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Informality - Johnson

The rise and rise of informality

Informality is taking over the world or at least that is my perception. If I Google this I find very few articles which makes me a little nervous about my own judgement but I have been mulling this for several months. Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and other successful political figures (love them or hate them), connect with their audience in part because they are seen as ‘one of us’.

Speakers connect to audiences by appearing to be ‘one of us’

All speakers want to connect with their audience and there are many ways to do this. But increasingly younger generations – and voters – are disrespectful of anyone who seems to set themselves apart. And they connect with people who are informal.

What do I mean by informal? Well here is a very short clip from Boris Johnson this week (3rd September). He is standing on the steps of Number 10 and looking fairly prime ministerial. But in this 40 seconds we get the phrases – ‘pointless delay’, ‘no if’s, no but’s and ‘we will not accept any attempt to…scrub that referendum’. Shortly before this clip starts he also said ‘I promised we would not hang about’.

In this case, it is the words that are informal but in other cases, it is the style of delivery.

It’s not just the words that can be informal

In this recent clip, we have a ‘fireside chat’ with our PM in the middle of a party!


Despite the fact that Boris occasionally includes obtuse references to the Classics (as mentioned in this blog) – he doesn’t behave as Theresa May, Gordon Brown, David Cameron or other Prime Ministers have done. And I think there are lessons to be learnt from this.

What is the place for informality business leadership?

In both presentation and media training, I am often urging people to be less formal. Some are formal in their choice of language – many of you will have heard me urge people to ‘come down the language ladder’. By this I mean use everyday language, not business language. But there is good reason to do more than strip out the jargon.

Part of the current distrust and disrespect of power translates into distrust of people who sound like they have power. So my advice to clients is to err on the side of informality. Generally to be a little more informal than they think they should be. That’s if you want to connect to your audience, and if you want to lead your audience. The younger the audience the more informal the approach we recommend.

But a quick warning: this is not the same thing as trying to be hip! Authenticity is important and suddenly quoting a rapper (unless you are a genuine fan) or sporting a T-shirt with an anarchic saying, is not likely to win many plaudits.

If you would like help planning for a media interview or a presentation call us to discuss what we can offer, tel: +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

metaphors

A Minute With The Media Coach: Metaphors

As we continue our summer specials, instead of bringing you our usual blog this week we bring you number five in our series ‘A Minute With The Media Coach’.  This week fellow trainer, Eric Dixon and I discuss the benefit of finding a good metaphor when talking to the media.

presentation training

A Minute With The Media Coach: Presentation Training

We are continuing our summer holiday mode and instead of our usual blog offer a short video, number three in our series ‘A Minute With The Media Coach’. This week fellow trainer, Eric Dixon and I discuss some of the common mistakes we see during presentation training sessions and how to avoid them.

presentation training

Public Speaking: Getting The Tone Right

It’s summer, so I am taking a break from blogging. But if you haven’t seen this Minute with The Media Coach, where fellow trainer Eric Dixon and I discuss how to get the tone right – in either a media interview or a presentation – here it is.

 

what not to do when making a presentation

5 Things Not to Do When Making a Presentation

This is a quick mini-post: revision notes for those that have already worked with us.

Doing a really good presentation is an art and usually requires a fair amount of work. But I am aware lots of people would be happy to just give an okay presentation, without feeling it might have damaged their reputation with colleagues or clients.

But here is my choice of the top five mistakes I see most often and are most easily fixed.

What Not to Do When Making a Presentation

what not to do when making a presentation

 

1. Don’t Read Your Slides

Look at the audience instead! You are the main event, the slides are there to support you and make the talk more interesting. It’s fine to glance at the screen, even better if it is on a laptop in front of you, but 90% of the time you should be connecting with the people who are listening.

2. Don’t Dance or Pace

Some careful movement to support your narrative can be effective, especially on a stage. But pacing up and down or dancing from side to side is distracting.

3. Don’t Rush

You may not want to be there, you may not want to draw attention to yourself but rushing through your presentation means the whole experience is poor for the audience and for you. It will not do your reputation any good. Speak slowly and clearly and pause sometimes. This helps you to collect your thoughts. You’ll probably say fewer words but land more meaning. You can speak too slowly but this is rare compared to the number of people who speak too fast.

4. Don’t Crowd Your Slides

Strip your slides to the basics, keep them uncluttered and a minimum of words. That means 5-10 words, not 40.

5. Don’t Make the Audience Work Out What the Point Is!

You should know what your message is and you should summarise it for the audience in a clear and concise way. This can happen at the beginning and at the end, or just at the end. But it must happen.

We love helping people with particular presentations or pitches, or to improve their presentation skills in a more general way. If you or your team need to up their game when it comes to presentations, give us a call on: 44 (0)20 7099 2212.

body language

Body language always tells a story

Body language is in the news this week.

The rich and famous spend their life in the public eye and with cameras always on them and plenty of paid pundits to give an expert opinion it is difficult not to offend someone somewhere.

The brain is wired to take in and interpret visual information above all else. Neuroscience has in recent years confirmed what many had already deduced.

Body language – why we notice

It’s said that 50-60% of the brain is involved in processing visual images and that the brain will not only see but interpret an image in about a tenth of a second.

So it is not surprising that relatively subtle visual clues can set Twitter alight.

Trump’s misstep sets Twitter alight

And that is what happened when President Trump apparently walked in front of the Queen while inspecting her honour guard at Windsor Castle.

And this is how the New York Times reported the incident.

Body Language

It was really just a few seconds and if you watch the start of the video you can see The Queen gestures to Trump to go in front.

The actual incident doesn’t seem to me to warrant the storm of protest. And in fact, at least one commentator suggests that Trump was really trying to obey the normal rules of etiquette during this short visit with the Queen and mostly did rather well.

Royal sisters-in-law body language made the news

There was a similar rush to interpret the body language when Kate and Meghan – Royal sisters-in-law – got together at Wimbledon. This was written up in the Mirror, the Express and the Daily Mail.

This is probably not the sort of news that I normally care much about but it does illustrate an important point. People are wired to read body language and they cannot help themselves interpreting it.

People are wired to read body language

People often ask me for specifics on how they can change their delivery style to appear, for example, more authoritative, or more approachable. I have learnt that saying smile less, nod your head less or lean forward, has a limited impact. You need to change the mindset. Just as an actor needs to get into character, so does a presenter or an interviewee. If it’s you, try imagining you are delivering this presentation as an older sister or doing this television interview in front of your son’s classmates. Change the programme running in your head and the body language will sort itself out.

If all else fails you could try ‘power posing’. I am told it is a discredited theory (Wikipedia is clear on this point) but I know therapists that still advocate it. Stand in a powerful pose for a minute or so (perhaps in the cubicle of the loo to avoid embarrassment) and see if it changes the way you feel.

Body Language
I have written before about what sort of on-air presence gives the best television interview. To read this blog click here.

If you would like help with your presentation or on-camera interview style we have a stable of excellent coaches who would be delighted to help. Just call us on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Power Pose image used under creative commons – Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

 

 

 

presentation

5 ways to improve that presentation

As a team, we at The Media Coach both give and watch a lot of presentations. I find watching someone else give an unprepared and hesitant or confusing presentation deeply physically uncomfortable. I am also horribly aware when occasionally I fall short on some of these very simple rules. So for all of us at the coal face of business communication here are a few simple reminders.

presentation

1. What is the message?

I know, I know, I am obsessed with messaging but for a very good reason. My suggestion is, once a presentation is done ask yourself  ‘do I have a clear takeaway message’ closely followed by ‘will that message be as clear to my audience as it is to me’.  Sometimes I think this big message should appear at the beginning and at the end of the presentation. But my colleague, Eric Dixon, often sets up a problem or a question at the start and answers it at the end. Either way, if you don’t know what your message is – in a short simple sentence – then it is unlikely your audience will be clear either.

2. Add chapter headings

There is a real danger that your presentation will lose people in the detail. If you have simple ‘chapter’ slides that can be flashed up quickly between different sections of your talk, your audience will find it easier to follow the argument. Any sort of sign-posting, verbal or visual, helps a presentation.

3. Reduce or eliminate bullet points

Bullet points encourage you to read your own slides. This is never going to be a good way to give a talk. Occasional simple bullet slides are alright as a summary but limit the number of bullets and limit the words in each bullet. Leave out the jargon. Pictures, animations and diagrams are much better than bullet points.

4. Ask ‘is this relevant to my audience?’

Assuming the presentation is broadly relevant to the audience (hopefully you wouldn’t have got this far if it is not) ask can you make it more relevant? Can you refer to something that everyone in the audience is aware of? That might be President Trump’s latest tweet or the food in the canteen. But look for points of common experience to make the audience feel the presentation is built just for them.

5. Treat it as a performance

A presentation is not just a chat. Rehearse it and deliver it with energy and animation. Try not to apologise, hesitate or waste the time of the people listening to you. If you don’t know why a slide is there, take it out. In particular start and finish with clean, rehearsed narrative.

We have previously written about this topic here. The Media Coach has a number of experienced presentation trainers. If you would like general training on presentations or help with a specific presentation or pitch, please do give us a call +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

senior leaders

Senior leaders – get media trained before you need it

Senior leaders are often booked into media training by PR professionals who are tearing their hair out. So often, successful, super-professional ‘talent’ has somehow missed out on a few of the basics of good external communication and are suddenly required to front a product launch or a PR campaign.

Senior leaders need communications skills

It is so common, so stressful for all concerned and so preventable, I think it is worth a blog post.

Senior leaders

Take the case of Theresa May – for many years an ambitious career politician now struggling with a hugely difficult job. Most of us in the PR business believe a few basic lessons in presentation, delivery and handling media interviews might have totally changed her fortunes. The problem, as I see it, is that she didn’t get the training on the way up and now, with the top job and a different crisis every day, there is no time to do it.

And we see exactly this in the corporate world. Senior leaders are incredibly busy. Diary management is a headache and a full-time job – outsourced to PAs, and EAs  for many of those we train. Trying to persuade these hard-pressed staff that a media trainer needs four hours in someone’s diary is likely to get the response – ‘sorry but can you do it in 45 minutes and by the way, he (or she) will probably be running late.’

A few hours is a good investment

But actually, four or even eight hours training over the career of a senior leader is a very small commitment. It is difficult to predict how many media interviews someone is likely to do in the future but we know for sure they will be doing countless presentations. And while some presentation training is provided, a lot of people slip through the net and still do it very badly.

My belief is that communications training – covering external versus internal comms, understanding the media, social media, messaging and interview control should be core subjects in management training programmes. And these should also include some coaching on delivery style. Being able to ‘perform’ whether in front of an audience or a journalist is also an essential skill. (I have written previously about how poor presentations are endemic in business.)

Incredibly useful professionally

I have lost count of the number of times people finish a media training session saying ‘even if I never speak to the media this is has been incredibly useful professionally’.

senior leaders

The ideal is to do it early, do it well and then top up the training as and when it is needed for specific events. That will avoid the sort of query I receive at least once a week: “can you cover press, radio and TV and give us some help with the messaging for three people in three hours?” It can be done but just not as well as I would like to do it.

So, if you are a learning development officer or an HR professional and some of this rings true – I would suggest asking your PR team about the problems they run into when looking for capable spokespeople. Then if you find I am right, start planning media and presentation training for your emerging leaders. If you think you are yourself an ‘emerging leader’ take my advice and wangle your way onto a media training course before you find you need it. You won’t regret it.

dull presentations

Dull presentations are endemic but can be avoided

Dull presentations that bore the audience and damage people’s careers are to be found, it seems, in every industry and sector. At The Media Coach, we have seen a lot of prize specimens.

Established practice is often bad practice, riddled with overly long bullet points, statements of the blindingly obvious mixed in with obtuse arguments barely understood and rarely remembered. And there are the branding departments who insist on colour schemes, headers, footers etc.

So how can you lift your presentation above the crowd? Below are some of the basics of best practice and some common mistakes made by dull presenters.

Dull presentations

Aim to lift your presentation above the crowd. Remember established practice is often bad practice.

Dull presentations can be avoided

The basics:

• Plan on paper. It will make your structure clearer.

• Have a clear take away message.

• Write for your specific audience – typically, the more tailored the presentation, the better.

Be picture or data led, keep text to a minimum

• Be picture or data led – limit text and bullet points. No one can read and listen at the same time and if you have lots of words on the screen you will be tempted to turn your back on the audience to read them. For a guide watch how little text appears on television graphics. It can be a revelation.

• If it is a long presentation divide it into clear chapters, and tell the audience when you move from one chapter to the other. If you know how to use the message house (anyone trained by us will know what this means) this is a very good basis for a presentation, although clearly not the only template possible.

• Don’t be scared to introduce or summarise an argument in a few words on an otherwise empty slide. It can really help to signpost your presentation in this way. Just don’t leave it up too long.

• Rehearse aloud.

• Face the audience and not the screen for at least 80% of the time.

• Speak slowly with energy.

Dull presentations

Boring your audience should not be acceptable. If you think your presentation is destined to be dull, send an email instead.

Dull presentations. Consider just sending an email

We think presentations should not be just about informing an audience. It should be entertaining and inspiring. As my fellow trainer Eric Dixon would say, if just passing on information is your goal send an email; you will save yourself a lot of effort and both you and the audience a lot of time. Presentations should leave people with something new to think about, inspired and galvanized depending on the circumstances.

Dull presenters are often guilty of these common mistakes

• Copy and pasting an old presentation and then fiddling with it to save time. Whilst there is nothing wrong with reusing old slides it is often simpler and better to start with a clear plan and then fill in with some old and some new slides.

• Writing presentation notes on the slide. As mentioned above you want as few words as possible on the slide. There is a special place for presenters’ notes – use it. You will give a better presentation this way.

• Putting a tiny picture on the slide and a lot of words. I am a huge fan of Garr Reynolds who uses full frame photos and limited text. In this case the image becomes a prompt for each element of the argument. I highly recommend his book Presentation Zen. It will transform your presentations.

• Always using the company template. I know sometimes you are told to do this and you have to suck it up, but ask yourself does every single slide have to be branded? Isn’t there some possibility to break it up with a different style, a visual surprise? How about using the branding only on the chapter headings?

Dull presentations will be lifted by a story or example

More common mistakes:

• No stories, examples or anecdotes. We say it at every possible opportunity but here it is again: tell stories, use examples, and raid your personal life experience or someone else’s to make a point. The scientific evidence is overwhelming – people may be impressed by facts and numbers in the moment but overwhelmingly they remember stories over data. Any stories are good but learning to tell stories properly will improve all your communications.

• No media inserted. In this day and age there is little excuse for not using sound or video in your presentation. Above all remember to keep this short. Just 20-30 seconds of something relevant will lift your presentation from the pedestrian to the entertaining.

• Not rehearsing. Polish comes with rehearsal. 20 minutes rehearsal is ten times more use than 20 minutes chit-chat about what the presentation might cover. Rehearse, revise and rehearse again.

• Over-running your speaking slot. Time yourself in a run-through and then add another 20% – it always takes longer in reality than in rehearsal.

Dull presentations

Our trainers aim to inspire. We tell lots of stories and we rehearse.

Take every opportunity to practise in front of an audience, your loved one, critical children etc. It’s all valuable.

And of course, if you need help with either a particular presentation, or improving your personal style, the Media Coach team would be delighted to oblige. Just give us a call to discuss on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

First two pictures used under cc licence from Pixaby
Third picture owned by The Media Coach

Post-truth era

Post-Truth era: weaponising numbers!

Post-Truth era communications hold a particular challenge for companies whose marketing is based on some form of science or data. How should companies communicate in the Post-Truth era, particularly when it comes to the use of numbers?

For a re-cap of how Lindsay and I view ‘Post-Truth’ please see our previous posts here and here.

Post-Truth Era communications: case study

Post-truth era

As a case study, let’s look at the most famous Post-Truth number; the £350 million a week that the Vote Leave campaign continued to claim the UK sends to Brussels even after it was debunked as ‘misleading’ by the UK Statistics Authority. 

Here are some lessons for communicators.

Post-Truth numbers are not about factual accuracy

It didn’t matter and it didn’t hurt the Leave Campaign that the £350mn figure wasn’t true. By keeping it out there, the campaign intended to create confusion and crowd out Remain messages and arguments. Like its larger cousin (fully fledged fake news articles), the £350mn figure is part of a broad family of misinformation that is designed to muddy the waters. The Russians even have a military term for it- maskirovka.

Post-Truth numbers are about forcing opponents onto the defensive

In his 2004 book Don’t Think of An Elephant, cognitive linguist George Lakoff argued that conservatives are much better at winning arguments than liberals because they use powerful language to frame their ideas (e.g. ‘tax is theft’) and then force their opponents to argue on that territory (as opposed to the ‘tax is investment’ argument ). The £350mn is the numerical equivalent of a linguistic frame. It forced the Remain campaign to come out and argue that the number wasn’t true, which kept the conversation going and also kept the idea that it might be alive in people’s heads.

Post-Truth numbers link to a powerful organising story

The £350mn figure evoked powerful images associated with the deeply embedded Eurosceptic tropes of waste and a lack of financial control. Throw in the NHS (the ultimate British identity meme*) and the figure goes from being an example of hard data to an expression of the powerful and simple story.

Post-Truth Era communications

Paul Stephenson was Communications Director of the successful Vote Leave campaign. 

All three of these ideas are on the record in a recent article by Paul Stephenson, the Communications Director for Vote Leave:

“Of course, our campaign claim of the now infamous £350 million a week that Britain sends to the EU was not completely accurate … The Remain campaign couldn’t stand it. They constantly tried to rubbish these official statistics and accused us of ‘lying.’ These attacks were entirely counterproductive for them; it kept the debate focused on an area where we were strong: just how many hundreds of millions of pounds the U.K. gives the EU every week.”

So, the question still remains as to whether companies should engage in these kinds of tactics.

And quite simply the answer is no.

Donald Trump isn’t even in office and Brexit hasn’t yet happened, so no one knows what, if any, price will be paid by the members of the public who did believe what they were saying.  But organisations that have shareholders and/or regulatory constraints will almost certainly get clobbered for putting bad information into the public domain.

Post-Truth era communications: a commercial case study

Equally damaging is withholding information that could contradict the powerful story which a company uses to justify its ‘social licence’. Like many others, I have been gripped by the downfall of Theranos, the ‘revolutionary’ US blood testing company founded by Elizabeth Holmes, a 19 year old Stanford dropout who managed to convince the stalwarts of Corporate America (including Rupert Murdoch and Henry Kissinger) to either invest or be on her board. Worth an estimated $9bn by the age of 32, Holmes’ built the notoriously secretive company’s brand on an emotion-drenched-story which lacked the transparent data to support it. The image was shattered when the Wall Street Journal started digging around for numbers and discovered that the supposedly ground breaking blood testing technology was in fact deeply flawed.

Companies are right to see storytelling and emotion/issue based campaigning as a way of engaging the public around the issues they care about. And planting memes and tropes* over a period of years can be incredibly helpful for shaping public opinion around core images and ideas (particularly if supported by a willing media).

But when it comes to hard numbers they should never weaponise them. Handled badly they can go off on in the wrong hands and cause injury, not just to the public but also to the user.

For the record here are a couple of definitions:

*A meme is an element of culture (it can be a video, an institution, or a type of behaviour) that is shared, copied or mimicked by lots of people.

A trope is a figure of speech, a metaphor and sometimes a cliché. It’s a shorthand for something the audience will instantly recognise. It has a slightly different meaning in politics, literature and TV drama.

As those of you that read this blog regularly will know, the Media Coach team don’t just teach people where to look and what to wear on TV. We offer a broad range of bespoke media and presentation training workshops and message building sessions – all run by  experienced communications professionals. If you need help building or refining messages just give us a call.