Public Relations

How to Torpedo Your Talk: Memorize It

How to Torpedo Your Talk: Memorize It

There are few things that scare me as a public speaking coach, but this phrase does it every time:

“Yeah, once I memorize my presentation script, I’ll be good to go.”

This is the point when my circuits get jammed, and I want to reach across the table and shake my client and warn them with language as strong as I can muster…


You Tawkin' Ta Me?

You Tawkin' Ta Me?

You know that moment. You’re in a meeting (or worse, on stage) and someone says something that hits you right in the solar plexus. Your face heats up, your heart races, you feel rage, or fear, or embarrassment, or sadness—pick your poison—and before you know it, you’ve missed the last 3 minutes of the meeting, lost in your own reaction. If you’re someone whose default reaction is to fight back, you consider your counter-attack. Or your default reaction may be to get out of the meeting as quickly as possible, and stay as quiet as possible in the meantime.

Either way, from my perspective as a communication coach, you are in a death spiral. Once you go into default-reaction mode, it is unlikely that anything good will come out of your mouth.

Lance Vs. Oprah - Was It Worth It?

The epic world premier has happened, and we had our moments with Lance.  And the reactions I’ve heard from people tend to fall into one of two categories:  either “it wasn’t worth watching” or “what a giant (insert expletive here).”  My husband fell asleep half way through Part II.

In my opinion, I thought the first session was fascinating, even though some of my predictions/hopes didn’t come to fruition.  He’s so clearly a narcissist in the most mythical sense of the word.  Oprah said that Lance “came prepared,” and that characterization was spot-on. His brain was primed and ready for every single question.  His heart? Not so much.  It took until the second half of the interview for a human being to show up, and only when the line of questions turned to the topic of his son.  Only when he had to describe the humiliation and sadness of that confession did he finally crack.

In fact, I truly believe it’s the only thing he feels remorse over.  At the professional level, he feels embarrassed and devastated by being exposed, but deep down, he still feels as though he’s getting an overly severe punishment for something all the kids were doing.  “Why me? Why so harsh?” whines Lance.

But the moment when it became pain at the soul level was when his oldest son saw him for what he really was: someone hiding a secret, and lying to everyone, destroying reputations along the way.  To look at his son and admit to being a hypocrite on every level… that has to hurt.  I think we all live in fear of the day our kids see us for what we really are – unsure, frightened a lot of the time, and barely able to live up to the standards we set for our children.  For about 2 minutes, I felt empathy for him.  But then it was over.

But even as I type this, I think “GAWD I am tired of hearing about this story.” And you probably are too.

The Death of the Mea Culpa Interview?

So what can we take from all of this?  Tim Goodman claimed in his article that the days of the Mea Culpa interview are over, and that this lackluster interview was the final nail in the coffin.  I’m not sure I agree, although I understand the sentiment.

We’ve become cynical, and with good reason.  But I think there will always be a fascination with self disclosure – the painful and real version – of so-called “fallen heroes” in our midst.  ESPECIALLY for fans of Oprah and the OWN Network.

Unfortunately, Lance Armstrong himself admitted that he is not at the place where he's had a real spiritual shift.  He’s still mostly pissed off that he got caught. The claim that “…it’s a process…” isn’t enough for us.  And for this I applaud him. At least he’s not faking a transformation.

But the death of the Mea Culpa interview? I don’t think so.  But, note to Mr. Armstrong: Don’t try and show up on Oprah’s couch unless you’ve been born again, in whatever form that may take.  Otherwise, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Publicists – you’ve been warned.


The Countdown To the Confessional - Lance and Oprah, Two Nights Only

I don’t know about you, but I am literally on the edge of my seat waiting for this Lance Armstrong interview with Ms. Winfrey.  In fact, it may be the only time my husband watches Oprah with me without a gun to his head.

I’ll be watching the interview through two lenses:

1) What would I do if I were on Team Armstrong?  Team Oprah? 2) Can we learn anything from this?

Ready? Here’s my take.

1) What would I do if I were on Team Armstrong? Team Oprah?

At this point, I imagine that precious few people are signing up to be on Team Armstrong, and those that do are either blood relations or lawyers. (His family must be in a living hell at this point)  But let’s just say they put me in charge of managing him through this from a publicity/public opinion standpoint.

(Note: I am not the media coach to hire if you’re looking for lipstick to be applied on a pig.  Lipstick on a pig application requires a different set of recommendations that I will not list here.  I'm the one you call when some measure of real redemption is the goal. I believe everyone deserves a shot at it.  Even Lance Armstrong.)

If I were in that role, my strong recommendation would be this: he needs to show us absolute self revelation and honesty.  I would say that unless he explores the possibility – ON CAMERA – of having Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or even Antisocial Disorder – it’s just another PR stunt. Another opportunity to manipulate, which people will see through.

I would recommend that he not only explore this possibility, but that he also offers a compelling AND ACURATE narrative of the childhood experiences that could have contributed to this disorder.  Now, to be fair, no one really knows the exact cause of these disorders, but this would be a good place to start.  That kind of self revelation will offer people a storyline that makes sense, and may lead us to have some amount of empathy for Lance Armstrong, if not compassion.  There is a difference.

But the truth is, Lance Armstrong may not be capable of this kind of self-disclosure and awareness. (In which case, I would make my recommendations and then go home.  Truth be told, what he really needs is therapy, but a good media coach doesn’t hurt either ;).

If I were on Team Oprah, in addition to getting all of the chronology and key details down accurately, I would be exploring the dual personalities of Lance Armstrong.  As this article in the Guardian puts it, he has “something akin to a split personality: Dr Armstrong and Mr Lance.”Lance the charmer, the inspiring cancer survivor, and Lance the avenger/sociopath/playground bully.

In order for the public to feel truly satisfied by Lance’s answers to Oprah’s questions, we need to understand how he was able to cultivate these two splintered selves for so long, so successfully. How is someone able to live that way?  Lying, and being righteously indignant when being called out on the lie, even going so far as to sue and WIN a libel case … all the while, knowing you are guilty...  How did he manage it?  I'd like to see Oprah get to the heart of this in a meaningful way.  And given that this is arguably the most important interview of her career, my money is on Oprah here.

What can we learn from this?

It is tempting to put Lance Armstrong in the “sociopath category,” mostly because it is a likely diagnosis, but also because it insulates us from facing our own shadow sides.  His is an extreme case of behavior we all exhibit from time to time.  There are certain things we simply will not tolerate when it comes to how the world perceives us.

For some of us, we cannot tolerate being wrong. For others of us, we cannot tolerate having made a mistake. We can’t have others see us as anything less than perfect.

Others cannot tolerate being examined, or thrust into center stage.

Still others can’t feel good unless they are the smartest ones in the room.

Because of our intolerance, we cultivate defense mechanisms.  We lie to cover our tracks. We bully someone in a meeting to make sure everyone knows who the Alpha Dog is.  We belittle dissenting opinions.  Or we shrink, and go silent.

Lance clearly couldn’t tolerate losing. What "losing" really means to Lance we cannot guess.  But he was willing to go to great lengths to protect this external view of himself.  He traded his own integrity for a medal, and for a certain kind of public adoration.  And in our celebrity crazed culture, integrity seems like a small price to pay for the success and wealth he created.

But the truth is that each of us have little Lance moments at work, at home, with our children, with our spouses.  There are certain emotions we will do nearly anything to avoid feeling.

The opportunity for us is to try and tolerate that which we can’t.  To face the thing that most terrifies us.  For me, I hate making mistakes. Hate it.  The thought that I let something slip, or did something wrong, terrifies me.  To face the sadness and shame I feel knowing that someone has potentially lost faith in me is very, very difficult.

So I’m constantly working on that moment when I realized I’ve slipped up, fully owning it. Apologizing. Taking my lumps and – here’s the worst part – sitting with the idea, even accepting the idea, that people’s opinions of me might be lessened.  In those moments, I learn that who I am is something greater than my mistakes.  And that the world is entitled to form whatever opinion feels right to them. But there is only one person I’m accountable to: myself. But not from a place of ego and narcissism (I hope), but a place of honesty, humility, and loving kindness toward myself.

It is from this place can we truly inspire, achieve and make a difference in the world.  It is in our vulnerabilities, in our abject failures that we find our greatest credibility.  We don’t look to people who are “perfect” for help and inspiration. We reach out to people who’ve “been there” and have come out the other end.

My hope and prayer for Lance Armstrong is that he finds authentic power underneath the false power he’s relied on for so long.  It’s actually my wish for all of us.

"Sexually Harassed" Female Sportscaster Teaches Women A Good Business Lesson

(Originally ran on Business Insider on September 15th)

Perhaps like you, I’ve been a bit curious about this situation with femme fatale sports caster Ines Sainz and her recent issues with alleged sexual harassment in the Jets locker room.

What is triggering my interest is not the question of women in the locker room (not going there, thank you).  It is the issue of how we, as women, choose to present ourselves professionally.  Granted, Ms. Sainz is an extreme example - I mean how many of us have bikini shots up on our LinkedIn profile?

But let me first go on record: The way a woman dresses may be a serious lapse in judgment, but it does not make sexual harassment acceptable.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I think we can agree that many, many women make the choice to “lead” with their sexuality at work by dressing a certain way.  And by “lead” I mean that by dressing a certain way, they make a very sexy first impression.  For some women, it gives a false sense of power and a false sense of control over the room.   For others, it's hardly a choice they make with full awareness... they are simply a product of their upbringing, or the media environment we live in.  Many times they just haven't had the guidance.

Regardless, once you have branded yourself as “sexy” the road to "credible" is long, painful and difficult.

But What About Self Expression?

Many young women I’ve worked with in the past have said, “But this is who I am! I’m expressing myself honestly… isn’t that what you always teach us to do?”  To this I say: Let's give ourselves a bit more credit, shall we?

Who we truly are is not something as superficial as a low neckline or high hemline.  Who we are goes much deeper than that, and when we lead with our sexuality, it sends a message that there ain’t much else there.

One very bright, accomplished woman I worked with said that she loved the rush of being “checked out” in meetings, only to wow the room with her insights, intelligence and experience.  The problem here is the underlying message that “it’s about me, and how I feel.”

Any good presenter knows that success comes when you are in devotion to the audience needs first.  Not the other way around.  Leading with our sexuality, or our fashion flamboyance, can send a message of self-absorption and a complete lack of awareness and respect for the people around us.

Know the Game You’re Playing

On the flip side, many women have made great careers for themselves by leading with their sexy side.  I don’t mean to judge them, or discredit their success.  But I am saying that we need to take responsibility for what game we're playing.  If we lead with sexy, then sexy is what we’ll get. For better or worse.

The good news for those who take this path? Sex does sell.  And Sainz is having a pretty great run as a Mexican sportscaster, and her notoriety in the U.S. is soaring.  I predict a Letterman interview and a Playboy offer within the month.  Heck, if she keeps up the publicity, I see an Entourage cameo in her future.

Would she be taken seriously in a nightly news setting here in the U.S.? Not on your life. But I would surmise that Sainz has no interest in that path. She knows the game she’s playing, and she’s doing her thing.

But we shouldn’t for a second fool ourselves into thinking we can have it both ways.  Overtly sexy does not go hand in hand with serious creditability.

So the question we have to ask ourselves is, if we choose not to lead with our sexuality, what are we leading with?  And thus begins the hard work of true self expression.

Jobs Playing Defense

Antennae Song From watching Gizmodo's live blogging coverage from today’s event at Apple’s HQs, it seems that things went a little sideways.  No, there were no technical glitches, or streakers across the stage, but somehow, the usually invincible presenter Steve Jobs struck a sour note with many of the folks in the room.

From the get-go, things weren’t exactly as they could have been.  From what I undertand, Apple rolled the YouTube video The Antennae song as a warm up, just before the press conference began.

If you haven’t seen it, it is yet another video of an average looking white guy bustin’ some hip hop skills, and basically delivering the message that this antennae issue is really no big deal, and if you don’t like the iPhone 4, don’t buy it. If you bought and you don’t like it, return it.

Playing Defense

As anyone who is worked with me can tell you, my broken record message is this: “First, serve the needs of the audience.”  Typically, when we see Steve take the stage, Apple’s needs and the audience’s needs are one and the same – everyone wants to get excited about the newest jewel in the Apple crown.  And when those two needs are in alignment, Jobs soars as a communicator.

This morning, the needs of the audience  - the press and consumers like me tuning into the live blog coverage – and the needs of the Apple executives were decidedly at odds.  The Audience/Press needed to know a) what was causing the problem and b) what Apple was doing to fix it.

Apple’s needs were to a) defend themselves and b) show how few people were actually experiencing this service issue.

Which way did Steve take it?  Unfortunately, he put the needs of Apple first.  The result?  He came off as defensive, and victim-like – why pick on us??  By the time he finally got around to proclaiming his love and concern for Apple customers, people were already pretty turned off.

The sad thing is that you would be hard pressed to find a CEO who cares more about his customers than Steve Jobs.

If Jobs had flipped the order of his comments, it would have made a big difference. Would it have been perfect? No.  But it would have established that the consumer comes first, and that ONE devoted Apple customer affected by crappy service is one too many.  By owning that, we the audience would have been far more open to hearing the logic behind the cause of the problems, and the relatively small impact it has had on the majority of users.

What can the rest of us learn?

For anyone in the media relations game, there is a very important lesson to be learned here.  Never make someone else “wrong.”  Steve Jobs made the press “wrong” for blowing the service issues out of proportion and for picking on Apple.

Whenever we make someone “wrong” we close down the lines of communication.  Does it mean we can’t feel hurt or upset or angry? No. In fact, we have to give ourselves room to feel all of those things. But we need to avoid acting from those places, especially when we go on record in front of an audience.

What he could have done was consider this: While it is true that it must feel like Apple is under siege at times, it is also true that most press believe that their job is to look at/uncover controversy and expose the truth.

If Jobs had been able to see this as less a personal attack, and more a professional obligation on the part of the press, he might have been less defensive. It might have freed him up to first address the fact that Apple cares DEEPLY about any problems their customers experience.  Then he could have gone into detail about the whys and the fixes.

Instead, it felt like, “It’s really not a big deal, but we’ll give you a free cover if that will make you happy.”

The beauty of learning this skill is that it extends into every human interaction we have.  Try it and you’ll see. The next time your spouse blows up at you for something you don’t agree with, try putting aside your needs for a moment, and focus completely on understanding his/her perspective, and meeting that need. Chances are, your spouse will be more willing to hear your side of the story.

You may even get lucky.

How To Prepare For Your IPO Roadshow

My partner in crime/charisma coach Olivia Fox Cabane and I penned this article for Silicon Alley Insider (Business Insider). Having seen the roadshow “decks” that people continue to trot out to investors, it’s shocking anyone gets any money at all. ;)

Take a gander and enjoy!


How To Prepare For Your IPO Roadshow

Adios, Tiger.

Unless something monumental occurs, this will be my last post on Tiger Woods. In my previous post, I applauded the risk taken by Nike in the controversial ad featuring the voice of Tiger's deceased father, because I’ve always believed that the only way to win back hearts and minds (and ultimately sponsorship deals) was to take us on a real and believable journey into self discovery and healing with Tiger Woods.  The ad, while creepy as hell, was unflinchingly real. His ESPN interview prior to the Masters seemed also to point to a real and authentic comeback.

But the big critical success factor for his comeback was always this: He actually has to change.  For reals, as my daughter says.

The final press conference with Tiger Woods unfortunately revealed what may be the “for reals” of Tiger Woods.  Words like “petulant” and “arrogant” are being tossed about the Interwebs with good reason. In fact, I’d like to add “flippant” if I may.

Whatever self awareness and humility he had going into the tournament, they’ve been shelved.  Maybe he’s tired of being a punching bag and taking his lumps.  Maybe he feels entitled (remember where that got him?) to better treatment by the press.  Maybe he’s just stopped caring.  Whatever the reason, the underpinnings of a credible comeback have fallen apart.

But maybe that's ok.  Maybe people will still love watching him, much like Giants fans loved watching Barry Bonds, despite a well known, ahem, ego problem.  But I can tell you this - there is a price to be paid for arrogance, ego and dishonesty, and I think it will be next to impossible to rebuild the empire that was once Tiger Woods.

For further analysis, today’s Huffington Post had a great article that highlights his two biggest “misses” in the wake of the Masters – 1) his failure to acknowledge Phil Mickelson and 2) his defensiveness about his temper.

With that, let’s close the books on Tiger shall we?  At this point, Jesse James’ issues seem less annoying than Tiger’s.

Nike Treading on Dangerous, But Compelling Ground

As I blogged recently, I believe that the only way for Tiger to reclaim his vast empire of sponsorships is to take the public on his very private journey to recovery.  Based on his initial press conference, I was pretty convinced that this was advice Team Tiger wasn’t interested in hearing. But in light of his other recent interviews, especially his press conference earlier this week, I think they are back on track, and advertiser Nike puts a finer point on it with the release of this new ad.

Here’s my take: Is it creepy? Yep.

Is it intrusive and slightly manipulative? Yep.

BUT, does it feel REAL and authentic? Absolutely.

And that is exactly what will win back hearts and minds which ultimately wins back sponsors.  We didn’t say the path would be easy, comfortable or private.  But the good news is, Tiger is solidly on track to become a tragic, multidimensional hero.  Looking back, I’m surprised we bought the cardboard, one dimensional, squeaky clean version to begin with. But we wanted to believe it.  And now we need to believe something different.

On CBS’s The Early Show today, Barbara Lippert of Adweek gives a fantastic interview, and sums this up in tight, memorable terms.  For Nike, Tiger Woods is a brand that is “too big to fail,” and their approach to rebuilding his brand is spot on in my opinion.

The ad does something profound – while most of us don’t have a sexual addiction, we’ve all done things that were not in alignment with our own sense of integrity, and we’ve all heard the voice of our parents (living or dead) asking us, “Is this really who I raised you to be?”  Tiger’s silence and his painfully real facial expressions do something powerful – they give us insight into his very real pain, and help us to see ourselves in his struggles.

This was a huge risk for Nike, given the creepiness of resurrecting a deceased loved one, but in my opinion a risk well worth taking.

The Taming of Joe Biden

In his introduction of President Obama on this historic day of reckoning with America’s health care system, Joe Biden stated on mic, what many of us were thinking: “This is a big f-cking deal.”

In a ship run as tightly as Team Obama (not flawless, but definitely well run), it’s hard to explain Joe Biden’s gaffe situation.  He has had a distinguished career, having served his country well for nearly 40 years. But the fact remains: Watching the Vice President speak can be cringe-inducing.  It’s not quite at the Dan Quayle level, but it’s getting close.

In my mind, there are really only 2 explanations for this.

1) Option 1: Team Obama is all over this. One possibility is that Obama’s people are not only aware of the problem, but are working very diligently with him to give him coaching, feedback and guidance early and often.  Hence the tendency toward more scripted opportunities, and off camera interactions.  If this is the case, then we may be seeing that rare example of “The Utterly Uncoachable.”  This would reveal a deeply troubling self awareness issue on the part of Vice President Biden.

2) Option 2: Team Obama is in denial. This seems extremely unlikely, but I suppose that it is possible that no one wants to tell Vice President Biden that his baby is ugly, as it were, and that he’s just too dangerous to be mic’d. 

Given what he told Katie Couric about not wanting to compromise his authentic voice for carefully scripted messaging, I’m pretty sure Option 1 is our winner.

The Diagnosis.

Based on what I can tell, Joe is a very, very charismatic man in the right circumstances.  The confidence, warmth and ease that often backfires on him in public settings is the same warmth, confidence and ease that has probably helped him a great deal in one-on-one situations and in closed door situations.  I also believe that Joe Biden really enjoys his opportunities on stage.  I would almost wager a bet that he enjoys it so much, he tells his staff “I’ve got this. Not gonna be one of your clones, thanks.”  But maybe not. What do I know? I’ve never met the man.

But I do know that Joe Biden is likeable enough, and God knows he has all of the right experience.  He just seems to be playing it all a bit too fast and loose, failing to think through things before blurting them out – the classic hallmark of someone who is used to winning people over with relative ease.  Could there be a more polar opposite than President Obama who measures every word before he allows it out of his mouth?

The big question I have is this: how does Vice President Biden react to his own gaffes?  It is entirely possible that he is overwhelmed by shame and embarrassment, and vows each time to do better.  It is also possible that he thinks “Oh well. I’m just being myself.  Tomorrow’s a new day.”  There is a universe of difference there.  If the latter is the case, we could be in for quite a few more YouTube gems, I’m sorry to say.

The Prescription.

If I were in charge of all things Joe Biden, I would assign a Chief Media Coach to be his shadow, his confidante, his conscience and his “tough love” resource before and after each and every public appearance.  But given how Team Obama rolls, I’m fairly certain said Media Coach is already in place, and very likely pulling his or her hair out, strand by strand.

If I were in that person’s shoes, I would take a two pronged approach:

Step One, do all of the obvious prep on issues, key messages, Q&A.

Step Two, do the hard work of digging deep into each of his public gaffes and figure out what is causing Vice President Biden to get so lost in the moment.  The common denominator of each and every misstep seems to be exuberance, enthusiasm and passion.  What is it about these triggers that creates such a disconnect between brain and mouth?

I generally like to think the best of people.  I have to believe that when Joe Biden was talking to Katie Couric, he knew that FDR didn’t “go on television” to talk about the stock market crash of 1929.  In fact, it wasn’t FDR but Hoover, who dealt with the early days of the Depression… and not well, I might add, and 1929 was hardly the "break out year" for television.  But Biden got so caught up trying to make his point about leadership during a crisis that he spoke before he had the chance to tap the catalogue of knowledge in his brain.

If you can nail the mystery of what happens inside his mind when this exuberance hits, the rest will come with practice and further coaching work.  Self awareness is a powerful weapon against public screw ups.

Step Two is by far the most difficult.  It takes a very special personality match to make a difference with a client like Joe Biden, given the level of introspection and vulnerability required.  What kind of person he would best work with, I can’t begin to guess, but I have to imagine that given the results thus far, whatever coaching he’s getting, it’s 100% focused on Step 1 and not Step 2.

But before you go writing Biden off, remember – anything is possible. Even health care reform.