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Fake Outrage – Simples!

Fake outrage has had a great outing in the last week. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, sparked masses of column inches when she quoted the annoying Meerkat on the ‘compare the market.com’ adverts – by using the word ‘Simples’ in the House of Commons. [I’ve posted here previously about fake outrage].

Fake Outrage Image

The Meerkat’s favourite catchphrase was used by the PM in the House of Commons.

Fake Outrage in the Headlines

Apparently, this was a ‘misguided lunge at cultural relevance’ according to Michael Deacon in the Telegraph.

According to the Daily Mail it was ‘embarrassing’.

Huffington Post went for ‘bizarre’.

The Maybot

Theresa May is a terrible public speaker and she deserves the ‘Maybot’ tag. But really. Why does the fact that she used a made-up word, currently in common parlance, worthy of any coverage at all, never mind all this fake outrage? If anyone else had used it (Ken Clarke, John Macdonald, Amber Rudd) I doubt it would have been mentioned except on BBC Radio 4’s dreary Yesterday in Parliament.

Of course, it now seems she was persuaded to use the phrase by an aide, Seema Kennedy who had a bet on it with Simon Hoare MP. Bullshit Bingo, as it is called in several places I have worked, is a common little game that wordsmiths play: there is a small reward for the first person to get a particular – often unusual, bizarre or specific – phrase into a report or a speech or a broadcast. Journalists play this game all the time!

 Bullshit Bingo

This is a bit embarrassing for the Prime Minister, especially as she was probably unaware of the Bullshit Bingo bet. It makes her look gullible. Having said that, it is surely not worth comment that someone who is doing an almost impossible job and talking publicly about it every day, has people around her who suggest particular lines or phrases.

Using a phrase from popular culture is really not a crime. Nor do I understand why it can be characterised as ‘a misguided lunge at cultural relevance’. In many ways being colloquial is a good idea. It makes your speech less boring. And let’s face it, important though Brexit is, right now we are all pretty bored with the minutiae of the arguments around it.

Journalists manufacture fake outrage to entertain us all. They also pretend or imply that everyone else feels the outrage. There are many things that prompt outrage in me but ‘Simples’ is simply not one of them.

 

 

 

olivia colman

Olivia Colman Snivels in Front of 30m TV Audience

Olivia Colman is a wonderful actress, I have huge respect for her and make a point of watching anything with her name attached. But I am deeply disappointed that she did such a pathetic speech at the Oscars.

I understand this is an occasion of very high emotion but given that she was one of the favourites to win best actress, there was always a good chance she was going to have to make the winners speech.

Surely, a little bit of forethought would have been a good idea – ensuring that she was a bit more comfortable on stage and her audience was a bit more entertained by her words.

What Can We Learn From Colman’s Performance?

As ever I am not really commenting on Olivia Colman herself, one could argue she does not need my advice. But I do think there are some clear takeaway lessons.

Think About the Practical Aspects of Any Outfit!

First things first, it might be a good idea, as a woman, if you know you might have to go on stage, to think about the dress. Perhaps, as a result of one or two of her roles, Ms Colman has fallen in love with the very full ball gown style. But that together with the train made mounting the stage somewhat inelegant. For business women rather than film stars, there are other considerations. If you are climbing up onto the stage anywhere, you might want to give consideration to just how much leg you want to show. I have been criticised for saying this before but there is a reason why Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel always wear trouser suits. I commented on the dangers of showing a lot of leg in a previous blog here.

Prepare a Few Points

However, more important than the outfit, would it not have been a good idea to prepare a few words and even jot them down. This is probably not right for the Oscars: I can see it might have been a bit presumptuous for Colman to whip out a speech but in most other circumstances this would be a completely normal thing to do.

Reading a script is a bad idea. Unless you are trained it will be very difficult to get the inflections right. Better for most people to adlib around a few bullet points.

A Long List of Thanks is Dull and Risky

There is a particular difficulty in thanking people. It is very difficult to make a long list of people you want to thank interesting and the danger of missing people out, particularly if you haven’t prepared the list, is huge. My advice is to think long and hard before heading into an Oscar-style thank you list – ask yourself if there is a better way. Perhaps a story that illustrates how much help you needed along the way and a more general or blanket thanks – or just an expression of gratitude. It would be a lot less boring to listen to.

Shedding a Tear in Public is Good, Snivelling is Not So Good

Emotion is good in a speech but in most cultures not too much. Clearly, it can be difficult to control but it would help to think about how you want to come across before you get there. I personally hope I am never caught snivelling in front of an audience of 30 million. If you are with me I suggest in emotional settings, set yourself a clearly articulated communication ‘style goal’ and role-play it in the bathroom.

Quit With the Raspberries

Finally, call me old fashioned, but I am not in favour of blowing raspberries at the organisers who are trying to keep a long and complicated evening running on time.

 

Metaphors for Persuasion

Metaphors are one of those things: the more you learn about them the more they reveal themselves as a secret, powerful influence on the way we as individuals and as a society think.

Violent Crime as a Public Health Issue

In the last couple of weeks, the idea of treating violent crime as a ‘public health’ issue has garnered a few headlines.

Metaphors for Persuasion

Here is the FT reporting on an initiative being announced by Sajid Javid. This announcement followed a similar one from the mayor of London Sadiq Khan last month.

It is not a new idea but the government is launching a consultation on using it as a country-wide approach to serious violence.

It’s a system pioneered originally by a US epidemiologist Gary Slutkin who worked in the 1980s on the spread of cholera, TB and HIV in West Africa. By plotting new outbreaks on a map, he and his team knew where to intervene to stop an isolated case becoming a new hot spot.

Gary Slutkin, a Professor of Epidemiology and Founder and CEO of Cure Violence.

Slutkin then returned to his native Chicago where the murder rate was rising and he used the same technique to tackle violence. Plotting murders and gun crime on a map allowed specially trained teams to intervene and ensure one potential ‘trigger’ event was not allowed to spark a whole range of follow up violence and murder. The full details are explained in this Ted Talk.

The public health approach to violence has since been piloted in Glasgow by something called the Violence Reduction Unit and Strathclyde became the first police force in the world to formally adopt a public health model.

From Metaphor to Policy

In this case, the comparison between epidemiology and violence has developed from metaphor to policy. But to me what is interesting is that by thinking of one thing (violence) as another (outbreak of disease) hundreds if not thousands of people have been able to think differently about a solution to a problem.

Using a metaphor changed the way people thought. And actually, this happens, for good and bad, every day.

War Metaphors for Tackling Cancer

In 2012 the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an article from an oncologist entitled ‘Stop using military metaphors for disease’. Natasha Wiggins was not the first to suggest that military metaphors can unhelpfully influence a patient.

A decade earlier the journalist John Diamond who subsequently died of Cancer wrote:

“I despise the set of warlike metaphors that so many apply to cancer. My antipathy has nothing to do with pacifism and everything to do with a hatred for the sort of morality which says that only those who fight hard against their cancer survive it or deserve to survive it – the corollary being that those who lose the fight deserved to do so.”

Others have suggested that a fighting attitude to cancer is not always conducive to recovery and not helpful in facing terminal cancer were ‘losing the battle’ is internalised as a failure.

Do War Metaphors Serve Politics

And then there is politics: In this Guardian piece from 2015, Margaret Simons argues the use of war metaphors for describing politics helps to alienate voters. She writes:

“Our use of battleground metaphors obscures the fact that politics is largely about working out how to live together – how to build wealth, and how to share it. How to balance freedom and responsibility for others. It is about ideas, communication, persuasion and process – and nothing to do with war. We have wars when politics fails.”

The Power of Metaphor

I became aware of metaphors as a media trainer and then whilst facilitating messaging sessions. Helping organisations with messages is now almost half my work.

Metaphors are hugely useful for crafting a quote that journalists will write. Simply describing something as a ‘new dawn’, a ‘game changer’ or naming a trend as a ‘turning tide’ or dubbing an economic outcome as a ‘deal dividend’ will almost always influence journalists. What has become clearer to me is it will also influence people’s reality.

The more you use this amazing tool the more you realise you are not just describing something in a way the helps people understand reality: you are distorting or creating a new reality.

And that is why they are so good at persuasion and also why they have to be used with consideration and care. To be old fashioned I would say – they have to be used ethically. We should all pay a lot more attention to metaphor.

The art of oratory

The Art of Oratory and the Attorney General

The art of oratory is an old-fashioned way of describing the skill of mastering an argument and delivering it to move an audience. And there was something old-fashioned and somewhat extraordinary about a Tory conference speech from someone I had previously never heard of.

Somehow I had missed the story about the richest MP trying to claim 49p for a pint of milk, which seems to be the only previous time Geoffrey Cox made news headlines.  After his speech, The Spectator dubbed him the most important politician you’ve never heard of, and the Mirror called him the ‘Tory Gandalf ‘.

Barnstorming Speech

The recently appointed Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox spoke for a little over 11 minutes, as the ‘warm-up’ act for the Prime Minister. He spoke without notes in a barnstorming performance that was entertaining and uplifting. It was a call to arms for an embattled Prime Minister.

As ever, I am not commenting on the politics of what Geoffrey Cox says, but feel compelled to call out the fact that he said it really well. Those of us who aspire to be really good communicators can learn a lot from watching someone who really can deliver a speech.

Here is the speech:

Speakers Notes

This is what I see in this speech.

  • Within seconds of arriving on stage, the speaker connects with his audience, with a self-effacing comment. You feel he is really talking to the people in the audience, not broadcasting.
  • Because he speaks without notes he is able to stand beside the podium not behind it. One of my colleagues, Eric Dixon, always advocates this as a way to give you a better connection with an audience.
  • He is incredibly relaxed on stage. He could be standing in his living room, not in a conference hall of hundreds with a TV audience of potentially millions.

A Big, Big Voice

  • He has an amazingly deep and loud voice. Our voices are produced by a muscle and the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Professional teachers nearly always have loud voices, I have a very loud voice, and my camera operators are always having to adjust for it. Geoffrey Cox has spent his life in courtrooms and has a big, big voice. He has also learnt (I assume learnt) to make it melodic.
  • He speaks without notes – immensely impressive.
  • He quickly gets into personal and story-telling mode.
  • He pauses as much as he speaks – he speaks slowly and gives himself lots of thinking time.
  • He articulates every word – even long difficult phrases.

A Wide Range of Tone

  • He uses light and shade. Sometimes he goes quiet, sometimes he booms, sometimes he relaxes and then he is declaiming. He uses a wide range of tones in a very short speech.
  • He is not afraid of overacting or overemphasising. There are many extremely dramatic gestures. For example, he uses his whole body, bending almost double, to emphasis his point that Britain could no longer put up with the EU because ‘the price is just too high’. It is worth noting that most of his body language is very open and even when he gets a bit ‘nasty’ for example when talking about the Labour party, he softens it with a twinkle in his eye.

I could go on. The speech was not about policy detail and it did what always works – he lifted the Brexit discussion to grand phrases ‘this great democratic mandate’, ‘we need not fear self-government’, we will ‘step out as a free independent and sovereign partner to the others’ and so on. He said a lot of sweeping things that it is difficult to disagree with but do not help with the detail of what to do about the NI border or the Galileo space project. But to be fair that was not his brief. He was asked to galvanise those at the conference to follow their leader for a noble cause. And he did.

Others have called him out as a future Tory leader but I doubt it. If he had wanted the job he would not have chosen to quote Milton. It is too old-fashioned and plays too heavily into the stereotype of a public-school-educated, born-with-a-silver-spoon, out-of-touch-with-ordinary-people Tory stereotype. It seemed to me like he was just having fun.

Election and other bits and bobs

Election and other bits and bobs

It’s election time –  unexpectedly – in the UK. This gives those of us that follow public communications lots to think about and discuss. Instead of our usual article I decided to just share a few things I have been thinking about:

Just to restate a basic – this blog is apolitical. I comment on communication style, skills and lessons. Not on who people should vote for.

Watching Corbyn’s election communication style

Having become something of a lame duck leader Jeremy Corbyn gave a rather good first speech of the campaign last week. You can both watch and read it here. He has since spoken in Scotland and been interviewed on Andrew Marr and he looked relaxed and reasonably happy. Somewhat more in control than he was at the start of his leadership. He could still learn a thing or to from us about controlling interviews. 

Election and other bits and bobs

Someone pointed out to me that Corbyn is looking as if he is going to follow Trump and the Brexit referendum Leave campaign and concentrate on big picture assertions and ignore the detail: Shout loudly about ‘enemies of the people’, threaten big business, Philip Green etc. and avoid the complexities of reality. It has worked for others.

Blair steps into the fray with a confused message

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair – in my view normally a brilliant communicator– stepped into the campaign with a very confused message in an interview on BBC Radio 4. What he was probably saying was vote liberal or vote tactically but it was not clear. I know he was trying to avoid the wrong headlines but he needs to rehire Alistair Campbell.

Theresa May loses key comms personnel

And a final observation about the UK election this week: we note the departure of two key people from Theresa May’s PR team as explained here in the FT. Katie Perrior Downing Street Director of Communications resigned immediately after the election was called, while Lizzie Loudon, the Prime Ministers personal press secretary announced her resignation last Friday. This is a significant change and it will be interesting to see if May’s buttoned-up ice-maiden style changes.

French elections fascinate

We are also watching with fascination the French Presidential election. Not much to say about this today yet but more (from Laura in Brussels) in the near future. But we did notice this article in the FT which suggests politics is all about style over substance.

Election and other bits and bobs

Airline apology: how it should be done

In other news, there was this snippet you may have missed about an unfortunate incident on an American Airlines flight. Clearly, there were echoes of the United Airlines story of earlier in the month but this time the apology was swift and apparently unmuddied by ambiguity.

Lucy Kellaway shares her embarrassing public speaking experience

I am a dyed in the wool Lucy Kellaway fan, she is always an entertaining read. Assuming you have a subscription to the FT, this column from her is about how she got over confident and did a bad speech. It is worth a couple of minutes if only to remind ourselves it can happen to any of us. I did something very similar many years ago. Pride comes before a fall!

And finally…we make the news (in Estonia)

And finally, Laura Shields the Brussels Director of Media Coach International Ltd made the media herself in Estonia. The Environment minister there blogged about his training with her – including posting pictures –  and it was picked up by a prominent online news site. If you can read Estonian you will find it here. We suspect google translate doesn’t do it justice.

Laura Estonia Environment Minister

 

Photos used under creative commons licence, Wikimedia etc.

PR Basics

PR Basics: Don’t overpromise  

PR basics include a rule that you don’t promise something you may not be able to deliver. If there was one outstanding headline from last week’s UK budget it was that the Tories had broken a promise not to raise National Insurance. Chancellor, Philip Hammond announced in the budget on Wednesday measures that included a tax rise for the self-employed despite the previous manifesto promise not to do so.

PR Basics, Philip Hammond

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond is said to have broken a manifesto promise not to increase National Insurance

According to the Guardian newspaper: ‘The Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto was unequivocal, promising four times that a Tory government would not increase National Insurance. It did not mention the self-employed and offered future chancellors no wriggle room.’

PR Basics: Avoid public U-turns if possible

For us, the PR Rule broken here is don’t say something that you might later have to backtrack on.

If we want another hugely damaging example from politics we have only to remember the Liberal Democrats 2010 manifesto promise to scrap tuition fees. This was an election promise made before they found themselves in a coalition with a Tory party.  Personally, I feel that makes a material difference but the electorate is much less forgiving and the tuition fees broken promise seems to have ruined the career of Nick Clegg, one of the most able politicians of his generation. Not to mention wiping out the LibDem presence in the House of Commons. 

PR Basics

Even incorrect forecasting can be damaging. During the Brexit debate in the UK, those who argued the markets would ‘punish’ the UK if Vote Leave were to win, have since been publically lambasted because their predictions did not (fully) materialise. The public often does not make the distinction between a forecast – a best guess about the future – and a firm warning of what might happen. (My mother constantly rails against the weather forecast, which she says is ‘always wrong’. No amount of me pointing out it is a ‘forecast’ and not a promise makes any difference. These people are ‘misleading’ her.)

PR Basics: Avoid any ‘hostage to fortune’ 

Businesses too can fall foul of overpromising. Way back when, I clearly remember the, to me, avoidable pressure on the Chief Executive (later Chairman) of Rentokil who had overpromised. Sir Clive Thompson was always described as the ‘self-styled Mr. 20%’. I am not sure who used the phrase first but Sir Clive was certainly not unhappy with it. He delivered something like 20% growth in Rentokil profits every year for 13 years! But when in 1999 he moved to lower the target investors took their revenge. Even as a journalist I thought Sir Clive crazy to set this near impossible target for himself. He was ‘kicked upstairs’ to Chairman and finally ousted in 2004, apparently for ‘being too obsessed with meeting short-term targets’.  It seemed he could not detach himself from the Mr. 20% label.

It is something we come across often in training. Enthusiastic executives of course have a vision they are working toward. But while talking in broad brush strokes is fine, often it does not do to share the detail of that vision with journalists. The media just love to write that people or companies have ‘missed’ their target, done a U-turn or a flip-flop.

PR Basics

Executives are often tempted to overpromise in an interview

 PR Basics: Highfalutin promises can cause negative headlines 

Good PR people always caution against this. They know that being too clear about targets or making highfalutin promises can often cause negative headlines further down the line. Here is an incomplete list of mundane things we would advise against being too definite about.

  • There will be no further job losses. Who knows there might have to be?
  • We are expecting 20% growth in sales/profits etc. You might be confident but such a public prediction turns a 10% increase into a failure.
  • We want to be number one in the market within two years. Better to say one of the leading players in the market.
  • We expect to be profitable by Q4 2018. This is a difficult one because it is the sort of information you have to share with investors and therefore it may already be in the public domain. My advice would be not to lie if asked outright – stupid if it’s already published – but if possible not draw attention to it in media interviews, and if asked be cautious about it rather than bullish. If it is a major important element of a story that won’t help but hubris is easy to spot and may lead to mischief from the journalist. All in all, this would be more of a judgment call and our advice would depend on what else you have to say.
  • Margins are set to rise to 25%. Here again being vague is the standard. Unless they are published in your annual accounts you may be best to avoid talk of margins. Again you may have an internal forecast but is there really any benefit to being specific?

PR Basics: There are always exceptions

As with all rules, there are exceptions. I have taken part in discussions where CEO’s or other senior bods have weighed up the pros and cons of a ‘hostage to fortune’ pledge and decided to take the risk  – because the benefits outweighed the possible costs.  That is sensible and their prerogative.

Often our role is to bolster the PR advice and ensure ‘enthusiastic’ interviewees don’t make casual public promises or forecasts without understanding this basic rule of PR: avoid a hostage to fortune comment unless there is a very good reason not to.

Don’t forget, if we can help you prepare your spokespeople for a public announcement – results, product launch or a new direction – give us a call 020 7099 2212 to discuss the options.

Photo used under Creative Commons Licence

Clinton Trump Debate: public speaking lessons

Clinton Trump Debate: public speaking lessons

The Clinton Trump Debate this week was a brilliant lesson for the rest of us on how to deal with unreasonable questioning or sledging whilst speaking in public.

I find Trump a frightening and seriously unpleasant option for president. If I was an American I would be a Democrat but many others are better qualified to write about the politics than I am.

But this is my attempt to drag the lessons from the debate for clients who do speak in public.

Clinton Trump Debate: Hillary’s problem

Clinton’s problem throughout was how to respond to Trump’s accusations and sledging but also finding the time to land her substantive points.

And she did a brilliant job. She gave enough of an answer to each of her ‘difficult’ areas. And she also explained that she was not going to get overly distracted by all the factual errors that were coming from Trump instead pointing out that all that information was available on a special fact checker page on her campaign website.

She kept calm. She took her opportunities when they came. She criticised Trump forcefully and directly without being overly aggressive to him, or labouring the point. My favourite was ‘he lives in an alternative universe’.  She did not respond when he said she should be in prison.

Clinton Trump Debate: Town hall style

This was a town hall style debate and while Clinton stepped back and sat down when she wasn’t speaking. Trump did not – he lurked behind Clinton trying to keep a poker-face and not succeeding. He was rarely out of the shot. Some people will think that looked ‘presidential’, others will be offended that he was trying to intimidate or distract from her. I think she did well to always step forward so that he was out of her eye-line, making it easier to ignore him.

Clinton Trump Debate: Trump lands punches

To the chattering classes, Trump is not credible. However, in this debate, he did land some damaging punches that will chime with people who are angry and looking for establishment figures to blame for injustices and unhappy lives. He repeatedly called Clinton a liar, he repeatedly reminded people that Bernie Sanders has said Clinton had ‘bad judgement’, he repeatedly said ‘it is all talk’, and he repeatedly said he was for cutting taxes and Clinton was for raising taxes.

However, to normal thinking people Clinton won this debate hands down.

Clinton Trump Debate: some other coverage

Huffington Post on Trumps ‘lurking’ during the debate

Forbes pulls out some of the key quotes

The Daily Mail thinks that Trump came off best

The Washington Post did its own ‘fact check’ on the second debate

Images from YouTube

 

trump Mike Licht CC by 2.0

Shock horror: simple language reaches people

trump Mike Licht CC by 2.0

Academic research shows Donald Trump uses grammar of 11 year olds

The news that a bunch of academics, have shown that Donald Trump, Republican front runner for the nomination as US President, uses the simplest language of all the presidential hopefuls is a gift for mocking headline writers. But it is no surprise to me.

I love the company of intelligent people. I enjoy interesting and diverse conversation. But honestly; do I like it if I feel people are using long words or long sentences that I’m not sure I understand? [My son is very good at this!] I am sure a psychologist would have a fancy term for it, but it makes me feel small. It also makes me feel that the clever person is ‘not one of us’.  In fact, it is clear that sometimes the clever person is deliberately using language to make the point that he or she is not one of us but in fact much cleverer!

Why do I draw attention to this? Because the 101 of media and presentation training is to speak in layman’s language as much as possible (I often say colloquial language but don’t want to fall foul of my own rules).

[In crisis media communications, we teach that being colloquial, not sounding like you have just swallowed some procedural handbook, is pretty essential to winning the sympathy of your audience.]

Usually, when we point out that jargon, acronyms and conceptual language (think access, product, solution) should be replaced by more down-to-earth phrases, people get the point quite quickly. But one in ten, on my reckoning, will push back with one of three resistance lines:  perhaps ‘ I want to speak to the FT not the Sun’, or ‘What will my colleagues think’ or ‘Isn’t this just dumbing down?’

The reality is that if you want to speak to a non-specialist audience, and I would include here most external stakeholders, they will hear you, understand you, and feel more sympathetic towards your argument, if you make the message simple. It needs to be instantly understandable. You do not need to add arrogance, aggression or rudeness (à la Trump).  You just need to talk the way you would talk to your Mum or an intelligent 14-year-old. It is fine to introduce some technical terms in, say, a business presentation or interview, but just make sure you explain them.

Being able to tell a story simply is an amazing gift. The world would be a better place if more people could do it.

Simple language is far from the whole story. Donald Trump is not a good guy, or fit for President, because he uses simple language. But those of us scratching our heads and asking why he is still in the race, should try and learn what we can from his extraordinary and rather frightening success.

Photo credit: Mike Licht CC by 2.0

Don’t let a name check make you sound like a robot

Don’t let a name check make you sound like a robot

Is it ever ok for organisations to talk about themselves in the third person?

Any media trainer will almost certainly say no, adding that nothing de-humanises a spokesperson faster than those who say ‘Organisation X’ rather than ‘we’ when speaking on behalf of their company, institution or NGO.

From Churchill to Martin Luther King to Boris Johnson, effective public speakers have always known and understood the importance of ‘we’ for building empathy.  And, more recently, as Lindsay blogged in December, part of the spine-tingling power of UK Shadow Foreign Secretary Hillary Benn’s ‘Syria’ speech was in its appeal to ‘our children’ and ‘our values’.

Don't let brand placement make you sound like a robot image

Don’t let brand placement make you sound like a robot

Clearly, these are examples of rhetoric designed to quickly persuade and carry an audience with the speaker.  But if you need convincing at a more mundane level, consider these two statements. Which one builds trust and makes you think the spokesperson is comfortable and open in the way they represent their organisation at a day to day level?

‘Company X does not believe the Warsaw Agreement reflects a true evaluation of the available data on alternatives to Substance B. Company X worked for more than 20 years, with input from regulators, to introduce alternatives.‘

OR

‘We do not believe that the Warsaw Agreement reflects a true evaluation of the available data on alternatives to Substance B.  We have been working for more than 20 years, with input from regulators, to introduce alternatives’.

Clearly, (unless you are a robot), you are going to pick answer B.  It seems an incredibly basic thing for companies and public institutions to get right.  And yet, many do still overlook the all-important ‘we’, with its overtones of collective responsibility and inclusiveness.

Why? How could they?

Part of this is almost certainly down to branding. In our sardine-tin of a digital landscape, many organisations probably believe the best way to stand out is to name-check themselves as often and as loudly as possible.  There are also those who think using the third person adds gravitas, objectivity and even distance to sensitive or weighty issues.  And while all of these arguments are understandable, they shouldn’t automatically be favoured over ‘we’ or ‘us’.

And finally, in certain (ahem) policy towns, the persistent over-use of the third rather than the first person may well be a hangover from the adaptation of written materials to oral ones i.e. where lines/messages are prepared on paper by subject matter experts working in their second or third language and without forethought about how the words will sound coming out of an actual human being’s mouth.

Which is why it’s even more essential for spokespeople to rehearse (or, at the very least, read) their work aloud before doing a press conference or green-lighting a press release.  Otherwise, they run the risk of sounding like automatons who aren’t actually connected to the organisation they represent. And if they don’t sound like they care about their organisation, then how can the rest of us be expected to?

public-speaking

How to banish nerves from public speaking

At the start of my career I worked with a well-known and popular broadcast journalist with a ton of experience in presenting live TV.  He was confident, energetic and highly skilled at building empathetic connections with interviewees in a short space of time.

He was also crippled by nerves and once told me how he used to experience acute attacks of butterflies and adrenaline surges just before the lights went down and the cameras came on at the start of 3 hours of live TV. His description was so intense that it amazed me that people watching from home weren’t able to see what he was going through. It also made me think he was a fool for working in live TV if he still couldn’t handle his physical responses and stress after 15 years in the business.

Of course, what I later learned was that riding the adrenaline was his ‘thing’. But the broader point here is that people who get nervous about public speaking or media interviews often assume that those they consider to be good don’t suffer at all.  But that often isn’t true. Many good speakers get nervous – they just have strategies for helping them cope with stage fright.

Here are a few tips that our clients have often told us they find helpful for managing public speaking or media interview nerves.

1. Manage your expectations of yourself

Accept that that your personal experience of discomfort is not the same as the audience’s view of your performance. You might be dying inside but there is often no correlation between how you feel and what an audience (live or TV) sees.  And don’t forget that a bit of nervousness can sometimes endear the speaker to the audience, provided it doesn’t get in the way of what they are saying.

public speaking

Nerves are one of the most common issues people have with public speaking

Not comfortable with speaking into microphones or to cameras? You aren’t alone. Many seasoned speakers don’t like the podium, or staring down the barrel of a massive broadcast camera. However, they are good at accepting the artifice and managing their response to it.  Practising regularly on camera can also help, partly because it gets people into the habit of treating speaking as a workable skill, while reassuring many that they aren’t as bad as feared.

2. Preparation includes practice

Preparation of message houses, PowerPoints or speaking notes is not complete unless you have rehearsed your prepared material aloud several times and got your tongue familiar with what you want to say. Trust me, it will help the nerves enormously. Particularly if you are not going to be speaking in your mother tongue.

3. Get familiar with your environment

Clearly, you aren’t going to be able to walk into a live broadcast studio and conduct your own pre-interview audit but you and your PR team can do as much due diligence as possible on what to expect in terms of technology and interview flow.  Likewise, if you are speaking at a conference or an event, it’s worth getting into the room early to see what the room layout will be like and where the podium or desk is. If you can rehearse your opening points even better.

4. Centre yourself

Everyone is jumping on the mindfulness band wagon these days but many people do find it enormously helpful for centering themselves, putting things into perspective and remaining calm. As a keen but poor runner I can also add that doing several mental run-throughs of the Brussels 20km route ahead of last year’s race helped me enormously when it came to not giving up on the final nasty uphill stretch. This may sound touchy-feely but anyone who has seen me run and done the 20km will know what I am talking about.

5. Fake it

Seriously. Lots of people worry about being in the ‘zone’ when it comes to public speaking or an interview. And while I do agree that taking a few minutes ahead of time to get into ‘performance mode’ can be helpful, I also think that a good way to create confidence is to fake it.

And who knows, you might even get so caught up in your performance that you find yourself enjoying it…

What tips work for you?