’t inextricably linked. Wald’s suggestion otherwise offers a discouraging view into the network’s ends-justify-the-means approach to news.

Yes, CNN still has some quality journalists working for the network, some of whom are friends and former colleagues. But that misses the point. The network is only as good as its least responsible programming, of which there’s an intolerable amount.

Like Jay Rosen before me, I’m tired of expecting more from the network. I’m choosing to click away and find my news in places that exercise more journalistic restraint. I’m just sad that the once-respected 24-hour news network has become little more than a 24-hour network.

Jon Stewart’s takedown of the shameful cable news coverage of Malaysia Air 370 is worth watching.

What are your thoughts about CNN’s programming? Please leave your views in the comments section below.

When Things Go Wrong: Slow Down To Speed Up

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 27, 2014 – 6:02 am

Things go wrong during presentations. There’s no way to entirely prevent that from happening. What you can control is your reaction to what goes wrong—and people who react well during tough moments take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to impress their audiences.

Let’s say your PowerPoint projector suddenly goes dead. Many speakers would immediately get nervous, scramble frantically to reconnect the wires, and apologize to their audiences for the glitch (“I’m so sorry, I tested this before I began. This is so embarrassing!”).

Instead, the best thing to do during those moments is to slow down. Everyone in the room knows the projector just went dead. Calmly—and deliberately—turn to the projector to check the connections. Calmly check the power supply. Calmly press the on-off switch. If none of those things work, calmly look up and ask someone to get help—or, even better, tell the audience you’ll try to fix the equipment during the next break but that you’re going to keep going.

No apologies, no excuses. Just a professional speaker reacting to an unexpected technical failure with an impressive display of control.

Man Zen Yoga Rock PPT iStock Photo

The same strategy applies if you misplace a page in your notes. Stop talking, slowly flip through your notes to locate the correct page, and calmly look up and resume your talk when you find it.

The same strategy applies if your microphone cuts in and out. Calmly smile and request a new microphone or, for smaller audiences, go without one.

I call this “slowing down to speed up” because I’ve regularly observed that speakers who slow down during challenging moments solve their challenges more quickly. (Although I came up with that phrase independently, many others have used that phrase in similar contexts.) 

Finally, consider selling unexpected circumstances as a virtue. For example, most speakers are mortified when only six people show up to their breakout room that was set for one hundred. Instead, sell it as a positive to the six people who showed up: “I’m so glad this is a small group, because we’ll have an opportunity to really talk and help solve one another’s challenges. How about you all move up to the front, I’ll come join you, and we’ll just talk?”

Remember: When things go wrong, project a quiet calm. Slow down to speed up.

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Just Updated: Our Popular “PowerPoint Mistakes” Post

Written by Brad Phillips on March 26, 2014 – 6:02 am

Three years ago, I wrote a post called “The Five Most Common PowerPoint Mistakes.”

I recently reread that post and concluded that it needed to be refreshed. (What started out as a “refresh and update” post became an almost entirely rewritten post.)

Since several websites are already pointing to the original article, I decided to keep the URL the same.

The new post is here. Hope you enjoy it!

PowerPoint Projector

When Testimonials Backfire

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 25, 2014 – 6:02 am

Many businesses depend on testimonials to help sell their products or services.

My firm, for example, has a “what our clients say” page on our website that features short testimonials from past clients. I’m proud of the clients we’ve worked with, and the blurbs send a nice message to potential clients that we’ve delivered successful trainings to a broad variety of high-profile organizations.

But a few months ago, a client told me they almost didn’t hire me because of a testimonial on our website. The blurb came from a former U.S. Congressman (I won’t name names or parties). The new client didn’t like that politician’s politics—and he assumed, based on the testimonial, that my firm specialized in ideological causes (we don’t).

He was right. Not only was the politician not representative of our work, but the inclusion of his name sent a signal—the wrong one—to potential clients about what we do and who we are. I removed the testimonial.

Getting testimonials right matters. And a lot of businesses get them wrong, such as this one:


The restaurant claimed to have the best Philly Steak in town—but attributed that quote to an anonymous person, not a local magazine, restaurant reviewer, or Yelp review. Nope, just some random person who, probably drunk at 3:00 a.m., took a bite and screamed, “This is the best Philly Steak in town, dude!” —and then, almost certainly, threw up.

Then, there was this review on the back of one of my son’s books:

Child Testimonial Book

This book is “…an instant hit,” said some random child. (This book is intended for one- and two-year olds, so I’m in awe of the 20-month-old who allegedly uttered the phrase “…an instant hit.”) Most other books, in comparison, feature reviews from book reviewers or respected children’s publications, not a random and anonymous child.

Then, there was the poorly reviewed Sylvester Stallone-Robert DeNiro movie “Grudge Match,” which relied on random Twitter users to praise the film (presumably because no self-respecting film critic would).

Grudge Match Social Media

In all four of these cases—mine, the cheesesteak restaurant’s, the book’s, and the movie’s—the testimonials backfired. Mine sent the wrong signal; the other three sent a signal that lacked credibility (or worse, elicited unintended laughs).

Be mindful of this when citing third parties during your interviews and speeches. If you quote someone you find credible but who may divide your audience, you might do better without it.

It’s occasionally effective to quote an anonymous party—but those quotes are often best when either elaborated upon in an anecdote or bolstered by data. For example, you might say, “One father told me that this is his favorite book to read to his child—and 32 other reviewers said something similar on the book’s Amazon page. No wonder the book is the top-selling title for toddlers!”

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Everyone Agrees: Ditch The PowerPoint! They’re Wrong.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 23, 2014 – 9:15 pm

National Public Radio recently ran a piece with an attention-grabbing headline:

Physicists, Generals And CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint

Like similar stories before it, the argument went as follows: PowerPoint prevents two-way engagement, PowerPoint makes the speaker go on autopilot, PowerPoint prevents people from reducing their points to their critical core.

As one Rutgers professor said, “The main advantage of forgoing PowerPoint is that it forces both the speaker and the listener to pay attention.”

But the story—and the people quoted in it—are blaming the wrong problem. PowerPoint isn’t the problem. It’s a tool that’s only as good—or as bad—as its users. The problem is the misuse of PowerPoint by far too many speakers.

Pendulum Ball

Don’t buy into articles that suggest PowerPoint is all good or all bad. It’s true that the pendulum swung too far in the direction of ubiquitous and poorly planned PowerPoint presentations, and it’s good that it’s swinging back in the opposite direction. But these articles are suggesting a pendulum swing to an opposite—but still problematic—extreme.

I’m struck in particular by generals removing PowerPoint from their rhetorical arsenal. Shouldn’t generals, more than most of the rest of us, value keeping as many potential tools in their toolkits as possible and knowing exactly which tools to deploy, and when, and how?

Here’s what we know: PowerPoint can help people make longer-lasting, deeper, and more meaningful connections when used sparingly and strategically. Some presentations may never need PowerPoint. Some may be stronger without it. But that’s not always the case.

An Example

One client wanted to make a crucial point to his employees about the increasing cost of electronic storage for his firm. “This is how much data we’re storing today,” he said, as a giant black circle filled the screen. “Three years ago,” he continued, “this is how much we were storing.” As he delivered that line, he clicked again and an almost imperceptible white circle appeared in one corner, atop the giant black circle. The audience gasped. 

Sure, he could have said that verbally instead, perhaps by drawing a clever analogy. But I watched the reaction in the room as he delivered that slide, and it’s difficult for me to believe that anything would have been more effective.

He used PowerPoint sparingly and strategically. So should you. Ask yourself whether a visual representation of your spoken point would do more to enhance your audience’s understanding. If it would, use one. If it wouldn’t, ditch it. 

Don’t stop learning! Attend one of our highly reviewed media and presentation training workshops. Click here to see our upcoming sessions.

Friday Classic Clip: If Your Wife Were Raped And Murdered

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 21, 2014 – 12:02 am

In the summer of 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis was a sure bet to become the next President of the United States.

Days after the successful Democratic National Convention that July, Dukakis led his Republican opponent, George H.W. Bush, by a whopping 17 points with just over three months to Election Day.

But in those three months, his candidacy came under siege—from his opponents, who launched the infamous “Willie Horton” ad against him—and from within, when Dukakis tried to show his military toughness by wearing a military helmet that turned him into a late night punch line.

Michael Dukakis Tank

By the time the candidates met for the second debate on October 13, 1988, Vice President Bush had opened up a six-point lead over the Massachusetts governor. Dukakis needed to seize the opportunity to help turn his candidacy around.

CNN anchor Bernard Shaw opened up the debate with an inflammatory question that many pundits thought was unfair:


“Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Dukakis proceeded to deliver a wonky and emotionless answer, one that led people to conclude that he lacked the requisite fire for the presidency and, in the words of ABC’s Ted Koppel, didn’t “get it.”

Dukakis forgot that inflammatory questions about a loved one require an emotional—or at least a more human—response. He could have handled the question in one of two ways:

Approach One: “Bernard, if that happened to my wife, I would want to pull the switch on the man who did that to her myself.  But public policy shouldn’t be set from a standpoint of revenge, and here’s why…”

Approach Two: “Bernard, to invoke my wife’s safety during a presidential debate is beneath a journalist of your standing. You should know better. I’ll answer your question in general—but don’t even think about bringing my wife into this debate again. And I’d like to suggest that you don’t think about making Barbara Bush an issue in this debate either.”

According to Wikipedia, “Before the second debate, Dukakis had been suffering from the flu and spent much of the day in bed.” Perhaps his poor debate performance—like Richard Nixon’s before him—was simply an unfortunate consequence of feeling ill.

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The President Who Urinated In His Pants While Speaking

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 19, 2014 – 4:40 pm

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urinated in his pants while delivering a speech on Sunday. 

The 62-year-old—a prostate cancer survivor—was launching his re-election campaign when a wet spot began to form in the front of his trousers.   

Incontinence is a common but unfortunate side effect of prostate cancer surgery. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “About 5 to 10 percent of all men who undergo prostate surgery experience mild but permanent stress incontinence, in which a small amount of urine passes while coughing, laughing, or exercising.”

Nonetheless, some critics are mocking Mr. Santos for what had to be a mortifying incident.

While such mocking is inappropriate, cruel, and inhumane, the incident did lead to a reasonable question that Mr. Santos would have to address: Is he healthy enough to serve another term?

Juan Manuel Santos Urine

To his credit, President Santos reacted quickly. He delivered a joint press statement alongside his physician and released the same statement in print. 

“Just as soon as this episode occurred, which was obviously quite uncomfortable for me and my family, they started sending the video showing what had happened to me around on the Internet, along with commentaries that were not only offensive but frankly, cruel, following something that could happen to any human being.

But now they are insinuating that I am ill and that therefore I am not prepared to occupy the presidency for four more years.

I want to make it clear, it is not true: I am in perfect health….

For my part, I would like to thank all Colombians who have expressed their understanding and good wishes.

And I must say also that it is very sad, very disappointing, that politics would result from this personal and human situation that could have happened to anyone.”

(The full transcript appears in the comments section below)

President Santos made the right choice by delivering an in-person statement. His tone was direct and mature, and he managed to retain his integrity while discussing a humiliating moment. He scored points simply by showing up and addressing the issue—which, in many cases, helps to diminish the shelf life of a media frenzy.

I’m not sure what the media landscape in Colombia looks like. If this had happened to an American politician, I’d add only one additional crisis management technique: humor. For example, I might advise a politician to accept an invitation to The Tonight Show, where he could exhibit his humanity and humor with a simple line delivered with a smile, such as: “Well, I’ve had better days.”

Mr. Santos should consider three additional precautions: wearing absorbent undergarments (if he’s not already), wearing darker-colored pants, and speaking from behind a full lectern.

I’d like to thank Deborah Brody, a bilingual, D.C.-area marketing communications pro, who transcribed Mr. Santos’s quotes into English. I hope you’ll return the favor by checking out her terrific English-language blog.

Thanks, also, to reader @ConsueCorrales for bringing this story to my attention.

How To Be Kind To Yourself When Reviewing Your Tapes

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 19, 2014 – 6:02 am

Little relaxes me more than cooking (usually on the weekends). I’m an enthusiastic cook, and I’ve become pretty decent over the past few years.

Sometimes after making dinner for me and my wife, I critique my own cooking. “It needed more acid, perhaps a touch of lemon,” I might say, or “I should have boiled the potatoes a bit longer before pan frying them,” or “It wasn’t flavorful enough. I wish I had added more curry.”

My wife always responded to my self-critiques by telling me how great the dinner was. In her typically kind way, she didn’t want me to feel badly about a meal that was generally good.

It took her a long time—several years—to realize that I wasn’t being hard on myself. I knew the food I had served was good. I wasn’t beating myself up. I was just commenting analytically, without any self-judgment, about something I knew I could do better.

Man Cooking Cheg

My hope is that you’ll approach your self-evaluations of your performances during media interviews and speeches in the same manner.

Now, I know: If you’re like many of our clients, you may find it far too painful to ever listen to your radio interviews or watch tapes of your speeches or television interviews. I get it. But that’s a mistake. As uncomfortable as the experience may be, do it anyway.

Analyze what worked and what didn’t. Be completely honest with yourself, but try to prevent yourself from making sharply critical observations about your very being.

I looked so stupid there!” should become “I need to work on my transitions from unexpected questions.”

“I sounded so boring!” should become “I’m going to do some vocal exercises to learn how to expand my range.”

“I have a double chin!” should become “I should read some blog posts about how to dress in a more flattering manner for my body shape.”

It took me a long time to listen to and watch my own performances without cringing. But I’m glad I forced myself to do so, as I’ve learned a lot from my imperfections along the way.

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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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