Mick Lynch

Why Mick Lynch is Right to be Wary of Pre-recorded Interviews

I heard a great interview this week with Mick Lynch of the RMT. He was a guest on the “When it hits the fan” with David Yelland (former Sun editor) and spin doctor Simon Lewis.

Mick Lynch

I have already made some observations about the Mick Lynch approach to media relations which can be summed up as: do not try and do it like he does. A quick summary of why comes at the end of this blog.

However, the thing that caught my ear from this interview is that Lynch mentioned in passing that he and his team at RMT prefer a live interview over a pre-record. I agree with this and have been pointing this out to those we train for years. Often,  saying this provokes surprise and disbelief. But I am sure on this Mick Lynch and I are both right.

While everyone is naturally scared of doing a live interview on a main media outlet where the audience is in the millions, it is actually much ‘safer’ than doing a pre-record. That is because once you are in control of yourself, everything you say will reach the audience.

If you think about the copy or the write-up of an interview conducted by a print journalist, only a small percentage of what is said will be read by the audience. What’s more, the journalist will have provided the context and the headline. In other words, someone else will have heavily curated the message the audience receives.

And even if you do a pre-record interview for radio or television, your journalist will have had time and opportunity to choose the bits that the audience hears. You don’t have to distrust the journalist or assign some evil intent to realise that you are handing over a great deal of control.

Mick Lynch

Mick Lynch

And that is the point Lynch was making. He prefers to do his interviews live. He can handle himself and he trusts himself to land the arguments he cares about. Of course, in the modern age, any live interview that is interesting will be recorded,  edited and used elsewhere, but at least the original version is somewhere on the record.

To give my quick summary of what else we learnt from the Podcast …an interview that is worth a listen …Lynch tells us he doesn’t prepare for interviews, he has no problem calling out (fighting with) a journalist, he doesn’t write a speech if he can avoid it and finds it impossible to memorise a speech. Instead, he relies on a lifetime of experience, regular practise at articulating arguments at union branch meetings and chatting with other members of what he is comfortable calling the ‘working class’.

No one could argue that this does not work, for him.

However, in my experience most business leaders do not have a very clear idea of what they want to communicate, they have a lifetime of experience in meetings with other highly educated and specialist colleagues and contemporaries. That ensures they will suffer hugely from the curse of knowledge, i.e. assuming everyone knows what they know, and assuming everyone understands the wider context as they see it.

Even if an inexperienced spokesperson navigates the curse of knowledge, anyone deemed to be in a privileged position is never going to win good coverage by fighting with a journalist.

Mick Lynch is articulate and entertaining. But, his is not a style to emulate unless you too have spent 50 years learning to boil everything down to simple arguments that all will understand.

If you feel you or your team would benefit from learning how to prepare for a media interview and should be taught all the tricks of the trade for managing the process, why not get in touch. Either call 020 7099 2212 to speak to me or email enquireis@themediacoach.co.uk


BBC Podcast

Mick Lynch, grab from YouTube

Prince Andrew feature

Takeaways from Netflix Scoop: The Prince Andrew Interview

Newsnight’s Prince Andrew interview made headlines around the world and led to him stepping down from public life. The new Netflix drama-documentary about how the interview came about and the part played by Sam McAlister – documented in her book Scoops – is an excellent couple of hours entertainment. The book is also a good read but has little to say that is relevant to run of the mill media relations. McAlister was Newsnight’s interview booker who concentrated on high profile, hard to get interviewees. It is a very niche part of journalism. (McAlister is a very interesting speaker and there is a great long form interview with her here on YouTube.

Prince Andrew

Sam McAlister former Newsnight booker and author of Scoops

A quick disclaimer first about the Netflix production. I am squeamish about the way a drama-documentary blends fact and fiction. And I have also always been squeamish about some aspects of  investigative journalism which can resemble more of a hunting party than anything that might be called balanced reporting. But putting these aside, I do have a few Media Training observations from the film.

First, never underestimate a journalist’s need to get a story. Netflix’s Scoop very realistically portrays the pressure serious journalists are always under to ‘find something that people care about’.  Britain selling arms to Saudi Arabia is dismissed as a Newsnight lead early in this film because ‘there is nothing new to say’.   Brexit is dismissed because we are all bored with it. Prince Andrew accused of consorting with a sex offender (with implications of much worse) was also not new, but he is ‘a Royal’ and Epstein had just been arrested, and later just committed suicide.  It was a juicy Royal story with a strong peg.

Second, this drama showed how people prepare for big important interviews. They role play. In this case both Prince Andrew and Emily Maitlis, the interviewer, were shown rehearsing for the interview. If you have a big interview to do, it is extremely valuable to role-play the scenario and learn the best lines.

Third, prepare for the open questions as well as the interrogation. Open questions lull people into a false sense of security. As the fictional Sam McAlister says  ‘men like this, like to talk. Let him talk’. Maitlis is portrayed as taking McAlister’s advice at the last minute. By giving the interview a soft opening she set the tone for a ‘fireside chat’, where arguably more was revealed than would have been achieved with a ‘tough’ interview opening.

Finally, and most importantly, what this account highlights is that in any crisis interview the spokesperson must demonstrate understanding and sympathy for any victims.   Despite a great deal of opportunity at the beginning and end of the interview, Prince Andrew never apologised, did not admit errors of judgement or mistakes, and did not show an ounce of understanding for the life of a trafficked sex worker. I remember this from the real interview. Prince Andrew came across as self-obsessed, unable to see what his actions looked like to others. He did not express horror or distaste at Epstein’s crimes or alleged crimes. Wording these apology and empathy statements can be difficult, but they are essential.

As the film shows, the Press Statement which announces that Prince Andrew is ‘stepping back’ from public life covers all those bases but by then, of course, it is too little, too late.

Image of Sam McAlister taken from YouTube


Kate Shows How to Read Autocue

Catherine Princess of Wales made a very modern statement last week, to tell the world she is having chemotherapy, as cancer was found present in her recent surgery.

Rather than a written missive, the Princess casually dressed in a jumper, recorded a short video in a spring garden.

While it might not be obvious to the untrained eye, it is certain she was reading an autocue or teleprompter. It is very difficult to memorise such a long piece and deliver it without ‘hesitation, deviation or repetition’ (to quote the rules of BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute.) She will have had her words appearing on a screen in front of the camera, invisible to the viewer but large and carefully scrolling to match the pace she is speaking.

Reading autocue is a lot more difficult than it sounds and ‘Kate’ as she is known to the world, did an excellent job. She has surely been coached.

We constantly advise people against trying to read autocue. It is just not something untrained people can do well. Learning to adlib around a set of bullet points is much easier for most.

A lot of the secret of good autocue delivery is in the writing. When you write for the ‘ear’ rather than for the ‘eye’ as my colleague Eric Dixon would put it, you need a different writing style. Shorter words, shorter sentences, and plenty of grammatical contractions, such as I’m, it’s and they’re, etc.

We can tell from the Royal statement that this was something very carefully written.

In breaking the news about her condition, she softens the blow by at first not using the word “cancer” as a noun, but instead as the adjective, “cancerous” – and even then in the negative, “non-cancerous”.

“In January I underwent major abdominal surgery in London, and at the time it was thought my condition was non-cancerous.”

Only once the subject has been introduced does she use ‘the C word’ as a noun, but in its past tense (“had been present”) and immediately after the positive results of the operation had been mentioned:

“The surgery was successful. However, tests after the operation found that cancer had been present.”

We think this is the work of a professional wordsmith, although the publicity says the Princess wrote the statement herself.

But even the excellent writing should not detract from the very smooth performance. Most people reading a script (or anything) aloud, cannot manage to do it with what is called in the trade ‘standard intonation’. I’ll let Eric Dixon explain:

The trouble with reading out loud is that the natural rise and fall of spoken English – the placing of stress and emphasis on certain words and not on others – tends to go out of the window. People often focus too much on the words they are reading, rather than the meaning that lies behind them.

But emphasis plays a massive part in making sentences make sense. Compare “I don’t want to go THERE” (which is objection to the chosen location) to “I don’t WANT to go there” (which shifts the emphasis to the desirability of the trip, but leaves open the suggestion that they had resigned themselves to going anyway, or might yet be persuaded).

When being read out loud, I’ve even heard “I don’t want TO go there” – which doesn’t make any sense at all!

Coupled with a speedier pace (people tend to read out loud faster than they would usually speak), this leaves a narrower ‘bandwidth’ for expression, leaving many speakers sounding more monotone than usual. The Princess of Wales manages to avoid all of these things, in what is a very assured performance.

In this video the intonation is perfect. Plus, we note this has been recorded in one take. No editing. It is easy to spot an edit in a video if you know what you are looking for, and there is none here. We are guessing this was considered important to avoid adding fuel to the crazy internet conspiracy theorists who had such a field day about the doctored family photo released on Mother’s Day.

Of course, we don’t know how many ‘takes’ Kate took to get it perfect. But perfect it was. Well done!

If you would like to learn how to write and read a script on autocue this is something we can help with. We can also teach you how to ad-lib a short speech using our Message House method. Just get in touch to discuss our various training offerings. Email enquiries@themediacoach.co.uk or ring +44 (0)20 7099 2212.



Feel the Fear feature

Public Speaking: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

I have recently bought a motorhome. The fear of driving it for the first time was paralysing. The thought of parking it caused me to wake up in a cold sweat on more than one occasion. But after a few outings, I have got used to it and now realise it is easier to drive than my car. The two rear cameras (replacing a rear view mirror) were an absolute revelation.

Feel the Fear

Whilst driving my van last week I listened to one of my favourite BBC Radio podcasts, Tim Harford’s More or Less. In this edition, Harford investigated and then demolished that often quoted myth that a majority of people fear public speaking more than death.

Turns out that this was based on a not very scientific piece of research in 1973 (a telephone survey in the US) in which people were asked to rate what they feared most, out of a list of 14 choices. It was some clever journalist at The Times who wrote the research up with the line ‘public speaking feared more than death’.

You can hear the 9 minute explanation here.

Feel the Fear

Those of us that teach, or coach, communication skills already knew that this ‘fear’ of public speaking was grossly over-rated, and is something that can be relatively simply dealt with.

As with driving my van, public speaking takes many out of their comfort zone. But exposure and a modicum of success, means the fear quickly fades.

That is what is so interesting to me. So many people fear public speaking until they actually have a go, do a bit of practice, actually do some work on it. For most those ‘nerves’ almost disappear in a couple of hours work. We see it in the training room.

We are always keen to point out that nerves should not disappear completely: actually, a bit of a flutter in the stomach means you are taking it seriously. Plenty of presenters, actors and speakers admit to living and working with ‘stage fright’ every day.

Strangely, what most people get wrong about public speaking is that they think they shouldn’t have to try too hard. The whole idea of ‘just be yourself’, ‘say what comes naturally’ and so on, is in my view, the worst advice in the world.

To be a speaker you need to have something interesting to say, and you need to say it in an interesting way. You should not think you have a right to bore people.

Finally, I would note that learning to speak in public is a huge benefit to you in your career. You don’t need ambition to be a keynote speaker or a TED Talk favourite. Just being able to competently give a presentation or do a turn in a Town Hall meeting when the need arises, will put you on the map and earn the respect of colleagues, especially if you can do it without being boring.

So, my advice is neatly captured in the title of a once famous self-help book: ‘Feel the Fear and do it Anyway’. (Susan Jeffers 1987.) Just like driving a motorhome, take it seriously, think about it, seek advice and then do it.

If you feel you need help in overcoming a fear of speaking, or to become a better speaker do get in touch: either email enquiries@themediacoach.co.uk or phone +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Get More From Your Spokespeople feature

Five Ways to Get More From Your Spokespeople

As someone who until recently worked as Head of Media, I know that identifying and training the best media spokespeople for your company requires a lot of effort.  And over the years I’ve learnt that I should not see the initial Media Training as a one-and-done type event. This blog shares my tips on how to keep building momentum after Media Training has taken place – enabling us to get the best out of our trained spokespeople.

Get More From Your Spokespeople

Freelance PR specialist Paul Middleton shares his tips for getting more from media trained spokespeople

  1. Ramp slowly

Even after the best media training available you will never quite know how a spokesperson is going to perform in front of a journalist. Will they remember their training, lose control of the conversation, or worse still – accidentally say something materially harmful to your business? These are some of the reasons why I strongly recommend a spokesperson’s first couple of media engagements are low pressure and designed to build confidence. There is little upside to going fast and potentially damaging their self-image or creating a new reputational issue.

  1. Appraise together

Nothing beats a one-to-one Zoom call, telephone conversation, or in-person meeting immediately after a spokesperson’s first few interviews. They will be grateful for the care you have taken, their feedback will be rawer and more useful, and your ability to affect change will be optimised. My advice is to forget laundry lists of dos and don’ts at this stage. Instead, focus on what went well and ask your spokesperson how they think they did. Then pick out just one or two specific issues for them to work on –clearly demonstrating what you want to see.

  1. Understand their mindset

Getting the most out of a media spokesperson means understanding their ideas, fears, and ambitions. Successful colleagues will naturally trust their own judgement and appetite for risk. To persuade them to go beyond those boundaries, they need to feel they are in safe hands, and that you ‘get’ how they think about the media. Some colleagues want to lead public debates, others want to be seen as a thought-leader. Some want to drive the organisation’s reputation and others want to drive their own. Framing your argument correctly will accelerate your progress but more importantly, theirs.

  1. Sharing is caring

Make it easy for your spokespeople to share clips or cuttings of their media work. This has several benefits. It sends a clear psychological signal that you think their time was well spent. It amplifies their traditional media work amongst a highly relevant social media audience. It encourages spokespeople to provide further structured thoughts on a given topic. It avoids the awkwardness of spokespeople needing to ask for clips. And it provides an unsaid permission for spokespeople to be genuinely proud of their media appearances. We are all human after all.

  1. Celebrate their achievements 

Being a spokesperson shouldn’t be a chore – it should be a position of prestige. To make this distinction and demonstrate how your organisation values media work, it’s a good idea to regularly celebrate media achievements. This might mean a media star of the month or a shout-out from your CEO. It might mean a note to their line manager, or a nomination for an internal award. Whatever the case, when a spokesperson devotes time to media work rather than their ‘day job’ it’s a big deal. The more you can do to make it feel like they are part of your organisation’s elite, the better.

If you think I can help you put your spokespeople on the map, then get in touch via pjsmiddleton@gmail.com or www.fasttrackcommunications.com



Think Twice Before you Declare a Crisis Feature

Think Twice Before you Declare a Crisis

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held a shock press conference to denounce mob rule and threats to democracy on the streets of Britain. For a previously mildly spoken technocrat this was a big departure.

The statement appeared to be prompted by the Rochdale by-election which everyone admits was messy. But whilst it is clear we are seeing an increase in anger at the political classes, and social media algorithms have for years been encouraging people into more extreme positions, it is hard to see what made last Wednesday the moment to announce that democracy and the rule of law were under threat.

Many have noted that while there is clearly considerable conflict over the situation in Gaza, which has lead to protests in the UK, plus genuine concern about the rise in death threats for MPs and the trend to protest outside the homes of elected representatives, it seems difficult to evidence Sunak’s warning on ‘mob rule’.

My question is, why did the Prime Minister decide to make this statement last Thursday? And why did it sound like an ideological speech rather than an emergency update?

As a cynic, I would suggest that the speech, including the extensive reference about what it means to be British, smacks more of election-year politics than of a sudden escalation in threat.

War, terrorism and serious immediate crisis like 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in the UK and of course 7th October in Israel, whilst appalling in their own right, create both a political threat to the current leaders, and a moment when they can act more decisively and more immediately (or perhaps extremely), than they can in normal times. One doesn’t have to agree with everything argued by Naomi Klein in the 2009 book Shock Doctrine, to recognise this basic premise.

A crisis, a common threat, the enemy at the gate, all provide opportunities for leaders.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that there’s a temptation to talk up a threat, in order to consolidate or hold on to power. But it is a dangerous strategy. It is often far too obvious. And if it fails the leader loses credibility.

I am not the only one to question, where is the evidence for the immediate threat. Here are some cuttings.

Downing Street Fails to Provide Evidence to back up Rishi Sunak’s mob rule claim is the Huffington Post headline.

The Prime Minister’s speech about peaceful protests is deeply worrying says Amnesty International

Tories accused of using ‘mob rule’ claims to justify restricting protests writes the Guardian.

One of the privileges of my work is I spend quality time with senior leaders in many different sectors. I cannot think of one who would jump to declare a crisis or moment of high jeopardy, without very serious consideration and a watertight argument. They would all fear that it would do more to hurt their leadership than consolidate it.



Powerful spokespeople

The Most Powerful Spokespeople Have a Story Behind Them

The dignity and pain of Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, made her speech at the Munich Security Conference incredibly powerful. She then updated her message and criticism of the regime on video, to ensure it reached as many people as possible.

Someone, I assume, who is not used to public speaking, was taking to the world stage at a time of great pain.The standing ovation of the politicians and diplomats was in itself immensely moving.


People who have a relevant story always make the most powerful speakers. Whilst many others could have and indeed have said much the same thing about the Kremlin lying, carrying out political assassinations, etc. Yulia Navalnaya is likely to have the biggest impact.

Here are a few other examples of people who helped, or are helping, to achieve change because of their personal stories.

Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head age 15 because of her insistence that girls in Pakistan had a right to go to school. She survived and now lives in Birmingham in the UK. She is still an activist and is the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Merope Mills whose daughter died in hospital of sepsis after a bike accident. Merope spearheaded a campaign to bring in Martha’s Rule which makes it a right for patients to ask for a second opinion, if they are worried about care in hospitals. We wrote about her BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview here. The government will introduce Martha’s rule into the NHS later this month.

Esther Rantzen has greatly increased interest and political pressure for assisted dying to become lawful. After a life in the public eye, she has stage four lung cancer and has called for MPs to have a free vote on the issue. Link to the LBC article here.

There are many more.

To the uninitiated, it may seem that these individuals are speaking primarily on their own behalf. But in all cases, they were or will be adopted and supported by organisations calling for change. Someone with a powerful personal story is a huge asset to any campaign.

Translate this to more everyday PR activities and the lessons are obvious. Nurture people who have a relevant personal story to tell, and make sure they are able to tell that story. That can sometimes take a bit of training. There is even a label now for this sort of spokesperson: they are said to have ‘lived experience’.  Mind, the mental health charity, for example now has a web page offering journalists spokespeople who have lived experience of mental health issues.

As media trainers and public speaking coaches, it is always a privilege to work with this sort of spokesperson.


Image: YouTube


Wrong Note, Right Place

Wrong Note, Right Place

If the act of presenting and public speaking effectively is difficult (which it is), something that many of us find equally tricky is the process of receiving feedback on what we have done – or what actors call ‘notes’.

In acting, these are the adjustments that a director or producer gives to the cast during rehearsal, about how to do the scene next time. What’s worse, these are often given in front of fellow cast members and crew. Which means everyone involved knows what those in charge think, and how you could have done it better. It’s a public declaration that your performance was faulty.

The problem is that actors can be pretty precious people. I say this with no spite at all. As a presenter and voiceover artist, I’m much the same. To give all of yourself to your craft, to do something which feels so personal, it can be pretty disheartening for someone else to step in who thinks they know better, and tell you there’s another way to do it.

Especially if you’ve been in the business for years. As a seasoned professional, to be told that the performance you’ve carefully crafted requires a change can be a bit of a bruise to the ego and – even if it’s done nicely, respectfully, gently – it can sometimes hurt.

What’s worse, you may not agree with the advice given. Even if you’ve got over yourself about the ego thing, you may genuinely think the guidance is mistaken.

Maybe you believe that the problem they’ve identified is wrong.

Or the solution they’re proposing is incorrect.

Possibly both.

Perhaps you’ve already tried it their way – and it was worse. Or at least no better.

What do you do then?

Wrong Note, Right Place

Jeremy Dyson

A bit of advice I hold dear is a brilliant tip from Jeremy Dyson. He’s the author, musician and screenwriter responsible for, amongst other things, the surreal TV comedy series ‘The League of Gentlemen’.

He calls it “Wrong note, right place”.

He says that if you’re getting a note, it’s because something’s not working – and you need to accept that.

The note the director or producer is offering up may not be the right solution or even the right diagnosis of the problem. But there is definitely something wrong at that point in whatever you’re doing.

So instead of resisting notes – which is something we’re all prone to do, defensively or otherwise – we should take them on board gratefully.

Because even if you disagree with the advice given, they have helpfully spotted a bump in the road. And not only that a bump exists, but they’ve located it for you as well. So, even a wrong diagnosis doesn’t hide the fact that something is amiss at that moment. And it’s up to you to do something about it – either by following their suggestions, or coming up with a solution of your own.


It successfully sidesteps the whole ego problem, allows you to listen to their suggestions whilst in the right frame of mind, and puts the solution back in your hands – all at the same time. For PowerPoint presenters, it may be something as simple as the positioning of a slide. Or the way you introduce it. Or an analogy you make.

This approach is something which should actually stop us resisting receiving ‘notes’ on our performance.

It could actually increase our appetite for feedback.

You never know, even make us hungry for it…

In that spirit – genuinely – please let me know what you think of this blog. Comments welcome below.


Image: Jeremy Dyson. (2024, January 21). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Dyson

managing questions managing news feature

Managing Questions, Managing News

Aggressive questioning rarely comes more dramatically than was experienced last week by social media titans TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, Discord’s Jason Citron, X’s Linda Yaccarino – and above all, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta. Of course, this was not a media interview: on the face of it, it was a senate hearing entitled Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis.  In my view, it was simply an exercise in public humiliation, akin to putting wrongdoers in the stocks and throwing rotten tomatoes at them.

The extreme style of public cross-questioning seen in many of the video clips of the hearing seems to be a hybrid of aggressive journalistic questioning and the most high-octane Hollywood police interview tactics. One thing is for sure, the questioners had no interest in genuinely understanding what the leaders of these mega companies thought or planned to do about the ills they were accused of. This was all about opprobrium and the political capital it offered to the senators. Some of the ire, may perhaps genuinely reflect a sense of exasperation and despair that so little has been done to date to protect the vulnerable online, but is this really the way to conduct public debate or bring about change?

The questioning by Senator Josh Hawley was amongst the most uncomfortable that I saw.

The Guardian provides some useful context, just in case we haven’t come across Josh Hawley previously.

Senator Hawley, (…) famously encouraged the mob on 6 January 2020 (before later being filmed running away from them after they stormed the Capitol).

Zuckerberg has probably had a great deal of coaching but rarely, in the clips I saw, got to finish a sentence.

A PR guru’s advice to Zuckerberg and co, would be to try to avoid anything approaching this situation because there is no way to get any sort of hearing, let alone a fair hearing. Of course, in this case, the big tech leaders had little choice. While Zuckerberg and Chew saw the writing on the wall and volunteered to turn up, others were subpoenaed. They would have known they would face grandstanding and a grilling. In fact many of the questions would have been predictable. In context these questions can sound shocking but actually there is a stock list of  tough questions for people in charge when things go wrong.

  • ‘Will you apologise?’
  • ‘Whose fault is this?’
  • ‘Did you fire anyone, if so who?’
  • ‘How much are you making from this?’ and
  • ‘Will you pay compensation?’

All are very standard ‘tough’ questions that all broadcast journalists learn in their first year in the profession. ‘Shouldn’t you resign?’ usually also makes an appearance but didn’t on this occasion.

From a professional point of view, I noted that Zuckerberg, when asked to make an apology to the families, did use the word sorry and did sound caring but importantly he only he only apologised for ‘what you have been through’. He was careful not to actually admit any liability, which of course, is what he will have been trained to avoid.

It was totally predictable that the Senate hearing would win worldwide headlines. The Meta PR team would have known this was inevitable weeks if not months in advance. And so, two days later, we saw the release of a raft of good news. It is an example, I believe, of a carefully planned and successful campaign of damage limitation. After the global bad headlines, Meta surprised the market with three good news stories:

  • Its first ever dividend
  • Increased share buybacks
  • Revenues in Q4 up 25%, beating analysts’ expectations

The message was clear. Whatever happens in Washington, this global company is winning. Investors were reassured and the shares jumped 20%.

What is more, if you have access to this story in the FT  you will see that just a couple of days after Zuckerberg’s public berating by senators, the financial story leads and the hearing is not mentioned until paragraph 16!

It was textbook and effective news management.


Image: Mark Zuckerberg from YouTube

business presentations should be more like stand-up comedy feature

Why Business Presentations Should Be More Like Stand-up Comedy

It’s a bold claim, but one which I stand by: business presentations should be more like stand-up comedy.

Does that mean I think they should be funnier?


More entertaining?


More impactful?


But this will depend on how they are structured.

After more than thirty years of working with people making business presentations, one thing is clear: the structure often falls by the wayside (or at the very best, is the last aspect to be considered).

In fact, often the first thing that a presenter will do by way of preparation is to get hold of their laptop, open PowerPoint and start designing their first slide.

Frustratingly, they often seem to spend more time thinking about their colour scheme and which font they are going to use, than they do their key messages – which are the ‘point’ of a presentation after all.

It’s here that we can learn a lesson from the world of comedy. In order for the ‘punchline’ to land, what happens previously is crucial. The gag won’t work if the ‘set-up’ is faulty.

For this reason, I advise aspiring presenters who are in the planning stage to ‘reverse-engineer’ their presentations. In other words, decide what they are going to leave their audience with first, then work backwards to ensure that when it is presented the right way around, their argument flows smoothly, logically and coherently. It’s the best way to ensure the audience will ‘take home’ what you want them to.

As many presentation trainers will tell you – for your audience’s benefit, it’s a case of ‘tell them you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them you’ve told them’.

For more of this sort of thing, the excellent series ‘The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast’, hosted by stand-up Stuart Goldsmith is worth a listen (there are almost 500 episodes to download for free out there):

In episode 288, recorded in 2019, the brilliant Chris Addison (stand-up comedian, star of ‘The Thick Of It’, ‘In The Loop’, and award-winning director of ‘Veep’) explains that he structures his comedy in the same way he was taught to write essays at university.

You can listen to it here: The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast.

business presentations should be more like stand-up comedy

Chris Addison

In the interview, he says:

“Once I’d got to the show, I would take all the jokes off it and write a 1500-word through-line essay on what the argument of the show is – to prove to myself that it makes sense… I’d write a real essay and then put the jokes back on it, just to know I had the show; that I had the order of it.

“You’re not going to say or read out the essay or show people. It was just part of the process to make absolutely certain that what I was saying… had some foundation. Because on some level, people know. They can tell when you’re wandering off, or they can tell when you’re sticking to the thing that you said.

“So, ‘tell them you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them you’ve told them’ is a good maxim. But the middle bit is where people go wrong.”

This advice is gold dust. I’m not suggesting that every comedian goes to these lengths – but it does serve to indicate just how important structure is to conveying ideas powerfully.

However, comedy has even more to offer the process of presentation structure than this – and that’s with what the industry terms ‘callbacks’.

These are simply references to what has gone before. It’s the act of repeating a word, phrase or situation which has already been referred to, and is now even funnier because it’s getting a mention again. Because you literally ‘needed to have been there’ to get the repeated reference, it’s like an inside joke for that particular audience at that particular time.

Musicians will understand the concept of a ‘leitmotif’ – a recurrent theme throughout a musical composition which is associated with a particular person, idea, or situation. It might be just a few notes in a phrase, but they transport you back to something earlier on. And it’s the combination of these references that provides the impact.

In stand-up, often the reference itself doesn’t need to be that funny. It’s only by association with what was said previously that it acquires an extra dimension. Those who were there get it and recognise a bond – a feeling of belonging – with others who get it too.

In presentations – even deadly serious ones – we can make use of the same idea. But we call it ‘circularity’. This is where the end of your presentation harks back to something you mentioned previously (usually at the start) and is not only more powerful for precisely the reasons explained above, but also provides a sense of ‘closure’ or ‘completion’ – fulfilling a ‘promise’ which you made earlier. (This can also help provide a ‘clap line’, generating applause at precisely the moment you want it!)

To take an example from comedy, let me offer you this:

In the American film ‘Airplane’ (1980), a passenger gets into a taxi. The driver tells him to wait and that he’ll be right back, and runs into an airport. But the driver ends up getting on a plane and not returning at all. Right at the end of the movie – indeed, after the closing credits – the film cuts back to the passenger in the car, who’s still waiting, and who says, “Well, I’ll give him another 20 minutes. But that’s it!”

Notice that the line on its own isn’t funny. It only works because it’s a callback. It’s circularity. But for it to be effective, it needs structure – which is essential to make business presentations more like stand-up comedy.



More entertaining?


More impactful?


(P.S. And please – once you’ve delivered the circularity with aplomb – avoid the temptation to give a knowing wink and add “Do you see what I did there?” Because that completely ruins it!)


Image: Chris Addison
Salim Fadhley, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons