Podium Coaching Blog
Anticipation could have prevented ‘humiliating’ media interview
If you think your media skills are pretty good, you might like to consider how you would have handled the following exchange between an experienced BBC journalist and a minister in the British government.
Conservative junior minister Chloe Smith was sent out to do media interviews after her boss did a hasty u-turn on fuel tax. It was reported that other members of the government had been kept in the dark about the change.
Jeremy Paxman: When were you told of this change of plan?
Chloe Smith: Well, as a minister in the Treasury and indeed dealing with fuel matters this has been under consideration for some time …
JP: When was the decision taken?
CS: As I say it’s been under consideration for some time …
JP: When was the decision taken?
CS: … the chancellor and the prime minister …
JP: … yes of course …
CS: … take these decisions between them.
JP: So when were you told, then?
CS: I’ve been involved in this for some time and …
JP: But you didn’t take the decision, obviously, you said the chancellor and the prime minister did, so when were you told?
CS: We had a, uh, collective discussion of that, er, er, in due course and although I can’t, you know, give you the sort of full gory …
JP: Well did it happen today?
CS: … details of the processes … I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, sit here …
JP: You can’t remember?
CS: … and tell you the ins and the outs, no, it’s not appropriate for me to tell you the ins and the outs.
JP: Well, why isn’t it appropriate? You’re coming here to defend a change of policy and you can’t even tell me when you were told what the change in policy was.
CS: Because, as a minister in the Treasury I’ve been involved in the discussions for some time, as I’ve said to you the chancellor and the prime minister take those decisions, I’m not going to be able to give you a running commentary on exactly who said …
JP: I’m not asking for a running commentary, I’m asking for a statement of facts about when you were told. You were told some time today, clearly. Was it before lunch or after lunch?
CS: I’m not going to give you a commentary of who says what and when. That’s about how government policy is made behind the scenes.
Chloe Smith’s discomfort continued for several more minutes. Paxman continued to press about when the decision was made, who was told, and where the money would come from to cover the change in policy. The interview ended with this exchange:
JP: Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, my God, what am I going to be told today?
CS: I wake up in the morning and know, actually, that some of my constituents will really value not having to pay that little bit more on fuel prices, come August, because the cost of everything is pretty tight at the moment and everybody does know that. I do think this move today is valuable. It’s not just a Westminster Village story Jeremy, it’s real money in real people’s pockets.
JP: Oh, we all understand that.
JP: You ever think you are incompetent?
CS: I think it’s valuable to help real people in this way and I do think that is valued by people who drive.
JP: OK. Chloe Smith, thank you.
Lessons from this encounter?
Clearly there was a mis-match between Paxman (62), one of the BBC’s most experienced (and aggressive) interviewers, and Smith (30) who was appointed to a junior ministerial position less than a year ago.
That shouldn’t have been an issue, if Smith had been better prepared for the encounter.
Anticipation is the key to a successful media interview. The challenges about when the decision was made, and who was told, were predictable.
Smith needed a quick-acting strategy for taking the challenges off the table and bridging to a constructive message.
And she needed to be more assertive. Paxman’s aggressive interruptions in live interviews are famous. His approach was predictable, and she needed to come out more strongly.
Smith was in a difficult position, defending an embarrassing policy change. But an interview that was widely described as a ‘humiliation’ could have been handled more adroitly.
For more tips on dealing with the media, check the Resources Page of our website.
A Hollywood technique could give your next presentation extra sparkle
What do all audiences want? Easy. They want you. The REAL you. They don’t want spin. And they can smell insincerity like goop on the bottom of a shoe.
This is why capturing your authentic voice is such a big part of our TalkitOut presentation skills training. If you want to be a better public speaker, you have to find a way of letting the real you shine through in your presentations and speeches.
It’s not always easy. For one thing, there’s the problem of nerves. And for another, a lot of people create speeches in a way that actually prevents their true voice being heard.
TalkitOut helps capture your authenticity because it captures your thoughts as you express them verbally – rather than the less conversational, more formal way thoughts are expressed when you sit and write in silence.
Once people are comfortable with the TalkitOut technique, we move to the next step – preparing and delivering with no script. The technique I use is one some writers and producers use to develop movies. James Cameron used it for Avatar. It’s called ‘scriptment’.
Scriptment is a combination of script and treatment. It’s an outline. Scriptment starts with a story, good characters and knowing what emotional points need to be hit. Once this framework is agreed, the actors fill in the dialogue as they shoot each scene. Scriptment works for movies because it’s a collaborative effort that taps into a lot of creativity.
So how does this movie technique translate into the world of presentations and speeches?
When I work with a client who doesn’t want a scripted speech, we begin by collaborating on the structure. We figure out the big take-away for the audience, the perfect opening (hook), the tone of the speech, the benefits for the audience, the content, and the conclusion. All of this is noted in point form. Once the framework is there, the client adds the words by speaking them, not writing them.
The client practices the hook out loud until she or he can deliver it flawlessly. Then the client practices the rest of the speech, out loud. Once they’ve done the whole speech, the client can throw away the paper and just go do it. Or they follow an outline with bullet points.
The result sounds conversational, looks effortless and really highlights your authentic voice. Unlike ‘winging it’ from some Powerpoint notes, you will engage and hold your audience. And you’ll make sense because in the back of your mind you have the route map for the presentation.
The scriptment method gives you an Academy Award-winning presentation, every time.
Be a better speaker: see yourself as the audience sees you
Communication goes so far beyond words – spoken or written. When we communicate, we do so with every single atom in our bodies.
Everything about us is sending out messages, and receiving messages. And our audiences are doing the same. If you want to convince any audience, no matter how big or small, you need to reach them at every level… intellectual, emotional and physical.
But how well do you know your audience? Basic research will give you basic demographic information – age, gender, occupation.
That’s a good step towards communicating with them on an intellectual level. You know how to choose your vocabulary and how to pitch your arguments.
But how do you reach the audience on a much deeper level? What do you know about their feelings? Their emotions? What do they need from you, and what will they take from you, on a non-verbal level?
You need to put yourself in their shoes. See with their eyes. Feel what they’re feeling. You won’t know exactly how they feel, see or think. But if you imagine you are in the audience, rather than on the stage, you’ll have an idea.
What do they want from you? What’s likely to get in the way of them receiving your message? What barriers have to be broken down before they can accept that message?
This takes you beyond the obvious… beyond the event planner telling you there are 100 people in the audience, 70% women, mostly high-income, high-achievers.
By imagining what the audience is feeling or thinking, you take a step towards building a connection to them. This is called empathy. You begin to understand them at a deeper level.
They will sense that you are really reaching out to them. You will build a bridge, and a relationship, that will ensure your message has the best chance of successful delivery to a receptive audience.
End of the line for news releases?
How do you get your story out to the media? For years the favourite route has been through a news release. Catchy headline, lead, quote, description, contact details. A formula, but heck – it works. At least it did, before Social Media.
But now at least one organization thinks the news release is dead. Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia says it’s dumping the conventional press release from its media relations strategy.
Dalhousie says the news release is ‘predictable’ and has been sidelined by changes in the way we communicate.
The Globe and Mail had some fun with the story, pointing out that Dalhousie announced the demise of the news release – in a news release.
Not a news release, says Dalhousie media advisor Charles Crosby… although he admits the email to a long media list had a ‘release-like feel’ about it.
At Podium, we’re not ready to write off the news release yet. It’s a tool – just one of the many we urge clients to consider when planning a media strategy.
What do you think? Tell us the most effective tools you are using for getting information to the media.
(This blog first appeared in our June newsletter. If you are not already a subscriber, you can sign up on this page).
9 year-old’s communication skills leave ‘daft’ council with bad taste in mouth
Three cheers – and then a few more – for nine year-old blogger Martha Payne. Martha started a blog called NeverSeconds, to record the content and quality of canteen lunches at her primary school in Scotland.
A by-product of her blog was fund-raising to build school kitchens for children in Africa.
Most of Martha’s reviews were positive. It was the pictures she posted that got more attention, and led to her blog being featured in newspaper reports.
While her school accepted the blog, the local council didn’t – especially when one national newspaper came out with the headline ‘TIme to Fire the School Dinner Ladies.’
The council forbade Martha from taking pictures of her school food, and put out a stern statement.
Since Podium Coaching is all about effective communication, let’s review and rate some of the comments from all sides:
‘I’m a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I can’t do it on one croquette. Do any of you think you could?’ – Martha, under a photo of her $3 lunch of a pizza slice, a croquette, sweetcorn and a cupcake.
Podium’s verdict: Strong, simple expression of well-focused thought.
‘The photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.’ – The council’s explanation for the photo ban.
Podium’s verdict: Pompous and clumsy attempt to justify over-reaction.
‘Unwarranted attacks on schools catering service… misrepresenting the options and choices available to pupils.’ – The local council’s view of Martha.
Podium’s verdict: Not a smart move to attack a 9 year-old with language like this.
‘I spent today trying to enthuse school pupils about creativity and the written word. So thanks a lot.’ – Author Ian Rankin in a Tweet after the council imposed the ban.
Podium’s verdict: Right to the heart of a deeper issue, in 140 characters or less.
‘Daft.’ – Michael Russell, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education, on the council’s action.
Podium’s verdict: Sometimes one word is all that’s needed.
‘I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.’ – Martha, announcing the ban in her last blog.
Podium’s verdict: This 9 year-old really knows how to make her point.
After coverage in newspapers and television and a massive outcry in the Social Media, the council lifted the ban. Council leader Roddie McCuish went on BBC Radio to announce he’d order officials to back down.’It’s a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I’ve certainly done that.’
What could the council have done? How about:
- team Martha up with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to review school meals;
- get Martha and some other pupils to come up with their menus;
- start a national debate about kids and healthy eating;
- invite Scottish chefs and celebs to come up with meal plans on a school-sized budget.
Bottom line: any heavy-handed action against a talented kid who is raising money for charity, and who was saying generally nice things about school grub, is doomed to fail. See the opportunity to widen the debate, and a negative can be turned into a positive.
Just a couple of stats to round off the story:
- Martha’s blog got more than 3 million hits
- Martha’s fund-raising target was $10,000. So far she’s raised $40,000 – mostly because of the council’s ban. That’s enough to build a kitchen for children in Malawi.
Rehearsal is key to a relaxed, confident presentation
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The more you rehearse, the better you’ll be.
Rehearse out loud. Rehearse in front of your colleagues, family, friends or the bathroom mirror. Video yourself. Rehearsing makes you confident and comfortable.
Think of any presenter you admire for their cool, commanding presence on stage. You can guarantee that the more relaxed they are on stage, the harder they work out of the spotlight.
The late Steve Jobs was a great illustration of this truth. His style – and the work that went into creating that style – was summarised by author Alan Deutschman.
“Jobs was the best showman in American business and he worked hard at his art, preparing maniacally for weeks before an appearance. He got ready for a keynote much the way Oscar Wilde prepared for a dinner party. He spent countless hours rehearsing the succinct lines he would throw off as if they were improvisations.”
Rehearse, but don’t memorize. Understand what you’re talking about. If you happen to change a word, or the order of a thought, when you’re delivering, just go with it. As long as you’re not leaving out some crucial information, you can make small changes in the heat of the moment. You want to leave room for that kind of spontaneity.
If you can’t rehearse – but you’ve used our TalkitOut™ technique to improve your presentation skills – you will still sound much better than if you had prepared the old fashioned way by writing everything out silently, then trying to read it.
Rehearse out loud as if the audience is there listening to you now. The more you hear yourself, the more comfortable you’ll be when you actually deliver.