We’re pleased to announce our 2014 group training schedule. Each small group workshop is restricted to just 12 trainees to ensure that each attendee receives personalized attention. Our workshops often sell out quickly, so claim your spot early!
Two-Day Media and Presentation Training
New York City
April 8-9, 2014
Two-Day Media and Crisis Training
New York City
August 26-27, 2014
Presentation Skills Training
New York City
October 7, 2014
Media Training 101
October 28, 2014
All of these sessions are appropriate as a refresher course and for people who have never been trained before. If you know a friend, colleague, or client who might benefit from one of these sessions, would you please share the link with them? Thank you.
What Our Clients Say
Many sports coaches hate it when their players “talk smack” about a team they’re about to play.
Those incendiary comments often serve as motivation for their opponents, who relish the chance to defeat the team that insulted them. Some opposing coaches even post the quote in the locker room to help rally their players.
So it caught my eye yesterday when one of my tweeps, @adam_myrick, tweeted this out:
The Associated Press story he links to is about Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer, who got into trouble with his coach this week for trash talking his opponents. As the AP reports:
“Coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that Spencer wouldn’t speak with the media for ‘a long, long time’ after saying a day earlier that Ohio State would ‘wipe the field’ with Alabama and whoever is No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
‘I guess I’m a little biased, but I think we’d, uh, we’d wipe the field with both of them,’ Spencer said, chuckling.”
To the AP’s credit, they reported the full context of Spencer’s comments:
“It was a statement that Spencer…concluded with a laugh. It was clear he was half-joking. But sarcasm, humor and nuance seldom can be sensed between the lines of cold, hard print or on a monitor or screen.”
Many news organizations wouldn’t have done Spencer the favor of writing that he had been half-joking. They would have just included his comments verbatim without mentioning the humorous context in which he made them.
And that’s the problem with humor. Without the context, comments intended as humorous, silly, or ironic can be portrayed literally—and often are.
You might wonder whether you can afford to make more humorous comments during a live radio or television interview, since the audience will see your full exchange and be able to discern your meaning in its proper context. That’s safer, yes, but it’s still not entirely safe. That’s because your comments may later be transcribed by the wires, blogs, and newspapers—and the “proper” context may not be reflected in their stories about your interview.
With all of that, you may reasonably conclude that I’m advising you never to be humorous during a media interview. But that’s not quite it. It’s not that you can’t be humorous at all, but rather that your humor must reflect your actual, literal meaning.
If your humor, when transcribed, says exactly what you mean and can’t be interpreted in a harmful manner, you’re probably on safe ground.
Many years ago, a job applicant lied to me during his interview.
He wasn’t straight with me when I asked why he had left his previous job. When I called his previous employer after our interview, I learned that the story of his dismissal was far more complicated than he had indicated.
My instinct was clear: don’t hire this guy. As one of my favorite expressions says, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”
But since I had really enjoyed our first conversation, I called him in for a second interview. I wanted to give him an opportunity to explain why he hadn’t been more forthcoming. When confronted with what I had learned, he apologized profusely and explained that his bruised ego had temporarily gotten the better of him. His humility affected me—and despite feeling misled and having a nagging feeling that I should cut bait, I hired him anyway.
It was a mistake. I fired him two months later.
Suggesting that you trust your instinct doesn’t mean that you should ignore facts and empirical evidence. In the case above, my instinct matched the evidence before me—I just opted to ignore it.
I’m fortunate to have learned that lesson before a former NBC News journalist approached me about becoming a media trainer a few years ago. I wasn’t quite ready to add another trainer, but I really liked her and my instinct told me to pay attention. She was sharp, persistent (in the best way possible) and committed. I hired her. She’s now become my firm’s vice president, and our clients love her.
A growing body of social science demonstrates that instinct is often right—and that opinions formed within seconds can be accurate. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes:
“The psychologist Nalini Ambady once gave [college] students three ten-second videotapes of a teacher—with the sound turned off—and found they had no difficulty at all coming up with a rating of the teacher’s effectiveness. Then Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds, and the ratings were the same. They were remarkably consistent even when she showed students just two seconds of videotape. Then Ambady compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors after a full semester of classes, and she found they were also essentially the same.”
Just because you have an instinct doesn’t mean you should follow it blindly. When you have a strong instinct, my suggestion is that you examine it carefully. Ask yourself whether your instinct could be due to unconscious biases. When hiring a job applicant, for example, ask yourself if your positive instinct exists because you liked the person, not because the person was actually qualified for the job.
But whatever you do, don’t ignore your instinct. Question it, examine it, and deconstruct it. Maybe even act on it. But if you ignore it, you’ll probably come to regret it.
This article is part of an occasional series about what I’ve learned from running a business. You can read other articles in this series here.
Back in March, clothing retailer Lululemon recalled almost 20 percent of its women’s yoga pants after customer complaints that they were see-through. In a statement at the time, the company responded the right way—by taking responsibility for the flaws in its product and pledging to fix them:
“Our stores and ecommerce site received some black luon women’s bottoms that didn’t meet our high standards. The materials used in construction were the same but the coverage was not, resulting in increased sheerness. We want you to Down Dog and Crow with confidence and we felt these pants didn’t measure up.”
“We keenly listen to your feedback and it is paramount to us that you know we’re listening….We are working with our supplier to replace this fabric…We are committed to making things right so if you purchased product from our store or on our website and you think it is too sheer, we welcome you to return it for a full refund or exchange.”
That statement was tone perfect, the kind of corporate response that should have just been repeated verbatim during any subsequent media interview. But company founder Chip Wilson disagreed—and late last week, he found a way to obliterate any of the goodwill his company’s recall and apology had earned.
Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson: “Women will wear a seatbelt that won’t work, or a purse that doesn’t work, or quite frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t work for it.”
Reporter Trish Regan: “They don’t work for the pants?”
Wilson: “They don’t work for certain women’s bodies.”
Regan: “So the pants might be see-through on some women’s bodies, but not on others?”
Chip: “No, no. Because even our small sizes would fit an extra large. It’s more about the rubbing through the thighs.”
Before addressing Wilson’s fat-shaming, it’s worth mentioning his more general condescension toward women. I’ve known a lot of women through the years, and I’ve never known them to wear seatbelts or use purses that “won’t work.” He must run with an interesting pack of women.
But the worst part of this statement is the implication that his product’s flaws are due to fat women who keep squeezing their chubby thighs into otherwise well-manufactured pants.
All Wilson had to do was repeat his company’s March statement: “We are committed to making things right so if you purchased product from our store or on our website and you think it is too sheer, we welcome you to return it for a full refund or exchange.”
Instead, he took the opportunity to attack women for selecting the wrong size or using his pants incorrectly. Even assuming for a moment that he’s at least partially right on the facts, any smart communicator knows it’s a bad idea to alienate your customer base by shifting the blame onto them.
And that’s especially true when the product they’re selling is intended to help customers find inner peace.
Chip Wilson released a video apology. Oddly, it appears to have been directed to Lululemon employees instead of the company’s customers. Employees are an important constituency that deserve to be addressed – but not to the exclusion of other critical stakeholders (like the customers who keep the company in business).
Avoid committing your own media disaster! Read The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in paperback, for the Kindle, and the iPad.
I occasionally write in the evenings at my family’s kitchen table. Sometimes, my wife pops in the room and asks me a question. I stop typing, look up, and say, “Sorry, what was that?”
That scene probably plays out in millions of homes all over the world each night. As one partner reads a book, performs a household repair, or prepares the children for bed, the other partner asks a question that barely gets heard.
The truth is we’re terrible multitaskers. You may have deceived yourself into believing that you’re somehow different—that you can easily focus on numerous tasks, giving each equal energy, simultaneously. But the brain science is rather unambiguous on this point: you can’t.
That has consequences for you each time you speak to an audience. That man who is checking his smartphone for incoming emails can’t also be giving you his full attention. That woman live-tweeting the event can’t also be giving you her full attention. So what’s a speaker to do in such a distracted age?
First, the science. Dr. John Medina, the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University and the author of Brain Rules, writes:
“The brain cannot multitask. Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time…To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing information-rich inputs simultaneously…Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors.”
Susan Weinschenk, a psychologist and author of 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, agrees:
“The term multitasking is a misnomer. People can’t actually do more than one task at a time. Instead, we switch tasks…You make more errors when you switch than when you do one task at a time. If the tasks are complex, then those time and error penalties increase.”
As a presenter, what can you do to prevent your audience from multitasking by sneaking regular peeks at their cell phones and emails?
First, take a look at an earlier post I wrote on this topic, called “Five Ways To Handle Smartphone Distractions During a Speech.”
But I want to go beyond the advice I’ve offered in the past by suggesting that you consider introducing a “cell phone-free zone” or “wireless-free zone” for your next talk.
Now, I already hear many of you objecting to that idea, and you’re right that doing so isn’t permissible in many public speaking settings (if you’re pitching a product to a potential client, insisting they power down won’t win you many friends).
But think of these settings: a work meeting; an educational lecture; a hospital tour; an orientation course; a sensitivity training workshop. Those are just a few examples, but it gives you an idea of the times when you might be able to introduce a cell phone-free zone.
Since people sometimes freak out (internally, if not externally) when you take away their ability to check their phones, offer them a safety valve. Tell them you’ll have bathroom/cell phone breaks once every 60-90 minutes. And do explain why you’re requesting their compliance—not out of being power hungry, but out of a desire to have their full focus on the critical content they’re about to learn. You might even share some of the brain science about multitasking with them.
Finally, in settings in which people may be using their laptops or electronic devices to take notes, ask them to turn their wireless off. As the science shows, every “ping” from a new email serves as a distraction, no matter how momentary.
What do you think? Would you consider requesting a cell-free zone for your presentations? How would you react to a speaker who requested one from you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Twenty years ago tomorrow—on November 9, 1993—Vice President Al Gore and billionaire businessman Ross Perot appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live to debate the merits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). More than 16 million people tuned in to the high-profile debate.
NAFTA was a controversial piece of legislation that created a trade bloc among three nations—the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It narrowly passed the U.S. House one week after this debate and went into force less than two months later.
Whatever your views on NAFTA, one thing is clear: Al Gore crushed Ross Perot in the debate.
If you remember this debate at all, it’s probably for Mr. Perot’s demeanor. Time Magazine described the difference between the two men thusly: “A calm, suave Gore literally towered over a snide and snarling Perot.” The Independent declared that “by any objective yardstick, a cool, slightly condescending Mr Gore won out over a petulant Mr Perot, by a mile.”
To get a sense of Perot’s temperament, watch about a minute of this clip, beginning at the 2:25 mark. Keep in mind that he was speaking to a sitting U.S. vice president at the time.
Mr. Gore won this debate for one reason: He found his opponent’s Achilles’ heel—Perot’s temper—and exploited it at every opportunity. Perot, unaccustomed to being interrupted and hectored, predictably bristled, snapping at Gore to “give me your whole mind” and asking him “Are you going to listen? Work on it.”
According to journalist James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic:
“There was genius, or at least cunning, in the decision to prepare Gore to push Perot’s flaw to the breaking point — to stake the debate on Gore’s ability to make Perot lose his temper. ‘If you’re dealing with a hothead, you make him mad,’ Greg Simon, a longtime Gore aide who was then Gore’s domestic-policy adviser and part of the team that prepared him for the debate, told me. ‘You’ve got a crazy man, you make him show it.’”
“Their starting point was that Perot was like an overbearing grandfather. ‘He’ll be fine as long as everybody sits there and listens to him,’ Simon said. ‘But if you start interrupting him, he’ll lose it.’ Perot, a graduate of the Naval Academy, was extremely proud of his image as a self-sacrificing patriot. Several aides reasoned that if Gore could find a way to gibe at or raise doubts about that reputation, Perot would be unable to contain himself. Perot had virtually no experience with being treated disrespectfully.”
How ineffective was Perot’s peevishness? Before the debate, only 34 percent of Americans supported NAFTA. Immediately following the debate, support surged to 57 percent.
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At the beginning of a media interview, many spokespersons remember to answer questions using their messages and message supports. But as the interview progresses and begins to resemble a normal, everyday conversation, they suddenly forget to include their messages.
That’s dangerous not only for the reasons you’ve already read, but also because it usually means they’re directing their answers to the reporter, not their audience.
A media interview is not a conversation with a reporter. It is a highly focused form of communication aimed squarely at your audience. The reporter is merely the conduit through which you reach it. That doesn’t mean you should ignore reporters, but rather that you should focus your communication on the people you’re trying to reach.
As an example, I occasionally receive a negative comment on our blog from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written. If I’m nasty in my response, the entire audience will hold it against me. If I treat the person with respect (in some cases, more than they deserve), readers are more likely to be impressed with the tone of my reply—even if they, too, disagree.
Therefore, I try to remember that the writer of that letter is not my target audience. Sure, my response is addressed to the commenter, but my communication is really intended for the rest of the blog’s readers. So beware of slipping into a conversation with the reporter. If you do, you’ll be speaking with the commenter rather than to the readers.
Here are three ways to make sure you’re directing your communication to your audience:
1. Visualize a member of your audience.
Most people find the idea of speaking to 100,000 people through a reporter absolutely terrifying. The good news is that you never have to fear a large audience again. Instead, visualize one specific person in your target audience that you need to reach in order to be successful. Be specific. Focus your answers on that one individual. If that person understands what you’re saying, odds are the rest of your audience will too.
For one interview, one of our clients visualized that his “target person” was a retired 78-year-old African American woman living by herself in rural Nevada. He further defined her by saying she retired nine years ago after working as a trauma nurse for 40 years. By being that specific, he was able to visualize that woman during his entire interview, helping him reach the entire audience more effectively.
Before reading further, take a moment to identify and visualize your target person.
2. Base your interview on the audience’s level of knowledge.
If you’re speaking about climate change with a reporter who has covered that issue for a decade, you might be tempted to speak at a higher level by using acronyms or technical jargon. Don’t. The reporter isn’t your audience; the person you visualized is. Speak to the reporter as you would to your target person.
3. Don’t call reporters by name.
Many media trainers teach their trainees to call reporters by their names, arguing that doing so helps forge a warm connection with the interviewer. Perhaps that’s true. But it comes at too high of a price. When you call reporters by name, it makes it clear to the audience that you’re speaking to the reporter, not with them.
Back in May, The Toronto Star and the U.S.-based website Gawker published the sensational allegation that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was the star of an unreleased video in which he purportedly smoked crack.
Mayor Ford vociferously denied the allegations, attacking his accusers and defiantly pledging to run for a second term.
Here’s the video of his initial denial, just days after those reports emerged:
As I noted at the time, Ford left himself some wiggle room with his carefully parsed statement:
“Notice specifically what he said at the beginning of this statement: “I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” He used the present tense (“I do not use…) rather than the past tense (“I have never used…”), a Clintonesque and lawyerly verbal construction that guilty people frequently hide behind.”
Given that his guilt seemed rather obvious at the time, it didn’t come as a huge surprise to me that Ford finally admitted his guilt today. But the manner in which he did so won’t help him score many sympathy points.
Ford obviously should have come clean sooner. But let’s assume, for the sake of this post, that he hadn’t. What should he have done today instead of giving the defiant and disorganized press conference above?
First, he should have given an interview to one reporter—someone fair but tough—to whom he could have come completely clean. Doing so would have avoided the deer-in-headlights look of a man in the middle of a media scrum who, it should be noted, was whisked away after being asked whether he was high right now.
Second, he needed to convey humility and contrition, not defiance. (Yes, I know that’s not in keeping with his character. But if ever there was a time to debut the trait…)
Third, he shouldn’t have attacked the media. An admission of responsibility must be self-focused, not externally focused. Instead, he incredulously claimed “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions.”
Fourth, he shouldn’t have re-litigated the wording of the exact question about his crack use from five months ago. The spirit of the original question was clear to any reasonable viewer. Doing so made him look as ridiculous as Anthony Weiner, who claimed he couldn’t say “with certitude” whether pictures of an erect penis in a pair of briefs were of him.
Fifth, if he was going to do a media scrum, he should have made his statement without asking the reporter to first re-ask the question he had asked in May. Doing so made it look like Ford was playing a “gotcha” game in which he was trying to catch a reporter using slightly imprecise language.
Sixth, he should have articulated a plan for getting himself the help he needs immediately.
Seventh, he should have pledged to work with police and spare the people of Toronto additional and unnecessary investigatory expense.
Even with as much baggage as Ford was carrying, today’s admission still offered him one final chance to come clean the right way. Had he done so, I suspect that many people would have felt at least a shred of empathy for a man with understandably human failings. But a politician only gets so many last chances, and Ford blew his.
And if you think that Ford’s “last chance” passed by months ago, think again. A poll released today—TODAY!—found that Rob Ford still has a 43 percent approval rating. According to Gallup, that’s two points higher than President Obama’s approval rating, which stands at 41 percent.
UPDATE: November 5, 2013, 4:55 P.M.
Mayor Ford just issued another statement on camera. The tone of this one was much different. Whereas he appeared arrogant and dismissive earlier this afternoon, he appeared shaky and chastened this time around. He also apologized to the people of Toronto, his staff, and his brother for misleading them.
Apologies aside, he also made clear that he isn’t going anywhere.
Mr. Ford would have been better served by issuing this more humble statement first. As a result of blowing the first admission earlier today, he’s likely to gain less public sympathy than he otherwise might have. Plus, media stories will now focus on the odd contrast of Ford’s demeanor earlier today vs. later today.
In my view, an admission of this sort without a specific pledge to seek immediate help is pointless. Mr. Ford has repeatedly exhibited the behavior of an addict — and unless he receives the type of serious treatment that addicts can benefit from, his verbal pledge to “never” let this happen again is nothing more than a well-intentioned but empty promise.
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