PR roll

Greggs On A Roll

Fast-food chain Greggs is on a roll. A good PR roll. We so often comment on companies and people that get into a mess by failing to use some basic and well-known tenet of PR, that it is nice to instead focus on a company that seems to be sure-footed. While not doing anything amazing, it is just doing PR well.

Good Results – And a Staff Bonus

This month Greggs announced a phenomenal growth in sales which allowed them to award 19,000 employees a £300 bonus at the end of the month. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that in May 2018, 18 months ago, Greggs issued a profit warning due to subdued sales that knocked 17% off the share price. This year’s bonus and positive results were widely reported, giving heaps of great publicity to the humble high street chain.

The Vegan Sausage Roll

The jump in sales was widely attributed to the success of last January’s launch of the vegan sausage roll. This in itself was another great PR success.

There really is nothing to beat catching the zeitgeist. Veganism has gone from a dusty forgotten cupboard to the limelight as ethical consumers vote with their pennies, not just to protect the welfare of the animals but also to protect the planet. (The link between veganism and climate activism is an interesting one that we may return to later. It is in itself a PR success that may yet fall apart.)

Greggs Social Media – A Case Study for Modern Marketing

But what really turbo-charged sales was the reactive Twitter campaign. Piers Morgan, who has seven million, followers tweeted ‘Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns’. To which @GreggsOfficial responded ‘Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you’.

PR roll

There were a number of other witty responses to those who took aim at the sausage roll. All of which greatly helped sales.

In June Buzzfeed helpfully pulled together 19 occasions when Greggs was unexpectedly brilliant on Twitter.

PR roll

As noted at the beginning of the blog, the combination of all these things had led to a raft of coverage about how well Greggs is doing. Here are pieces in The Telegraph, The New Statesman (broadly positive), Reuters, The Independent, There are many more. Hats off to the marketing team and particularly the person who decided to allow the Twitter team to step outside standard corporate responses.

 

 

Crisis Comm Scott Morrison Feature

Crisis Comms Management – Aussie PM gets it all horribly wrong

Crisis communications management today has a whole set of rules and a list of best practices that have been honed and polished over the last century. No two crises are the same but there are some really standard rules which 99% of experts would agree with.

Crisis Comms: Scott Morrison has not read the handbook

Unfortunately, it seems no one has communicated these rules to the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Perhaps it was widely assumed he knew them as he was a professional marketeer. From where I sit, Morrison’s ability to seriously upset everyone affected by the bush fires raging across South and East Australia has been beyond belief.

Crisis Comms - Scott Morrison

Here are a few obvious rules he has violated.

Look like you are in charge

Once a crisis becomes really serious – usually when it involves loss of life – it becomes the job of the boss to look like he is in charge. To do what they are paid to do and show leadership. It is not a good idea to go on holiday!

But as everyone knows that is what Scott Morrison did. He went on holiday to Hawaii while the fires raged and people were losing their homes and being evacuated. Some were even dying. The Prime Ministers Office compounded the offence by insisting the PM was not holidaying in Hawaii but refusing to say where he was.

Show empathy

Again, one would not have thought this was worth saying: But just as Prince Andrew forgot to show empathy for the victims of Jeffrey Epstein, the Australian Prime Minister ‘forgot’ to show empathy for people affected by the fires. The clip that was perhaps most widely shared on social media showed the PM turning away from a tearful and desperate woman asking for more government help.

 

This theme has been aggravated by the fact that the government had previously hired someone to advise on ‘empathy’. The consultant was reportedly paid nearly AUS$200,000 to advise on how to build empathy with landowners faced with a disruptive inland railway project. It was dubbed an ‘empathy consultant’ and was the subject of political comment before the fires.

Crisis Comms Jacinda Ardern

Just compare this to the empathic response of the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who visited and listened to the Muslim community after the Christchurch Mosque attack in March last year.

Make it clear that you care by cancelling Business as Usual

This can be a difficult one because clearly some business does have to continue even during a crisis. But anything involving fun, entertaining, extravagance, food and drink, etc. can really look bad if it is expensive and happening whilst others are suffering. On New Year’s Day, Morrison hosted a lavish reception for the Australia and New Zealand cricket teams. Again, he compounded the error by misspeaking. He said the bushfires were happening against the backdrop of cricket. This gave the impression he was more focussed on the cricket than the fires.

Get the tone right

In a crisis people are hyper-sensitive. As a leader, it is really important to get the tone right. Instead, the Australian Prime Minister seems to have gone out of his way to aggravate everyone. It is almost as if he is taking lessons from President Trump.

Not only did his office lie about him being in Hawaii but later The PM tried to justify his holiday by saying ‘I don’t hold a hose mate, and I don’t sit in a control room’. He also chose to talk about the importance of work/life balance comparing his decision to go on holiday with a plumber who had to decide whether to do one more job or spend time with his kids. We are all in favour of analogies, but they do have to be risk assessed! The plumber analogy was not fit for purpose.

The whole tone was reminiscent of BP’s CEO during the Deepwater Horizon crisis. He is remembered for saying he wanted the crisis over because ‘I want my life back’! The phrase that was particularly crass as 11 lives were lost when the rig initially exploded.

Um…Don’t be an ostrich!

Finally (for this blog) the Prime Minister’s New Year message appeared to equate the fires with other natural disasters and did not mention the issue of climate change. One wonders if he knows who Greta Thunberg is and whether he has clocked that she is currently the voice of a global generation of angry youngsters – many of who are about to get the vote.

Images: Wikimedia

naming feature

Naming – A Misunderstood Art

Naming is very important. Name a trend, you own the trend. Name the product right and you own the genre (think of Hoover, Coke, Elastoplast). A colloquial or unofficial name is likely to be much more memorable and influential than a sensible, formal name. Weird or fun names also have more traction. A few recognisable examples: would you have approved any of these if you had never heard them before?

Naming: would your marketing department have approved these?

naming

Google – who would have thought of that!
Apple
Monzo
Starling
WeWork
Waze

Here is a whole article from TechCrunch about how tech start-ups use super weird names.  It is not just business or products names. It’s categories or phenomena or ideas.  Millennials, Generation X, Generation Z, Boomers. Nudge psychology, greenhouse gases. It’s unlikely these would ever have been adopted if it had been left to the traditional voices in large businesses.

In my experience marketing departments or branding teams, often have a lot to say about names. In my view, it is almost always wrong. They insist on sensible long and quasi descriptive names. Rather than fun, random ones. Or more interesting: names that have to be explained.

[I previously wrote about this nearly four years ago – with lots more examples.]

JDART and the power of a clumsy acronym

This week we had an amazing example of how important it can be to name something in a non-standard way, in order to create – well something more powerful.

naming

Elon Musk, CEO Tesla

Elon Musk, a notable tech entrepreneur, won a defamation case bought by the British caver who led the rescue of the 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave. In a spat on Twitter, Musk called Vernon Unsworth a ‘pedo guy’.

naming

My sympathies were all with Mr Unsworth, but the interesting thing to me was the use by the clever and presumably expensive defence, of a made-up word posing as an acronym: ‘JDART’.

I will leave it to someone called Elizabeth Lopatto writing on website The Verge to explain. (You need to know the clever lawyer in question was someone called Alex Spiro).

“Spiro then coined the worst acronym I’ve heard in years, and I edit stories about aerospace so I know from bad acronyms. It is: JDART, for joking, deleted, apologized-for, responsive tweets.”

However ridiculous that reads, this was a very clever and successful move. It gave life to the idea that one has to be allowed to make an error of judgement on Twitter and apologise – without being sued for millions.

Here is what the BBC’s North America Technology reporter wrote:

“One of the smartest moves by Elon Musk’s defence was in introducing the concept of “JDart”, an acronym to describe their client’s conduct on Twitter in relation to the infamous “pedo guy” tweet.

It’s clumsy, for sure, but it meant Mr Spiro could offer the jury here a degree of structure around what before seemed senseless: Mr Musk may have acted foolishly with the J, but he soon “darted”, which is how you know he wasn’t being serious about the allegation. Expect the JDart “standard” to be applied again and again. “

I am always suggesting clients push for better names for great ideas or projects. It really doesn’t have to have a meaning – you can call a piece of software Shirley, or Crowsnest or Porridge for no reason other than fun. Or it can be a crazy acronym like JDART which has to be carefully explained. Either way, you will give your idea or product a life of its own. And that is good for business.

Photo credits:

Google building image – Flickr: Luis Villa del Campo
Elon Musk – Wikipedia
Cave rescue headline – BBC screengrab.

Prince Andrew

Prince Andrew rolls the dice

Prince Andrew’s grilling by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis is definitely the interview of the year.

The widespread criticism and hullabaloo would have anyone believe it was a ‘car crash’ and Prince Andrew should never have done it. I am not sure I agree.

Prince Andrew – car crash interview?

To me labelling this as a ‘car crash interview’ is simply journalists quoting some self-publicists who know how to grab the headlines.

First, if Prince Andrew hadn’t eventually done an interview, the very same media now saying it was a car crash – would have been saying it was time he broke with tradition and gave his side of the story. In this day and age, the public, encouraged by journalists, believe they have a right to a full explanation. There is no such thing as privacy for the Royal Family or many others.

Prince Andrew knows this.

And everyone knows it is infuriating to be accused of something (for 8 years so far) without being able to tell your side of the story.

He sounded like a man who wanted to set the record straight

I believe Prince Andrew weighed it up and on balance decided he wanted to have his chance to set the record straight. In the past, the Royal Family has not done this. They have stuck to the ‘never apologise, never explain’ rule. Of course, there have been exceptions: Princess Diana’s Panorama interview in 1995 and more recently Prince Harry and Megan’s ITV interview on the difficulties of dealing with non-stop press intrusion. 

I watched the Prince Andrew interview very carefully, paying particular attention to the body language and also looking for a level of coaching. This sort of long-form interview is very different from three minutes to get your point across. We all know the public will decide whether someone is lying or not based not on what they say, but on the impression they give. Any side-stepping or ‘bridging’ will give the impression of guilt. (This assumes the watcher was open-minded at the start of the interview).

Prince Andrew come across as completely credible

What I saw was completely credible and I totally fail to see how the interview itself was a ‘car crash’. His Royal Highness blowing his top, or demanding the questions were inappropriate would have been a car crash. If he had contradicted himself it would have been a car crash. If he had stumbled and look shifty and defensive it might have been described as a car crash. He did none of these things.

One of the things I look for above all else is the coherence of the argument. Were there any bits that didn’t add up? I could not hear any.

Interview criticism

Most of the people claiming it was a car crash are not specific about why they believe that. But there are three strands of criticism of the interview itself.

  1. The Prince should have shown more compassion, sympathy, concern, etc. for women who were trafficked for sex.
  2. He should have apologised or shown regret for his friendship with Epstein.
  3. His choice of words in categorising Epstein’s behaviour as ‘unbecoming’ was inappropriate (but quickly corrected).

From where I sit these would have been minor improvements to a very well handled interview. I fail to understand why so many people should be so vitriolic about someone cautiously regretting a friendship! Since when was being friends with the wrong sort of person a crime. Especially if they were not a close friend and especially if you did not know what they were up to. As for concern for the women (or indeed any victims of paedophilia), he was not asked about this and if he had artificially inserted this into the conversation all the Twitter trolls who are convinced he is guilty would have just howled that it wasn’t real.

Body language was mostly well controlled

Some have criticised his body language. Given that very few of the allegations were new to him it is a bit difficult to get much from the body language. You are not seeing the first reaction to new information. There were some accusations (staying at a beach house four times a year) that clearly did hit the mark. They were new to him and he was outraged because he believed they were untrue. We briefly saw the outrage because (it seemed) he had not heard this accusation before. That we could read in the body language but it did not harm his credibility.

I have friends who did not believe a word Prince Andrew said. Their reaction was: We know what men like him are up to. Who is he kidding? They are all at it.

I also have friends who think it was a credible and impressive interview and he came across as a guy who wanted to put his side of the story over.

It does seem worth saying that while the angry, the disbelievers, the haters of privilege, etc. are all over Twitter, there will also be a group of cooler heads who judge things differently but who are not choosing to share on Twitter.

Was it right to do the interview?

For me, Prince Andrew handled the interview extremely well. He answered each question directly, did not try to control the interview, gave detail and whilst not being overly emotional, he certainly showed his vulnerability.

I recommend Emily Maitlis’s own account of the interview in the Times (behind a paywall) and will quote her here:

‘Our news world is so often full of bland figures trying wilfully to be more bland. Say nothing. Avoid scrutiny. Dodge and deviate from every question asked. And whatever comes of this, I must admit to respecting an interviewee who is prepared to approach head-on every single thing that he is asked.’

The more you say, the more everyone else says

However, it is not clear whether doing the interview was wise. It was certainly a high-risk strategy. And the problem is that the more you say, the more everyone else says. He took this issue from a low-level grumbling story to front page across the world for three days. He opened the gates to a feeding frenzy of people who were never going to believe a word he says because he is a man with money, power and privilege.

I suspect this is why the Prince’s new PR advisor, Jason Stein, resigned ahead of the interview.  He would have been blamed for the feeding frenzy and it would have blighted his career.

Although the coverage of the last few days has been bloody and fuelled by huge amounts of ‘fake outrage’ on Twitter, not to mention a lot of PR people wheeled out to say it was a mistake, the key question is what happens in the next three months? After all this venting, will more come out? Will the story continue to be as toxic for the Royal Family or will everyone move on, having had their say? That is the real gamble.

If one believed in honest journalism in the modern world, you would hope that there are some investigations going on into the other side of the story.  After all, fuelling the fire in the way this interview did, also makes the protagonists a subject of more interest.

neuropsychology feature

Persuasion and a little neuropsychology

Neuropsychology – the science of how the brain works – is experiencing a huge growth spurt. We are now really learning how we make decisions, why we make decisions and why habits and behaviour change is hard but can be hacked.

I mentioned in my newsletter a book I was reading written by a digital marketeer, Constantin Singureanu; by the way, he picked up an award (for a business he is working with) at the UK Business Awards. I was a judge in his category, which is how I came across him. (He is the one in the middle).

neuropsychology

In his book, Digital Marketing Made Simple, Singureanu summarises a lot of disparate research about how people make buying decisions online. But so much of what he writes about is equally as relevant for message building, media interviews and presentations.

So here is my summary of the neuropsychology outlined in Digital Marketing Made Simple – and how I see it’s relevance to my work as a media and presentation trainer.

  • Psychologists refer to the human bias towards noticing and remembering the unusual as the Von Restorff effect. This is interpreted by marketing guru Seth Godin as ‘Boring always leads to failure. Boring is the riskiest strategy’. This is true in marketing but also of messaging. I believe if you are trying to get cut-through for an idea – in a media interview or a presentation -boring is never going to work.
  • First impressions matter. Here Singureanu refers to a Harvard experiment where students were presented with a two-second silent clip of a teacher they had never seen before and were asked to rate his effectiveness. The ratings were compared with the ratings of students who actually studied with the teacher for one term. The findings: the two sets of scores were identical. The belief is that we all make judgements about people and things within a split second and then we filter out information that contradicts the opinion we then hold. Common sense suggests there must be some other factors that will be taken into account over the long term, but it is a stunning reminder that in an interview or presentation we have got to give a great impression right from the start. In messaging it means you must capture the essence of an argument with an interesting phrase right from the start. And of course, the performance also matters here. How you look or sound.
  • Last impressions also count … if there wasn’t a strong first impression then the last impression will be influential. So a good hotel visit with a bad check out experience may well mean the customer does not return. For presentations and interviews, this means – end with a bang.

neuropsychology

  • Availability bias is another really stunning bit of neuropsychology. Simply put, people make up their mind about something based on the most readily available information, rather than the more logical approach of reviewing all the evidence. For example, after a plane crash, the number of people travelling by plane will dip even though statistics show that more people die in car accidents than plane crashes. It sounds obvious put like that but big budgets and important business decisions are influenced by what’s making the news, what people see online and read on their way home. What their husband or daughter is saying. What this means for anyone in the business of persuasion is that you have to get out there and repeatedly.
  • Social proof is hugely influential. If you are selling online this is all about reviews. But if you apply this to messaging I would interpret as meaning ‘mention what others say about you’. Of course, this is not as strong as others saying it themselves but it is often quite easy to build ‘third party endorsement’ into your messaging. E.g. ‘I spoke to one CEO last week who said this had been the best fifteen hundred quid he had ever spent.’ If you think that seems lame ask yourself why canned laughter still works.

neuropsychology

The next chapter of Singureanu’s book is all about the importance of feelings. Spin doctors and marketeers deliberately provoke feelings – whether that is fear (fear of Brexit, fear of immigration) or warm fuzzy feelings. So many inexperienced public speakers shy away from either sharing their own feelings or deliberately provoking feelings in their audience. How daft is that!

So to summarise: make your messages interesting, start with a bang, finish with a bang, keep repeating and don’t forget to mention what others think. And finally, decision making is all about feelings and emotions. You are unlikely to influence another person without evoking some feeling in them.

tough media interviews

Tough Media Interviews – How To Prepare

Tough media interviews require proper preparation. There are so many car crash interviews that you wonder why anyone ever goes on TV.

From a media training point of view a different question springs to mind. Why do very intelligent successful people make the mistake of not doing their homework, and allow themselves to ‘lose it’ on air? At the end of this blog post, I share my tips for exactly how to do that homework.

Keep Emotions Under Control

But first, let’s look at how not to do it. In the US this week there was a classic overreaction from a soccer coach who was asked a pretty ordinary question that, I read, was predictable and had been asked before. It would have been better to give a prepared diplomatic answer rather than storming off.

Tough Media Questions – Have a Prepared Answer

The Coach, Bob Bradley probably didn’t do himself much harm with his public display of petulance. But the former Persimmon CEO who was caught out in October last year, almost certainly lost his job, in part because of his refusal to answer a gently put question about his £75 m bonus. It was a subject that had been all over the media just a few months before and surely it would have been possible to have a neat answer such as ‘my salary is set by the remuneration committee, not by me’.

Tough Media Interviews – Do Your Homework

And here is a really old one that I had not seen until last week. It’s funny because this very senior chap thinks he can stop BBC Watchdog using the pre-recorded interview by waving his hands around. This may have been an issue of poor risk assessment. It was a pre-recorded interview and the Dental Association rarely attracts controversy. Plus the issue of mercury in fillings is an old chestnut. But this was Watchdog, a show whose reputation is all about tough interviews.

Refusing to answer a question, walking away, storming out, getting cross and ‘losing it’ once the camera is rolling is a seriously bad idea and is bound to make a bad interview more damaging than any uncomfortable struggling through.

The one everyone of a certain generation remembers is 1982 when then Defence Secretary John Nott stormed out of an interview. This is mentioned in a useful New Statesmen compilation of the worst political interviews ever.

It is much harder for politicians to anticipate all the tough questions and have all the numbers front of mind. I have quite a lot of sympathy for Dianne Abbot who spectacularly failed to do her sums when interviewed by Nick Ferrari on LBC two years ago. For business people, it tends to be a much more limited universe of possible nasties.

How to Prepare for Tough Questions – My Top Tips

  • With more than 2 people in the room brainstorm what the tough questions might be for any particular interview. It’s important to include generalists who have not been close to the issue.
  • Before the brainstorm, someone needs to look at the stuff the journalist has written about before. Check the cuttings.
  • Also, do not limit the discussion to directly relevant questions. What is ‘out there’ on the wider news agenda? Look at politics, regulators, scandals or trending stories such as the gender pay gap or mental health at work.
  • Once you have a list of tough or difficult questions, work out short but credible answers. These may be factual and dull or they may be ‘close down’ answers such as ‘that is simply not a question for me’. Either way, these lines can be prepared. These reactive lines need to be written down and stored somewhere secure. Do not take them into the interview with you unless they are locked in a briefcase or password protected.
  • Finally, rehearse the reactive lines aloud. Reading them in the taxi on the way to the studio is simply not real preparation.
  • Practise delivering the lines not just correctly but with the appropriate level of humility, warmth, authority, etc. Get the tone right. (I blogged about getting the tone right here.)

Of course, the sure-fire way to prepare for a tough interview is to hire Media Trainers with real front line journalism experience, who can, not just role-play the interviews with you (or your spokesperson), but help craft the lines and coach on getting the tone right. When you have been helping people get it right for more than a decade it becomes pretty obvious what works and what doesn’t.

using pictures

Using pictures to make your ideas memorable

Using pictures will help make your message memorable. This is a known and understood statement of fact. Advertising, speech writing, politics and data science all apply the idea that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. And yet this simple concept is so often left on the shelf when it comes to business communication.

I am thinking about his because I recently watched a documentary about the World Memory Championships and had a bit of an ‘a-ha’ moment. I had heard of memory palaces but I hadn’t quite got it all clear in my mind. Here is a trailer for the documentary which explains it pretty well.

 

As a result of watching the full documentary, I am currently trying to learn ‘The Major System’ so I can remember numbers more easily. I am doing this for fun but it is an interesting exercise in using pictures for memory.

Here is another really simple but helpful Ted Talk which is misleadingly titled but is about the power of pictures.

I have some other tips for using pictures for communication.

In presentations:

  1. Take the bullet points off the slides and use pictures instead.
  2. There are myriad of sources for pictures you can acquire for free or cheaply. We use Pixabay and Flickr – both free, but also Istock. I have recently discovered beautiful.ai which is all about online slideshows but has a vast library of great pics.
  3. Use your own photos. In professional life, I think there is vast scope for whipping out the phone and taking photos of your team, your projects, your commute or something else that just speaks to you. Using these in your presentation in a considered and logical way can make the whole thing fresh and inclusive.
  4. Use photos but draw on them or annotate them. (You can buy software that adds speech bubbles. although there are cheaper ways to do this.)
  5. Childish sketches or hand-written diagrams can also work if you dare to share them.

 

using picturesusing pictures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conversations or interviews:

Create a picture in people’s minds. If you do this your idea will be remembered. All you have to do to do this is to use tangible language.

If you talk about ‘the discomfort of public transport’ you will not create a picture. If you say ‘standing in the rain waiting for a bus’ or ‘squashed into a commuter train with someone’s backpack in your face’ you are creating pictures.

I remember someone talking to me about ‘data cleansing’ for a pension fund. It was all rather dry and unmemorable until she spoke about her first ‘data cleansing’ job which started in a dusty room full of hand-written ledgers. She didn’t actually show me a picture – I created the picture in my mind, and several years later I remember it well. Below is exactly as I imagined it.

using pictures

I am always interested in good sources of pictures or fresh ideas of how to use them so please feel free to share.

interview soundbites

Interview soundbites: prepare in advance or journalists will feed you theirs!

Interview soundbites are essential to journalists. They need those quotes and will often turn them into headlines. And that is why, at The Media Coach, we always spend time during a media training session helping clients prepare their own interview soundbites. This ensures they get their points across succinctly and coherently, in a media-friendly way, that makes an interview a win-win situation for the interviewee and the journalist.

Unfortunately for journalists, if an interviewee doesn’t do this vital preparation it can mean the process is more like a trip to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. There is an out and out battle to try and extract a few quotable words. Faced with dull and unquotable answers, journalists are highly likely to resort to trying to put words in an interviewee’s mouth to get something useable. [And that is why we think media training is so important as I wrote in a previous blog linked here].

Don’t let journalists write their own interview soundbites

A humorous take on this journalistic trick was highlighted in a montage on the US current affairs programme Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Time and again you see presenters or anchors suggesting a quote and the interviewee repeating it.

 

So, as we see in the video, a journalist may try to get something quotable by asking a question phrased with emotive or subjective language. As a journalist myself, it was not an ‘interview trap’ I was specifically taught; rather I just learnt quickly that if I asked a bland question I tended to get a bland answer.

Nervous interviewees in particular, or those doing an interview in a language which isn’t their mother tongue, often unwittingly repeat language from the question – helpfully fed to them by the journalist – to give themselves thinking time at the start of their answer. While it can be benign with merely an attempt to make an interviewee more succinct and ‘sexy’, it can also lead to unfortunate headlines and leave interviewees thinking they have been misquoted.

That’s why we strongly encourage people to develop their own quotes rather than relying on the journalist’s version of the soundbite. We also warn people to be careful about agreeing to or simply saying “Yes” in response to a journalist’s paraphrasing of an answer. It’s much safer to develop your own effective soundbites before the interview.

Beware the headline-grabbing last question

Another example of the soundbite-seeking technique is to round off an interview with a headline-grabbing closing question. This can be particularly dangerous if the interviewee is aware that the interview is coming to an end, so relaxes and drops their guard.

How to avoid falling into this trap was demonstrated by Andrea Leadsom during a recent interview with Robert Peston (view the full 12-minute interview below but the last minute is the relevant part).

 

Seeking Ms Leadsom’s views on John Bercow’s role as Speaker of the House, Robert Peston uses phrases such as “impugned his impartiality” in his questions. When her answers are fairly careful chosen (and unquotable), he also tries the paraphrase technique by asking her if what she is really saying is Mr Bercow should “wind his neck in”. Spotting the trap, she skilfully (and with some humour) sidesteps it by evoking the famous quote from the BBC’s original version of House of Cards saying “You might say that I couldn’t possibly comment”.

How to stay safe and in control of the interview soundbites

For the less experienced at handling media interviews, the solution is threefold:

  1. Prepare thoroughly.
  2. Ensure your messages and soundbites are carefully crafted into a format the journalist can use.
  3. Remain vigilant throughout the interview to avoid repeating any headline-grabbing phrase fed to you by the journalist.

Here are some of the other blog posts I have written on this subject:

Media interviews: is fear of failure leading to missed opportunities?

Developing messages: Are you guilty of navel-gazing?

If that feels all rather difficult you may want to pick up the phone and talk to us about booking a short media training session. The Media Coach 020 7099 2212 or drop us a line at enquiries@themediacoach.co.uk.

 

Boris

Boris at his best

Boris Johnson is a Prime Minister under huge pressure, yet he delivered a witty, clever and rousing speech to the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday. As I said last week, there are benefits to talking to your own party: you have a supportive audience and you can speak for as long as you like. Nevertheless, it is a showpiece that will be remembered. Particularly if it is your first as leader.

I am going to add my usual disclaimer. I am not commenting in this blog about politics; I am commenting on the science and the art of communicating in public. Whatever you think about Boris Johnson as a Prime Minister, as a Brexiter or as someone who is accused of having a tenuous relationship with the truth, the man can deliver a speech.

The full speech is available here but if you want to see a few highlights The Guardian has helpfully provided a short version:

What can we learn from Boris’s barnstorming?

So, what are the lessons? Here is my list.

  • Be entertaining. The political situation could not be more serious – some might say chaotic, but Johnson chooses to be upbeat, not downbeat, as well as funny.
  • Be relevant to your audience. The whole speech is peppered with political ‘in’ jokes which makes everyone feel part of the same tribe. Building that feeling of ‘our tribe – your tribe’ is a well known ‘trick’ of public speaking. I wrote about this in a blog entitled ‘PR and the role of the enemy.’
  • Use your voice in different ways for different parts of the speech. If you want to emphasise something, say it slowly and punch the words as in ‘’voted out of the jungle by now” (12 seconds into the edited version). The next sentence “At least we would have had the consolation of watching the Speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle” is delivered fast and relatively downbeat, almost as a throw-away. That made it funnier than if it had been over-egged.  At 2’ 19” of the edit, we get a very heavily emphasised punch line to the long joke about Scottish fish. This light and shade, sometimes fast – sometimes slow, sometimes loud – sometimes quieter, makes the speech much more interesting to listen to.
  • Use the pause – I wrote about this at great length last week so it doesn’t need repeating.
  • At 2’ 27” we have the clever use of two examples. Those who have worked with me know that I am apt to bang on about the benefits of finding tangible stories, anecdotes and examples. Johnson was making the point that Britain has some very successful exports to countries outside the EU: He mentions an Isle of Wight shipbuilder who is exporting catamarans to Mexico and others who are exporting Jason Donovan CDs to North Korea. He could have talked about banking, insurance or Fintech but he chose something that people could picture. The takeaway – find examples that are tangible.
  • By adding the joke line “we recently briefly exported Nigel Farage to America but he seems to have come back” he delivered a third (mock) example. This allowed him the benefit of using a ‘power of three’. Lists are almost always best as threes. Again, it is a trick or device of public speaking known as a tricolon: the rhythm of it is attractive to the ear. There is nothing original about it, whole books have been written about ‘the power of three’. But here it is used with great effect.
  • Alliteration is always fun. 1’ 12” on the edit: “Can you think of a Communist Cosmonaut we Can Coach into the Cockpit?” It is difficult to think how one could get more hard Cs into a sentence. Someone had fun writing that.
  • Use colloquial language. At three minutes (3′ 00″) into the edit, we get: “I remember a time when people said solar power would never work in the cloudy UK and that wind turbines wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding…” It was a serious point but made in a highly colloquial way.
  • Make fun of yourself. He said, “I paint bad pictures of buses”. I also think when he said “look it up” after making an obscure reference to the Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, he was acknowledging that he sometimes makes very obscure references.
  • End with a call to action. “Let’s get Brexit done, and bring this country back together.”

One thing that I think is not so good, Johnson is reading from a script rather than using autocue, which means he breaks the eye-line with the audience for quite a lot of the speech. This seems unnecessary in this day and age. Should you want to read his script you can find it here. As mentioned in a previous blog, good speeches do not need to have brilliant grammar and proper sentences and looking at it typed out you can see this is more a list of connected thoughts.

Finally, I feel compelled to add some balance and point out that over at the Politics Home website, some at least think the speech was not at all impressive. 

But for me (and apologies to all those that can’t get past Boris the buffoon who is ruining the country) I think it was an excellent speech whatever one’s politics.

 

authoritative feature

7 tips for appearing more authoritative as a woman

About half the women we train struggle to sound as authoritative as they would like –  when presenting or being interviewed by a journalist, or on camera. It is often something that is relatively easily improved, if not fixed.

Here are my top tips for appearing more authoritative

 

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1. Prepare mentally
One of the very obvious patterns we see as trainers is that people find public speaking or being interviewed so uncomfortable, they really don’t want to think about it until they absolutely have to. If this is the case, my first suggestion (of course) would be to find someone to pay for training with The Media Coach. We really can help. Failing that, be aware that, like an exam or a job interview you cannot give it your best shot without thinking about it. By preparing mentally I mean articulate, to yourself, how you want to come across. I know this sounds self-obsessed, but it really works. Identify the version of you that you want your audience to see. ‘Confident’ is not necessarily the most useful adjective here – I prefer words like warm or kind, definite or flexible, trustworthy, knowledgeable, in control, etc. It would be really useful to remember a time when you felt all those things on your list and as NLP practitioners would say ‘hear what you heard, see what you saw, feel what you felt’. In other words, tell your subconscious as clearly as possible – ‘that’s it’! That is the person I want to be when I stand up. If you can’t find a version of yourself, find a role model. Practise thinking yourself into this ‘mood’ or ‘mind-set’.

2. Body language
You want your body language to communicate the image of you that you have identified in step one. This usually means shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor (not tipped up or down) and then consciously relax a little. Breathe. Shake your shoulders out without losing the frame. Again, stepping into a controversial area one easy thing to try is the power-pose. Some believe that simply standing for a minute or two in a powerful pose – hands on hips, legs apart – can trick your brain into feeling more powerful. Others think this is bunkum. But it costs nothing except a couple of minutes to try. And, at the very least, those two minutes might give you time to remind yourself of the sort of person you want to project. One word of warning please do this in private or in a safe environment.  Power-posing in public is guaranteed to lead to ridicule as it did for Sajid Javid last year.

3. Pause
I know I have said this many times before, including in a recent blog post. But I cannot leave it out. Authoritative, confident people do things in their own time and are not overly influenced by the excitement or energy of others. You can control a room with silence. But baby steps first, take a breath, pause, gather your thoughts and you will sound more authoritative.

authoritative

4. Slow down
Obviously, closely related to the pause but not the same. Many people and in particular women speak too fast (myself included). What stems initially from insecurity, fear of boring others or a desire not be bored yourself, becomes a bad habit that is difficult to shake. The ideal is to be able to consciously vary the pace you speak, slowing down when you need the thinking time, or you are trying to land a point but speeding up when it is unimportant detail. But the first step is to get control of the speed. I spend quite a lot of my coaching time finding ways to help people to speak more slowly.

5. People pleasing
Not exclusively a female trait but seen more often in young women than in other groups. It can take various forms but often involves too much smiling or an unconscious verbal agreement with the other person talking: as in ‘yes/sure/absolutely’ etc. When coaching some people, I will often try asking them to act really irritated, grumpy or annoyed. When they do, and we record and playback, what we get is a million miles from grumpy, but it just sounds a bit more definite and authoritative. It is difficult to gauge this for yourself without the help of either an audio or video recording.

6. Lower voice
Margaret Thatcher famously had coaching to lower her voice – you can judge for yourself from this video if you think it was an improvement. Personally, there are a lot of other things I would change (for example she is too slow) but it does show what can be done.

7. Self-talk
One of the most useful bits of self-help advice I ever had was ‘be careful what you say when you talk to yourself’. Negative self-chatter is stressful and life-sapping. Having high standards, being critical of yourself is one thing, but constant self-sabotage is very common and hugely damaging. I once made a terrible mistake in a public speaking competition – as MC I forgot to introduce the person who was to give the vote of thanks. I was, at the time, absolutely mortified. However, I had a great boyfriend who said: let’s be clear you got up and had a go when most people wouldn’t. You can hold your head up high. Speak kindly and encouragingly when you talk to yourself.

The benefits

My own view is that putting a bit of effort into conquering a fear of public speaking and moulding your communication style can pay huge dividends in life. I often hear from former clients and I remember one young woman terrified of public speaking who made huge progress on one of our courses. Two years later she wrote to thank me and tell me she had become an ‘ambassador’ for one policy initiative in the UN, had completely changed her job and her life and now routinely did large policy presentations. The word empowering is overused but being able to speak confidently in public is genuinely empowering.