Media Skills

This Blog Post, is like, um, Important: Dealing with Vocalized Pauses

This Blog Post, is like, um, Important: Dealing with Vocalized Pauses

This Blog Post, is like, um, Important: Dealing with Vocalized Pauses

Ah, the vocalized pause…

The “ums” the “uhs” the “like”s that can riddle our spoken sentences like bullet holes. If you are someone who struggles with the tyranny of the vocalized pause, there are two things I want you to know:

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.

Steve Jobs – 5 Lessons He Taught Us From the Stage

Steve Jobs – 5 Lessons He Taught Us From the Stage The Web is alive with Steve Job tributes this week after his announcement to step down from his role as CEO.  This tribute is dedicated to remembering the lessons Mr. Jobs taught us from the stage.  The ultimate showman, Steve Jobs reminded us that technology should be fun, lovable, and filled with thrills and suspense.  Even now in 2011, few CEOs are brave enough to infuse his level of creativity and playfulness into their public appearances.

For those of us who are brave enough to learn them, here are the 5 Lessons Steve Jobs taught us from the bright lights of center stage.

1) The Art of Simplicity - In a world where speed talking has become a badge of intelligence, Steve Jobs chose a cadence and rhythm that was slow and thoughtful.  He was not afraid to pause, and give important words the space they needed to take root in our imaginations.  He showed us his genius not by dropping SAT words, or heavy technical jargon.  He used the ordinary to express the extraordinary.  One of my favorite clips that exemplifies this comes from his introduction of the new iPod Nano in 2009. When it comes time to talk about the Nano’s video camera, he resists the temptation to talk megapixels, and simply says, “How good is it? Turns out, it’s great.  Let me just show you…” and he proceeds to SHOW us a beautiful video.  Simple. Powerful. We all nod our heads and agree that this is the right way to present. We know the golden rule of “show me, don’t tell me,” but rarely – and I mean rarely – do we really hold ourselves to this standard.

2) Connect the Dots – In his now legendary Stanford Commencement Speech, Jobs talked about his fascination with topography and the art of font creation during college, which lead him to spend a semester in a calligraphy class.  He loved learning about the different type faces, and as he put it, he loved learning about “what makes great typography great.” Everyone thought he was crazy for wasting time on something so obtuse.  Later in life, he would infuse this delight into the Mac.  Without that curiosity and “cross training,” we might never have had different type faces in our personal computing lives.  It sounds small, but for those of us who live in the written word, it’s a pretty big deal (I love me some Garamond).

When things delight us in our personal lives and find their way into our work lives, invariably it makes our work better, and reveals a side of ourselves to people that they might not have otherwise seen.  Following our curiosity and infusing that delight into our work is part and parcel of being truly authentic and “present” to our profession of choice.

3) Keep it Beautiful – One of the defining characteristics of Steve as a presenter over the past several years has been the beauty and elegance of not only his blockbuster product line, but his presentations.  Sitting in the cool darkness of the Moscone Center during MacWorld, audiences were wooed by their elegant design. He painstakingly rehearsed each and every slide to commit his key thoughts to memory, freeing up the slides to do what they were meant to do: set the mood, paint a picture, or drive home a simple, repeatable piece of information.  How often do we take the easy way out, burdening our audiences with slides that look like Word documents? All bullets and words, and nothing for the eye to rest on.  Creating beautiful things takes time, care, precision… it is a labor of love.  Which brings me to….

4) Launches As Love Letters – You need only listen to the audio of a Jobs presentation to understand that Mac World Keynotes were love letters to Apple fans.  Thunderous applause and unabashed nerd worship were to Jobs Keynotes what drum circles and patchouli oil were to Dead shows.  This was not by accident.  The products Apple has so painstakingly designed over the years were never for Wall Street. They weren’t to show up competitors.  They were for one thing: thrilling and delighting us.  When Jobs was interviewed by Walt Mosserberg and Kara Swisher at the All Things D show, they asked him how he felt knowing that Apple’s market cap had surpassed that of Microsoft.  Jobs replied, “It’s surreal.  But it really doesn’t matter much.” This devotion to Apple fans influenced every staged appearance Jobs did (perhaps with the exception of one press conference).  The next time you take the stage, how might you make it an expression of respect, admiration and ultimately love for your audience?

5) Frame the Argument – As my lawyer friend always says to me, “She who frames the argument, wins the argument.”  When Steve Jobs was asked a pointed question about a controversial aspect of Apple’s business, he was incredibly adept at reframing the argument on his own terms in a way that was seamless, authentic, and frankly, hard to argue with.  My favorite example comes, once again, from his interview with Mossberg and Swisher.  Mossberg broaches the subject of his letter, “Thoughts on Flash” that was written in response to the hue and cry surrounding Apple’s decision to not support Flash.  Mossberg was framing the issue as “Isn’t it bad for consumers who want the entire web? Aren’t you limiting their choices?”  Effectively, Jobs reframes the issue away from “consumer choice” to “creating the best possible experience for consumers,” two very different approaches.  In Jobs’s argument, technology products are “packets of emphasis,” and that as a company, they choose their emphases carefully, all in the name of creating the best possible consumer experience.  Flash didn’t live up to Apple’s standards, so they nixed it.  And guess what, “If people don’t like it, they won’t buy it! And if they do, they will!”  And what does the audience do? Erupts in applause.  So much for worrying about “consumer choice.”  Steve Jobs re-framed the argument, and won the argument.

To me, Steve Jobs will always be the ultimate Willy Wonka CEO.  Sure, behind the scenes he was prone to occasional outbursts of anger or confrontation, but at the end of the day, it was all about making the most exciting, surprising, delicious candy possible to the delight of children around the world.  Thank you, Steve Jobs, for ruthlessly focusing on that which would make our eyes sparkle, and our pulses quicken.

Dear Oscar Winners: Can We Be More Prepared Next Time?

There is quite a lot I could say about the Oscars last night, but I’ll spare you my commentary except to say that the bright spots were the Leena Horne quote (“It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way you carry it.”) and Jude Law + Robert Downey Jr as co-presenters.  Enough said.

What I continue to marvel at is the abundance of lame acceptance speeches.  The Oscar team was prescient that this year would be among the worst, and it pieced together a “top 3” list of best speeches of all time, just to ease our suffering.

In case the future holds an Oscar for you, here are some things we, the audience, wish you would consider:

Remember Who’s Out There. Yes, you’re surrounded by the who’s who of Hollywood film making, but you’re also surrounded by over 40 million every day people watching you on their TVs. Think about that: 40 MILLION minds tuned into you and your award.  That’s powerful stuff.  If just a few hundred thousand inspired people can topple a brutal, autocratic regime in Egypt, certainly 40 million people could be moved in some positive way by your words.  Need a great example? Milk Screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black left a lasting impression with his powerful acceptance speech in 2009.

Don’t Let Superstition Make You Sucky. Many people think, “if I practice and take this seriously, it’ll jinx my chances.”  Unless you also carry around voodoo dolls and tarot cards, this makes no sense.  Decide up front what you want to accomplish during your speech. If that answer is “nothing” then fine.  But know that you are missing a golden opportunity to show the world who you are, what you care about, and why your film/role mattered.  And if you’re saying, “But what about spontaneity??” I’m all for it.  Allow yourself 5 seconds to have your “freak out” moment, and then get back to your plan.  Sound strict? It’s your career for the love of God.  You need to manage that 1 minute as tightly as any press junket you’ve ever been involved in.  Sandra Bullock absolutely nailed her acceptance speech last year, and showed what a talented, articulate, self possessed woman she really is – much to the surprise of many, given her low calorie movie roles prior to The Blind Side.

Thanks but No Thanks. As much as we, the audience, loathe hearing a laundry list of people to thank, we will tolerate a few shout outs if you keep it quick.  Randy Newman got this almost right, but lingered a bit too long. Write a list, bring it with you if you have to, and make sure it takes up no more than 5 - 7 seconds (note: a cheat sheet is only ok for reading off names).  5 full beats is a lot, and you can squeeze a lot in there, and still keep us in our seats instead of going to the kitchen for more Girl Scout cookies. Use the balance of time to say something important.  Or funny.  Please.  We beg of you. (And dropping the F-bomb is a little naughty, but it’s really not all that interesting.)

Self Deprecation is Always Welcome.  But don’t be dull about it. We’ve all heard the “I can’t believe my name is up there with all of these amazing actors…” bit.  Make it interesting. “I’m afraid my career has just peaked,” said Colin Firth as he accepted his well deserved Oscar, and reminded us that it is possible to be witty, self deprecating and fresh at the same time.

For those of us who aren’t up for Oscars, we can all use a reminder from time to time that even when it’s “all about us,” it’s really not.  It's all about the audience and knowing how to use your 15 minutes of fame in way that people remember… and hopefully in a good way.

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.

From Cardboard to Flesh and Blood: the New Art of Spokesperson Prep

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris O’Brien, business and technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.  Initially, I wanted to discuss the art of “listening” during an interview – not the reporter’s ability to listen, but rather the spokesperson’s ability to listen.  Chris and I had a great discussion, but I emerged with a slightly different theme for this posting – the importance of Authenticity.

I began the discussion by describing a scene I’ve witnessed over the years (as I’m sure many PR people have): In a spokesperson’s quest to faithfully deliver key messages, he or she ends up steamrolling a reporter, or fails to pick up on important cues on what the reporter is looking for.

Chris said, “We sort of expect that a spokesperson has been prepped and knows what they want to say.  That’s fine. But you can really tell when someone is over rehearsed. I’m interested in having a conversation with a real person, not some sterile interview.”

He then added, “My best interviews are with the people who sort of refuse to be ‘handled.’  For example, Bill Watkins, of Seagate… he’s going to come in and be unfiltered with me.  And while I do pity the handler, I appreciate it when someone has spoken from their own voice…”  (For those not familiar with Mr. Watkins, this article gives a snapshot of the interview style of the infamous Mr. Watkins.  It truly is a PR person’s worst nightmare… but a knock-out interview for the reporter).

Turns out, for Chris O’Brien, the interview often begins when the spokesperson thinks the conversation is over. “That’s when they loosen up, and say what they really think.”  Yikes.  But from Chris’s perspective, the recap of the messages at the end of the interview are generally better, and delivered in a real human voice.

What’s a PR person to do?

These are interesting times in the world of public relations, and the business of spokesperson “grooming.”  The demand for authenticity and transparency is on the rise.  But so is the demand for killer press hits in an increasingly tight media landscape.

On one hand, corporate communications people are tasked with creating a level of consistency across dozens of spokespeople – no small feat.  On the other hand, reporters aren’t interested in talking with a bunch of clones.  So where does that leave us?

While having a consistent set of messages is crucial to a tight corporate message, there needs to be more of a focus on helping spokespeople to be themselves in interviews.  We need to encourage everyone to sing the same song, but in their own voices.  Cheesy? Yes, but also true.

But what does that really mean in the tactical sense?

For Spokespeople: No more showing up to a “prep” session with the statement, “OK, so tell me what to say.”  You have to work with your PR team to co-author the key messages, and make them your own.  By simply regurgitating someone else’s sound bites, you almost guarantee a flat, totally unconvincing interview.

For the Corporate Communications Team: Now is the time to cultivate a slightly different skill set than just key message development and the ability to give good guidance around what a reporter is looking for.  Begin to develop a sensitivity and sensibility around your spokespeople’s strengths, or where their fears lie.  Learn to bring out the best in your spokespeople, and guide them by giving them sound, honest, and compassionate feedback.  This does not mean spoon feeding pre-fab messaging to overtaxed executives.    It means helping people cope with and eventually lose their bad habits as they talk to influencers like Chris O’Brien.

While it may sound exhausting, it’s actually a win/win.  With a spokesperson who is encouraged to be themselves, having made the messages his or her own, the centralized corp comms team knows the messages are shining through, and the press gets to speak with actual human beings.

Is Media Training Really Just a Game?

I had a very interesting conversation recently with someone who had worked with a media coach who “knew how to play the game… and knew all of the tricks” in working with the press.  He and I both bristled at this approach.  Is there a game to media interviews? I suppose you could see it that way.  Are there “tricks” to be mastered? Sure, there are some helpful techniques.  But ultimately, this “cheating the game” approach to interactions with the press fails to honor what is ACTUALLY happening in a press conversation – two people trying to get their very valid needs met. And by treating press interviews like a game, we step out of a place of integrity and into a place of manipulation.  The result?  A crappy article, and a superficial relationship with a reporter.

Does that mean we stop teaching our spokespeople to “bridge to key messages?” Not necessarily. Does it mean we teach our executives to really listen, and empathize with what the reporter needs? Absolutely.  At the end of the day, each and every interaction with a press person is an interaction with a human being.  And the more respect, personality and authenticity we can bring to that interaction, the better.

To end the interview, I asked Chris what he wished spokespeople knew before getting on the phone with him:

“Honestly? Just be yourself. That’s all I ask.”


The Wait is Over

As you saw in my post earlier this week, I weighed in on the 4 things I thought Tiger needed to accomplish in his apology. Let’s see how he did.

1) Express believable self-awareness. I give Tiger Woods high marks on expressing believable regret and embarrassment, but self awareness? Not sure about that.  His explanation of his own sense of entitlement was helpful, but it lacked resonance.  I’m not saying he should make up false reasons (reminds me of when I was a kid and used to invent sins to confess to the priest, just to satisfy him). But his statement lacked intimacy.  If you are appealing to a mass audience, and trying to crawl your way back into their hearts and minds, you have to infuse every statement with very real emotion, and paint a vivid picture.  “I worked hard, and felt I was entitled” didn’t do it for me.  This statement would have been perfect if he was talking about a shopping addiction.  It doesn’t work for a problem of extreme infidelity.  The correct response probably lives one layer beneath that one –How does “working hard” equate to serial infidelity?

2) Make us see a little bit of ourselves. I would love to know your thoughts on this, but I didn’t feel a connection to him at all, on any level during this statement. In fact, his explanation triggered even more judgment from me, I’m ashamed to admit.  Apologies are tricky business, and ultimately have to tap a sense of empathy in the listener without asking them to do any extra work.  We all commit sins on a daily basis (envy, greed, sloth, lust), it shouldn’t be that hard to make his transgressions feel personally familiar on some level.  But somehow he missed it.

3) Remind us of how much we love golf BECAUSE of Tiger Woods, without actually coming out and saying it.  I am most disappointed about this piece of the apology.  As the daughter of a devoted golfer, I was hungry for that moment of “I can’t wait to finally have this behind us, and see him back on the golf course.”  That moment never came.

4) He needs to mean every word he says. Here, I actually give him good marks. I think this is a man who was VERY involved in writing his own statement (how else can you explain the strange flow of it, the clunky organization?).  What the statement DIDN’T lack was real emotion and feeling.  That was as raw a Tiger Woods as I’ve ever seen.

The reference to Buddhism and how it will help him on his journey to recovery was interesting, though I didn’t entirely understand it.  But I do think it added some much needed depth to the statement.  Ultimately, I question whether this statement came too soon in his recovery. If it wasn't meant to signal his return to golf, what was it signaling? My hope is that Tiger Woods seizes this opportunity, and becomes a more three dimensional personality in the public eye. We’re seeing signs of life, but he’s still got a long way to go.

Tiger's Big Day

On Friday, Tiger Woods will “break his silence” and make an official statement Friday morning from the clubhouse at the TPC Sawgrass, the headquarters of the PGA Tour in Florida. Like a sports analyst giving pre-game commentary, here’s my take:  His statement needs to do four things:  1) Express believable self awareness.  It has to be real, maybe even a little bit raw.  2) Make us see a little bit of ourselves in his description of his fall from grace. 3) Remind us of how much we love golf BECAUSE of Tiger Woods, without actually coming out and saying it.  4) He needs to mean every word he says.  If this is lip service or an acting job, it’ll fall flat. Falling flat probably won’t hurt his golfing career, but he’ll lose the hearts and minds battle (which means loss of endorsements, ultimately).

I thought it would be fascinating (morbidly perhaps) to draft MY version of what Tiger should say during that press conference.  Just so we’re clear: Tiger Woods is not my client. I don’t have any connection to him whatsoever.

Here goes:

Thanks for coming.  Given how many things in the world deserve our focus these days, I am deeply ashamed that my problems have hijacked so much of our collective attention. For this, and so many other things, I am sorry.

For the past several weeks, I have been going through what can only be described as a hellish journey of self discovery.  Anyone who has struggled with and conquered an addiction knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Like many addicts, I had successfully kept parts of my life compartmentalized, living several different lives at the same time.  It allowed me to justify disgusting behavior, and allowed me to lie to myself and others.  And for a long time, it worked.  Then of course, one tiny thread was pulled, and my entire life unraveled, taking my wife, my children and my career down with it.

Coming out of an intense period of revelation, tackling some of the darkest corners of my mind and my experiences, I can say with all honesty –I’m not “healed.” I’m not “whole.” But I’m working on it, and crawling my way out of this self-made nightmare one day at a time.

Part of my recovery and journey back to integrity is to devote myself wholly to my true loves – my wife, my children and my sport – Golf.  The matter of my family is a private one. But my love of the sport is a public one.

It is my intention to get back to the game that has given so much to me.  I grew up in the company of golfers – professional and amateur, and I crave their company and the experience of walking the green, and making contact with that ball.  I know I don’t deserve it, but I’m hoping that you - the fans and the golf community - will allow me back into the sport.

As we all now know, I’m not the role model I made myself out to be.  But maybe there’s room for a different kind of role model, one who can tackle his own terrible flaws head on, and show that it is possible to heal what has been so badly broken.

Thank you.

Now… let’s see what he actually says.  I’ll be on the edge of my seat.

Heartbreak Warfare: My Advice to John Mayer

I was going to try to refrain from being yet another voice condemning John Mayer for his absurd, racist, sexist tirade in Playboy, but here I am. Blogging about it. Rather than state the obvious (“ill advised” doesn’t even begin to cover it), John Mayer’s off-the-cuff interview with Playboy has certainly gotten me thinking a lot about “authenticity.”  As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of authenticity, and oddly enough in this day of Reality Everything, it can be an elusive quality.

And then someone like John Mayer comes along with a very “authentic” tirade (if by “authentic” we mean “racist, sexist, and hideous”) and makes me stop and think, “was he just being himself?” Mr. Mayer, in case you are sitting around waiting for me to weigh in on your, ahem, “authenticity issue,” here is some free advice:

  1. Think of each interview as a love letter to your fans. As much as your ego may tell you otherwise, interviews are not about you.  They are about connecting with your fans.  And while, yes, we are all a little obsessed with your relationships with Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson, we really aren’t interested in the level of detail you so colorfully provided (sex was like “napalm”???).  From now on, think about what REALLY serves your fans.  Don’t tell us what we think we want to know (gossip), but what we should know about you: what makes you write the songs you do, and what inspires you as an artist.  Give us THOSE messages with purity and authenticity. You’re not Paris Hilton, reliant on the paparazzi to keep you relevant.  Your music is what keeps you relevant.
  2. The same social media you profess to love will TAKE YOU DOWN. I’ve got a nagging suspicion that going into your interview you thought, “Hey, this is Playboy. I’m allowed to get a little down and dirty with them.”  Newsflash: The minute that interview hit, it quickly became and  Your credibility as someone who stands for ANYTHING OTHER than heaping-amounts-of-white-girl-only-sex is pretty much shot.  Not even sure Haiti wants you raising money for them at this point.
  3. Focus on your talent. Do nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, for the next 12 months but write music, and play music.  Don’t act like an idiot at a club, don’t date anyone. In fact, you might opt for just getting out of the country for a year or so.  Clear your head.  Go on a porn diet.  Better yet, go work with the world’s poorest of the poor (without cameras following you), and remember that while you’ve been trying to beat Wilt Chamberlain’s record, there have been people struggling to find enough food to eat, watching their children go to bed hungry.  Remember how blessed you are to be a well paid musician, surrounded by idiot women who will continue to fling themselves at you.

I hope this is helpful to you.  Secretly, I’m still a fan.  I still think “Daughters” may be one of the most beautiful songs ever written… insightful, simple, and true.  John Mayer, you can’t possibly be as misogynistic as you have made yourself out to be.  So get back to basics, shut up for a good long while, and we’ll see you at the Grammys in 2013.

GoDaddy or Go Home

With the Super Bowl looming large this weekend, I wanted to weigh in on my favorite pre-game controversy: The pulling of GoDaddy’s Half Time ad, affectionately referred to as “Lola.”  Here’s the irony: There is not a single D-cup woman featured in this one.  For a company noted for making giant breasts synonymous with domain names, this is a real "departure in strategy." Yet, CBS yanked it. Why?  See for yourself. For those who can’t watch the 4 ½ minute video above, CBS was concerned that it would offend “some people.” And by “some people,” they mean “gay people.”  If nothing else, this decision shows just how much confusion this country is feeling about sexuality.  While advertisements with scantily clad women prancing around like randy reindeer are widely accepted as traditional Super Bowl fare, a mild and HILARIOUS ad portraying an openly (if flamboyant) gay man is seen as “offensive.”  But in a post-Adam-Lambert-Getting’-His-Nasty-On world, it’s no wonder CBS played it safe.  What’s a network to do?

My recommendation?  CBS, go make some gay friends.  They’d be the first to tell you, “Don’t sweat it.”  And your mainstream beer drinking, chili eating, hetero-male audience would have gotten a real kick out of it, God bless ‘em.  And secondly, as many people echoed in the wake of Lambert’s performance, if you’re going to be outraged by overtly sexual antics on stage, you best be consistent.  So, CBS: If you’re gonna pull “Lola” you best pull all the other babes as well (sorry guys).  After all, aren’t you worried about offending ME? Women are now inching up to 50% of your audience.  I mean, I’m a c-cup at best, and I’m tired of all of the pressure. ;)

Well, as it turns out, it really doesn’t matter at this point.  By placing a less “offensive” ad (though FAR racier) driving viewers to to see the “real” ad, GoDaddy has gotten themselves a three-fer: pre-Super Bowl buzz, a bigger traffic bump to the site during game, and the equivalent of two Super Bowl ad placements for the price of one.

And not only that, Bob nails his on-camera interview with Fox Business (aside from the distracting pen-grasping hand motions). He’s likeable in that “good ol’ boy” kinda way, and he is absolutely memorable. So memorable, in fact, that I was able to repeat nearly his ENTIRE interview to my husband… which is saying a lot since my memory is like Swiss cheese these days.  Lastly, Bob’s interview made me like the GoDaddy brand.  Tits and ass included. In fact, just watching it made me proud to be an American.  And that’s coming from a liberal, Democrat, wanna-be vegetarian feminist who typically drinks wine in the kitchen while the men watch the game.

Not only does GoDaddy win in this scenario, Madison Avenue will be pleased by Bob’s key message than rang out like tambourines on Gay Pride day – Super Bowl advertising works “in spades.”

Doin' It and Doin' It Well

Like all presentation coaches the world over, I am once again ruminating on Steve Jobs’ performance today as he unveiled the much anticipated iPad.  In fact, that sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the ground as I watched the iPad’s eReader demonstrated in Steve’s capable hands.  Full disclosure: I’m in a state of unbridled teenage lust over this product.  In other words, it may interfere with my ability to actually evaluate his delivery.  But here goes.

  • What I loved:
    • Doing his thing. The casual, friendly, buzzword-free, yet-suitably-nerdy delivery combined with show-stopping visuals delivered once again.  Many a CEO aches to have an audience burst into applause for something they’re showing.  Steve Jobs doesn’t have to ask for it.  Putting aside the earthshattering-ness of his products for a moment, Jobs tees up his great “unveiling” moments with such precision, and with the perfect supporting visuals delivered at JUST the right moment, the audience can’t help but burst into gregarious applause.
    • Take a load off. I loved that he sat down in his chair for the demo.  This was probably necessary just given the nature of the device, but in that moment I finally understood why I would use the iPad.  Sitting on the couch, I would grab it to check something online.  Same goes for when he said, “If I want to buy movie tickets, I grab the iPad in the kitchen, and go to Fandango.”  He painted a picture  that looked eerily like my own kitchen, tapping into my own frustration of needing to just “hop online”... knowing how hideously slow my Blackberry’s browser performance is, and that my computer takes forever to fire up again (because I am STILL on a PC. Long story).
    • Killing them softly. Loved the reference to Amazon’s eReader with the statement (paraphrasing here), “Amazon has done a great job with the Kindle... we are standing on their shoulders and going further.” It left me with a pleasant “isn’t that nice!” feeling, even as Jobs was driving Excalibur right into the fleshy heart of the Kindle.
    • Pricing. When I first heard the $499 pricing, it seemed too expensive. I know, I know, I’m cheap like that. But when he couched it in the statement, “the pundits are saying it will cost $999” (again, paraphrasing), and then delivered the $499 pricing (complete with glass shattering sound and visuals), I immediately changed my tune, and thought, “It wouldn't be that bad to camp out in front of the Apple store, would it?”
    • Getting stronger. He was also decidedly more cheerful this go around.  There was a much different energy on stage.  You can tell that Steve Job simply feels better, stronger since the Nano unveiling in September.
  • What I would have liked to see more/less of:
    • It’s hard to criticize Jobs’ delivery.  Many people tease him for the “amazing”s, the “phenomenal”s, but I still like them.  It’s how we talk, and I appreciate that he speaks like a human being.  But if pushed to choose something, I would say this: I could have done with one less website demo, and instead, I would have liked to have seen a demo of what it's like to present in Keynote, or how a Word or Excel document feels on an iPad. I know this device isn’t meant to replace a laptop, but man… if I could take an iPad with me through the security line at an airport, and leave my laptop at home… that would make my heart feel SUPER HAPPY! (for those of you with young children, you will note the Kai Lan reference;).

At the end of the day, when you have products as visually arresting, and as fantastic as Apple’s, the script practically writes itself. But once again, Steve Jobs shows us his mastery of simplicity, restraint, and his keen understanding of what we all want to know, see and feel.

The Big Lie.

MontagPeopleThere is so much on my to do list at the moment, but occasionally I’ll see something that makes me so worked up, if I don’t say something, I’ll lose it.  This is one of those moments. In fact, it was prompted by this week’s People cover story on Heidi Montag.  When I saw this, my heart literally ached, and I immediately thought to myself, “…and we lose another young woman to the lie.”  I truly believe that Vanity is the evil arch rival of Purpose.  I’m not talking about feeling good about yourself, and taking care of your appearance (ahem, my hair appointment is at 2pm), but the wasting of precious time and talent in this one life we’ve been given.

In my work, I get the opportunity to help women reclaim their voices through public presence workshops.  One of the key pieces of the program that Kristine Schaeffer and I have developed is when we talk about aligning each woman’s personal “purpose” with her professional “purpose.”  I am almost always humbled and THRILLED by the talents, passions, and plans of the women I meet.

And then I see a story like Heidi’s, and I start to lose hope – these images wrap around our young women like cellophane, and there is no escaping them.  But then I remember something I read in Mary Pipher’s groundbreaking “Reviving Ophelia,” about her work with depressed, troubled young girls.

“So much time has been wasted pretending to be who others wanted…  But also, there’s a new energy that comes from making connections, from choosing awareness over denial and from the telling of secrets.  We work now, 20 years behind schedule.  We reestablish each woman as the subject of her life, not as the object of others’ lives.”

To any of you young women out there, or to any who interact with young women, remember this:  Your life is worth something of incalculable value, and it has very little to do with what you look like.  You have never happened before, nor will you ever happen again in the course of history.

So, as Mary Oliver so beautifully said, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Conan is a Class Act

1-12-2010 5-02-58 PMDuring a time when many in the public eye are letting far too much time pass before addressing rumors (you know who you are), it is refreshing to see someone get it so right.  As the New York Times reported today, Conan O'Brien “sat up all night” writing a statement in response to NBC's decision to move the Tonight Show to a 12:05am start (vs the original 11:35pm start).  There are three reasons I love this missive:

1) It’s clearly written. People sometimes take a perfectly good sentiment and turn it into a steaming pile of legalese, and lose all credibility (and frankly readability).

2) It’s real. It embodies all of the things we profess to love - it's transparent, accessible and authentic to the core.  I especially appreciated the “hair” apology at the end… always nice to surprise a reader who makes it through to the end of your posting. ;)

3) It influenced my thinking. Because of his very clear, thoughtful argument, I came away with a very strong  opinion about NBC’s decision.  This is shocking mostly because a) I never watch Late Night TV unless a client is appearing and b) I’ve never really watched Conan, aside from the occasional YouTube posting sent my way.

So, to Conan O’Brian, be prepared to see your tale retold in PR and marketing trade rags all year long, as an exemplary citizen of New Media and Transparency.  In fact, I also predict you will make it into the little side bar in Vanity Fair that shows whose star has risen and fallen in recent months.  Kudos. You did good, and I’m rooting for you from the sidelines. GIVE ‘EM HELL CONAN.

Saving Private Palin

fox-news-logoAccording to a New York Times piece, Sarah Palin is joining the ranks of Fox News, and will be hosting a series of reports, similar to what Oliver North has done via his “War Stories” series.   My take? This is the perfect use of Sarah Palin's talents. As I mentioned in a previous posting, I think Sarah Palin has tremendous potential as a spokesperson.  She has a very authentic voice, an energy that resonates with a whole lot of people (conservatives, almost without exception), and is simply stunning on camera.  As I mentioned before, her greatest threats are unscripted interactions with the press and the public.  By giving her a scripted opportunity to do her thing, Fox is playing perfectly to Palin’s strengths.   From that standpoint, I applaud the move.

What I fear for Fox News is this – they seem to have a poor grasp of who their female audience really is.  Full disclosure: it’s not me.  But I have some very sharp, highly educated, free-thinking, conservative female friends who seem terribly misaligned with some of the women on the Fox News team.  Here's a great example:  Gretchen Carlson, famously called to task by Jon Stewart for “dumbing down” her intelligence to appeal to what I’m guessing must be Fox’s understanding of the “mainstream American woman.”

My suggestion to Fox News is this:  For every Gretchen Carlson or Sarah Palin you bring on board, please, PLEASE add a Peggy Noonan as a counterpoint for the thinking women in your audience.

Just sayin’.

When Not Even Coaching Can Save ‘Em.

Courtesy of CNN Occasionally, people ask me if there are some people who are just uncoachable… hopelessly and forever a liability to themselves.  The short answer: Yes. Some people are hopeless.  The long answer: “uncoachable” is a state of being that can certainly change.

What prompted this musing is Chris Brown, who infamously assaulted Rihanna.  Since the incident, Chris Brown seems to be trying to move through the motions set in play by his PR people – going on Larry King, giving his side of the story in various ways.  But time and again, Chris seems to dig himself deeper and deeper into his hole, as evidenced by yesterday's Twitter tirade (Twirade?), prompting his PR folks to delete his account (wisely done).  Just for the record, I believe it is way too soon to be out there promoting a new record until he does more in the public eye to educate young men about stopping the cycle of domestic violence.  But that’s another topic for another day.

Even the best crisis PR can fall flat on its face if the person in the eye of the storm doesn’t have the capacity to see beyond his or her own ego.  With every interview he gives, Chris reinforces my belief that he is immature, jaded by success, unable to manage his own emotions, and intoxicated by his own talent.  And believe me, the kid is talented.  (Don’t believe me? Watch this VMA performance, and it will jar your memory.)

Courtesy of

Because of this toxic combination, Brown is not capable of giving any kind of unscripted interview that would improve the viewer’s opinion of him.   I believe him when he says he doesn’t know what happened that fateful night.  And therein lies the problem.

What I love most about coaching is that I see, very quickly, what people are made of… how willing they are to confront some of their biggest personal flaws.  (And believe me, as someone with many personal flaws, it’s something I respect;).   I’ve worked with people for whom arrogance was their biggest obstacle in becoming truly great speakers and spokespeople.  For one in particular, it was a tough journey.  But the key to his improvement was not me.  The key was that he himself was willing to take a good hard look at what was lying beneath the arrogance, and to confront it head on.  It was a privilege to help him on that journey.

As my mentor and friend Kristine Schaefer says, “The more we know about ourselves, the more we can reveal.”  And that truly is the key ingredient to anyone who electrifies an audience – we want to see someone in their purest, most authentic state, giving selflessly of their time, and sharing their stories with a measure of real vulnerability.  And Chris is nowhere near ready to have that kind of relationship with himself.

Tiger Tiger, Burn Out Bright

Image Courtesy of ScrapeTV Without rehashing the gory details, let’s just say that the past week has revealed an entirely new side of Tiger Woods.  Much of the public outrage seems to be directed at Tiger’s request for “privacy” as he deals with the collapse of life as he has known it.   In fact, as the days have passed, the whole Tigergate mess seems to be a case study on “Crisis Communication Don’ts.” (The folks at Goldman Sachs must be thrilled to have someone else play that role for a while).  In today's WSJ, Dana Mattioli talks to top crisis PR consultants, and it is definitely worth a read.

But to me, the issue of Tiger’s privacy and the outrage that request is causing could have been at least mitigated by changing one statement:


“But, I would also ask for some understanding that my family and I deserve some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be.”

The problem?  “I deserve some privacy…”  Tiger, the day you became a superstar role model making gazillions of dollars in sponsorship deals, was the day you gave up privacy on matters of infidelity.  Here's the thing about living in this country:  The good news about America is that we love a role model.  The bad news about America is that we love to chew on the carcass of a role model who has fallen from grace.  And you can’t separate the good from the bad no matter how much wealth you have or power you wield.

If I had been counseling you on this, Tiger, I would have said two things about your statement.

Number 1: Asking the press to leave you alone doesn’t work. It never has.

Number 2: Use the statement as a way to build up a tiny shred of credibility.  How? Change the phrase above to say:

“I recognize that my actions have consequences, one of them being press scrutiny. For this I am prepared, and I take responsibility.  Having said that, please understand that my wife and children did nothing to deserve this, and I beg you to leave them in privacy as they deal with this situation.”

Will it actually make a difference? Probably not, but at least you aren't asking us to have pity on you.

The other piece of good news about America is that while we love a fall from grace, we love a comeback story just as much.  And as Monty Pool points out in today’s column in the Merc, “Oprah's couch has tremendous healing power.”

5 Tips for Nailing your Podcast Interview

Was just prepping a client for a podcast opportunity with a very high profile blogger, and thought I’d share some tips.   The challenge of any audio-only interview - be it radio, podcast or even a phone briefing with a press person or analyst – is that things can get… dull… very… quickly. Human energy shines through much easier during an in person discussion that’s captured on film, and when you remove the visuals, all you’re left with is a voice.  Here are 5 ways to instantly dial up the energy, and use that voice to captivate your audience for the brief time you have them.

  1. Do the interview standing up. If at all possible, unchain yourself from your desk.  When you are up and pacing, gesturing as you speak into the phone, that movement and energy pours into the conversation.  It’s truly magic.  Don’t believe me? Try it the next time you’re on a conference call. The difference is notable and almost instantaneous.
  2. Smile. This may sound bizarre, but you can actually hear someone smile through the phone.  According to speech therapist, Suzanne Clegern-Siler, "When you smile, it alters the shape of your oral cavity, which changes your resonance." Interviews done with a somber, sober and deadly serious voice are often the most painful to endure as a listener.
  3. Make it tight. While audiences might endure a bit of a ramble during a TV interview, they won’t tolerate it during a podcast or radio interview.  Really work on anticipating questions, and tightening up your answers ahead of time.
  4. Make it vivid. Don’t just make high level statements and leave it there.  Point to a vivid, easily repeatable example each time you make an assertion.
  5. Use the “trigger” phrases. Because we humans are inundated with a constant stream of hype and information, we have the collective attention span of small rodents.  But, here's the good news: there are several phrases that work as defibrillators for even the dullest conversations:
  • “What’s really important to remember is…
  • “The most exciting thing to me is…”
  • “The dirty little secret in this industry is…”
  • “The most surprising/shocking thing is…”

As always, have fun, be yourself, and above all, be unforgettable.

Making Sense of the Media Blood Bath

Today is a very sad day in the business press world, as BusinessWeek laid off some of its most legendary columnists (Jon Fine, Steven Wildstrom, to name a few).

In media coaching sessions over the past year, I’ve spent some time up front talking about the “blood bath” that is the traditional press machine.  I’ve seen many a CEO feel slighted and appalled to join a call with a reporter who has done no preparation for the interview, and hardly knows who he or she is talking to.  The reality is, editorial staff cuts have been deep and pervasive, with no signs of slowing.  And the “still employed” mainstream business reporters are stretched so thin these days, it’s amazing that they are able to keep up at all.

What does this mean for spokespeople today?

First, and most obviously, your universe of mainstream reporters is shrinking.   While you may have gotten away with “winging" an interview when you had a good 20 reporters to talk to, that is no longer a workable strategy when that list of 20 has become a list of 5.  If you fail to meet the needs of a reporter, you may not get a second chance. And then you’ve wiped out a quarter of your targets.  This is why media coaching is more important than it has ever been. Shameless plug? Maybe it is. But it’s also true.

Second, you are now competing even more heavily for column space.  If a reporter calls you for commentary on breaking news for example, think twice before giving a milquetoast assessment of what went down.  If she is asking 5 “experts” the same questions, which responses will she run with? The most memorable and concise responses.  So gather your thoughts, and make sure your statements have impact and punch, and most of all, unique insight.  Sound obvious? You’d be surprised how few people actually deliver.

Lastly, have mercy.  Expect that your reporter has done little to no prep, and don’t take it personally.  Ask questions to figure out where they are in the story cycle, and how familiar they are with you/your company, and gauge your responses appropriately.  Be prepared to give your “elevator pitch” unless you are sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they know your company well.

May you be quoted accurately and often.  And to the BusinessWeek staff who lost their jobs today, you will be sorely missed.