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.

Tiger Woods: Coming into Focus

Having finally watched the much anticipated ESPN interview from last night, I am breathing a sigh of relief. As you may have seen in my previous posts, I have been hoping for a good solid comeback, but wasn't seeing many signs of life.  Looking back at Tiger’s public interactions since December, it’s been a strange mix of obstinate silence (especially during those first 48 – 72 hours) and a series of quasi self-revelations.  Sunday’s appearance showed us a more patient, vulnerable, and frankly likeable Tiger Woods than we saw at his recent press conference.

(Why they conducted the interview standing up, as if it was fresh off of 18 holes, I cannot imagine.  Were they trying to avoid the “Oprah’s couch” cliché?  Kudos for choosing casual golf wear for his attire... helps us remember Tiger as he was, and will be – a key part of golf culture).

Don’t Go There

While, as I've mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of over-delivery of key messages (ahem, Sarah Palin), I am absolutely a fan of determining where the boundaries of conversation exist, and politely, but firmly sticking to said boundaries.  During the interview, there were a few instances where Tom Rinaldi asked questions of Tiger Woods that violated "sacred space."  For example, when asked about the kind of treatment he was undergoing, Tiger very firmly stated, “that is a private matter.”

But notice what happens next: rather than bristling, and getting defensive and annoyed by the interviewer (see Nicole Kidman during the infamous Andrew Marr interview when the questions veered into Scientology) Tiger patiently and honestly elaborated on what he could say about his treatment experience:

“That is a private matter.  But it was tough… to look at yourself in a light that you never wanted to look at yourself… I saw a person that I never thought I’d become.”

That is a "needs based" approach to challenging Q&A situations. Tom Rinaldi (by proxy for the rest of us) needed insight into Tiger's recovery.  Tiger Woods needs to keep some areas of his recovery sacred.  By recognizing Tom's valid need for insight into his recovery process, Tiger gives a good, honest answer that still maintains the boundaries he has set.  Everyone wins.  Too often, people stonewall, panic, and become uncomfortable to watch when questions veer into sacred space territory.

Give Them What They Need

Here’s the thing: the public may want to know exactly how many women Tiger Woods slept with, or whether or not Elin came after him with a golf club, but the public doesn’t actually need to know the answers to these questions.  (Incidentally, both questions were broached during the interview in so many words, and neither was answered).

What we do need to know is the truth about who Tiger Woods is. Then, and only then, can we make a real decision about how much we like him.  And if this sounds a bit voyeuristic and bizarre, this is what it takes to win back "hearts and minds" which then bring back the big sponsors, and put Tiger back into the driver's seat of his own career.

The guidance Tiger Woods received going into this interview was correct.  What emerged was a flawed, but potentially likeable person who is in fact very nervous about people’s reaction to him at the Masters.  It was a pleasure to see him light up at the thought of getting back onto the course with his friends, and for a moment, we saw a glimmer of what he might become : one of the greatest comeback stories in recent history.

Show us what’cha got, Tiger. We’re ready now.

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’.