Stay on Message Without Being Scripted

manuscript-547042_640In a Republican debate, Senator Marco Rubio had emerged as a great orator and touted his third place standing as a win. There was a lot of buzz about Rubio and he was riding high despite being number three. So it was no surprise that he walked into the next debate confident and expecting more of the same. And then it happened. Governor Chris Christie hammered him. Christie came down hard on Rubio for reciting his message point for a third time and accused him of being scripted. It didn't go well for Rubio and Christie won that round.

How can the skill of staying focused and on message be to the detriment of a public speaker? As a speaking strategist and media trainer, I advise my clients to know their message and to stay on message. This is especially important in a media interview. A skilled media guest will lead with key messages and weave them throughout the interview.

The red flag is when the presenter doesn't answer the question and defaults to a message that doesn't follow the line of questioning. What should Rubio have done? Answer the question to the best of his ability without repeating the same message point again.

Most of us won't be running for office or even presenting in a formal debate. But we will need to persuade, convince, and inform our stakeholders. I advise audiences and clients to familiarize, don't memorize. When a public speaker repeats the same points too close together and uses the exact same words, that's when authenticity is lost. That sounds scripted.

The first mistake is reading a manuscript word-for-word. It takes a special skill and much practice to deliver the words so it doesn't sound like you're reading text. Some scientific lecturers stand and read their research. I told them, "I can read as well as you." Why would anybody want to listen to the reading of a research paper?

The second mistake is memorizing word-for-word. Even though the presenter is not reading, it's obvious the message is not natural.

When I first started out in the speaking business, I worked for a seminar company. At the end of every seminar my manager and I would read the reviews. To my surprise, someone wrote, "Diane, though, helpful, sounded canned."  Yikes! Put a stake in my heart. But I realized that I had memorized the script they gave me and I sounded like a talking head. With practice, I learned how to sound conversational and make the content natural.

Audiences are more sophisticated than ever. They want to hear a subject matter expert and not a presenter giving a book report. They want to know you're authentic. You achieve that by preparing your message, practicing your message, and listening for when to divert from the message. It's in listening that we become truly authentic.

Why Romney's Presentation Failed And What He Can Do About It

The political stage is a fascinating study of the power of the presentation. When it comes to public speaking and media training, Romney has two areas to address. Unless he can improve these two areas, he will plummet in the polls.

The first area is language.

Romney's recent remarks which were secretly recorded have been replayed continuously in the media. He stated, "There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what." If Romney had made that one statement his presentation and media image may have been salvaged.

His presentation derailed with this next statement.  "There are 47% who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."

His first statement that 47% will vote for the president is a marketing decision. He's saying that's not his target market. In any campaign, the candidate or marketer will focus time, effort, and money where there will be the greatest return. In other words, he knows they're not his fans.

The second statement felt like an attack and many people reacted negatively. Given that part of the 47% are elderly it sounded callous although that was not the intent.  A good media trainer would advise him to quickly apologize for misspeaking and to reword his statement. The challenge for all politicians and any public speaker in the limelight is that the media can take one soundbite and kill your reputation. Persons in the eye of the media must remember that they are always being recorded and that even speaking one-to-one is public speaking.

Remember when Jessie Jackson was a presidential candidate and made a religious slur in New York City? He was talking to an individual and someone in the crowd overheard him and reported it. Although he wasn't recorded, it had the same effect on his presentation and reputation.

For the non-famous public speakers, once you leave the stage, you're forgotten. But if you're a politician the media will replay and spin your presentation into the stratosphere.

The second area is delivery.

Romney looks and speaks like an executive. But like Al Gore, he appears stiff. When he says he cares about the poor and middle class the message lands as facts rather than warmth. Yet, when he's on a talk show he's more relaxed and his personality comes through. As a public speaker he needs to enhance his presentation with more self disclosure, personal stories, and more effective language. When he speaks with passion and can convey caring he'll increase his ability to connect.

These comments are non-partisan and related to the presentation of the candidate and not policies. What do you think Romney needs to do to improve his presentation in the media?




Public Speaking: Entice Your Audience to Come to You

A coaching client called me because she was about to have a performance discussion with her boss. She wanted to be promoted and knew she had to be a clear, confident, and convincing communicator. But there was one presentation obstacle that she wasn't sure she could overcome. Her boss liked to watch financial news on TV when people were in the office. She wondered how she could command his attention, gain his respect, and make herself heard. In keeping with my philosophy, (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em), we decided to make a three minute video. That's right! Showing a video would get his attention. My client would speak into the video camera as if she were speaking directly to her boss. She would talk about her credentials and her accomplishments and then add a couple of quick video testimonials from her biggest supporters in the company.  Thinking creatively would get his attention,   position herself as an innovative, outside -the box -thinker, and certainly make her more memorable than any of her colleagues.

Last month, I wrote about Public Speaking: When Science Meets Art, which is a great example of using creativity when presenting. In 2012 the stakes will be higher.  Greater creativity and innovation will be needed for communicators and public speakers to get noticed, stand out, and be heard. And video marketing will play an important role.

Public Speaking Ranks As The Top Entrepreneurial Skill printed the best advice for entrepreneurs, from entrepreneurs. This quote was one of the top three submissions that received the most votes from readers. Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, a popular music-streaming service:

Learn public speaking. Of all the skills that an entrepreneur can have, I think the ability to convey an idea or opportunity, with confidence, eloquence and passion is the most universally useful skill. Whether you're pitching a group of

investors, rallying your employees, selling a customer, recruiting talent, addressing consumers, or doing a press tour, the ability to deliver a great talk is absolutely invaluable. And it is perhaps THE most under-recognized and under-nurtured skill.”

I couldn't agree more and I've been saying this for years. In 2007, I was quoted in a  New York Times article, "Um, Uh, Like Call in the Speech Coach".

'Small business is leaving money on the table because it is overlooking one of the most powerful marketing skills: speech,' said Diane DiResta, a speech and communications coach in New York. 'Speech is the way a small business builds its brand, establishes expertise, gets free publicity and gets in front of its market.'”

And that's why I give webinars and speeches to entrepreneurs on Speak Powerfully, Sell More, How to Use Speaking To Grow Your Business. Speaking is the most cost effective and underutilized marketing strategy.  I spoke in Tanzania as a result of  giving two free  presentations. (The client doesn't always buy the first time).  A free speech at a National Conference led to business in Egypt. Speaking pays. Good presentation skills impact every aspect of business from getting the interview, making the sale, attracting funding, or running for office. It's the very essence of executive presence.

As leaders and executives, entrepreneurs cannot afford to avoid public speaking. Public speaking is the new game changer.

What TV Anchors Can Teach Executives About Public Speaking

Executives need broadcasting skills. I've been saying it for years.  Media training is critical these days for everybody but especially for executives who are the face of the   organization and who lead global businesses. Public speaking and media skills apply to public service announcements, internal video commercials and now company webcasts are using video. Speaking before a camera is  different from speaking live in a town hall format. So here are some quick speaking and media training tips to keep in mind when your presentation is being filmed.

  • Keep your energy high.  Television can be an energy drain.  Speak with enthusiasm.
  • Smile. It's important to show teeth. Otherwise, you'll look too serious or scared.
  • Use make-up. This applies to men and women. Bright lights can cause perspiration so have some pressed powder handy. Don't use lotions under your make-up. It will create a shiny finish.
  • Avoid metallic or shiny materials which can cause glare.
  • Ask about the backdrop color. Don't wear black if the background is black. You'll look like a mime. Never wear kelly green or shiny, bold patterns that can cause shimmer called moire.
  • Anchor yourself. Even a slight bounce will be exaggerated on camera.
  • Look directly into the camera and not at individuals. The director or camera person will take the necessary audience shots.
  • Use fewer and  smaller gestures.
  • Speak in soundbites. Television is a fast medium. Think of commercials and movie trailers-quick, short, compelling.
  • Rehearse your presentation several times.  If it's a live broadcast and you make a mistake, keep going.
  • Don't say anything more until you're told you're off the air. It's not over 'til it's over.

Video is the hottest marketing tool and in-house video webcasts will become the norm for executive speaking. Get media trained. It's time for your close-up.

Matt Damon Can Act. But Can He Speak?

Matt Damon is a good actor but is he a good public speaker? Every year while watching the Academy Awards, I'm amazed at the poor quality of the acceptance speeches.  It would seem that a professional actor would be a good speaker. The major public speaking flaw of these acceptance speeches is they go on too long and the actors ramble. So after reading Matt Damon's speech to the teachers' rally in Washington, D.C. I would give him high marks on a simple, to the point, and brief presentation.  What lessons can we learn? He begins by complimenting the audience and gets right to the point. He talks about how he flew from Vancouver to demonstrate it was important for him to be there. This creates rapport with the audience. He establishes his credibility when he speaks  about his mother being a teacher, his experience as a student and the impact of his teachers on his success today.  He addresses the current issues of teaching to achieve test scores vs " encouraging creativity and original ideas; knowing who students are,  seeing their strengths and helping them realize their talents". Mr. Damon ends by acknowledging teachers for their impact even in the face of criticism and unproductive reforms.  He begins his speech on a  high note and he ends on a high.  He challenges the audience during times of negative media to remember that there are millions who stand behind them.  He followed Franklin D. Roosevelt's  sage public speaking advice, "Be sincere, be brief and be seated."

To read his speech click here.

Political Presentations: Is There a Double Standard for Women?

First there was Sarah Palin. I don't have to review the mistakes she made. They're burned in our brains because she was skewered by the media and the focus of a comedy bit on Saturday Night Live. Enter Michele Bachmann. Her recent flub about the actor John Wayne being from her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa set off the media because it was actually serial killer, John Wayne Gacey who hails from Waterloo. Oops. Yes, politicians must check their facts before speaking to the media and when they're wrong they'll have to answer for it. But is the scrutiny of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann due to their party affiliation? I say no. Hillary Clinton was not spared the media rod. She was criticized for her changing hair styles, her shrill voice, her command and control approach and her outspoken comments. Yet, these women pale compared to the gaffes of Joe Biden. But he seems to get a pass. The media does a quick "boys will be boys" chuckle and moves on to the next story. Like teflon, Joe's many public speaking faux pas including the F word don't seem to stick.Last week, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday asked Michele, "Are you a flake?" Her response was, "Well, I think that would be insulting, to say something like that, because I'm a serious person." Can you imagine asking a male candidate if he was a flake? He then went on to remind her "that now that you are in the spotlight in a way that you weren't before that you have to be careful and not say what some regard as flaky things." How condescending but not surprising. The experience of political women mirrors the reality of corporate senior women who are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Tired of bumping their heads on the glass ceiling many corporate women left to become entrepreneurs and fueled the rapid growth of women owned businesses. But what is the answer for female political leaders? Are they supposed to go off and form their own governments? We need the diversity in both the private and public sector. Women have led England, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Pakistan. It's 2011 and we still don't have a female American president. Is there a double standard for women candidates? Do women have to be perfect presenters? What do you think?

What Cory Booker Can Teach Us About Media Training

Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey was making the rounds on the early morning news shows today. Cory's media interviews went well because of his preparation, focus, and energy. He spoke with passion which is a lesson for any good public speaker but he also demonstrated two principles of good media training. The two principles are honesty and bridging. First, he was straightforward in his answers. When the reporter asked him how could he "sell" the idea of a reduction in city services he responded that there was no good way to sell it. This is refreshing because it's the truth. He then bridged back to his message that it would take innovation, shrinking government, creating enterprise zones, etc. The reporter asked him at a later time how he could sell the reduction of services to his constituents. He again acknowledged that you can't sell it and brought back his solution of innovation. A good reporter will ask a question three different times or in three different ways. An effective public speaker who is media trained will give the same, consistent answer and not allow himself to go off message. Cory did this well. To accomplish this, you must be well prepared and know your message points cold. Effective media interviews require the confidence to stay on message and the agility to bridge from the reporter's question to your message point.

Help! I Have a Video Media Interview

A reader sent me an email today:

Dear Diane,

I will be representing SCORE on a small business management segment online later this week. I know the subject matter well. I just need your suggestions and tips as being interviewed on video is new territory for me.


Video marketing is a powerful medium. When you're invited as an expert will you be ready? Here are some media training tips for when you present on video:

Look at the host who is interviewing you. If it’s a webcam feed, then look directly into the camera. With built in webcams, you may have to look up in order to be eye-to-eye with the viewers. That means you won’t see your notes on the screen too easily.

Begin with a hook to grab their attention-a statistic, a statement. Ex. "Host, Did you know that 80% of small businesses fail when  using ecommerce?"

Build in a quick  success. Ex." One client increased his online revenues when he learned to do this one thing…"

Speak in soundbites. This is critical.  Write down 3-6 main messages. Each point should be one sentence, one thought.  Say it crisply and then give an example. There’s no time for long storytelling in a media interview.

Video segments must move quickly.

Keep your language simple. Aim for 8th grade language. Avoid using  too many technical  terms. Use simple analogies. Ex. "Not having an ecommerce site is like not having a phone".

Talk from the audience view point. Don’t assume they know what you’re talking about. Provide value. What do they care about? Talk to those issues. Don’t be too detailed or they will tune out.

Be passionate. Video is an energy drain. That means you’ll seem more enthusiastic live than on the screen. So push your energy-especially in your vocal tone. Emphasize key words.

Be yourself. Sound like you’re having a conversation. Don’t talk at the audience; converse with them.

Don’t over gesticulate. Fast movements may not televise well.

Smile. You need to look friendly and inviting.

Imagine the audience. If you’re talking into a webcam you won’t be able to see reactions so get a picture in your mind of people responding to you.

Keep your head still.  Your head should be straight on your neck with little or no tilting.

Sit or stand up straight. Slouching will send a negative message.

Know what is behind you as background. Are you in someone’s studio? Ask about the backdrop color. You don’t want to wear black if the background is black.

Check your appearance in a mirror right before the interview. Check for dandruff, a crooked tie,  fly away hair, or shine. Use some dusting powder to avoid shine on the face or bald spots. Use hair spray and take it with you. Hair that stands up is distracting.

Don’t wear loud prints or large check patterns. They don’t televise well.

PAUSE between thoughts. This will eliminate /ums/ and allow time for the message to land.

End  with food for thought or an action step.  Ex. "Businesses are leaving money on the table when it comes to ecommerce. Go to www._________for a free assessment."

Remember it’s not about you-it’s about them (the audience).

Media training is no longer for authors and celebrities.  Whether you're interviewing for a job, speaking as a guest expert online, or even sending a video email to your friends, all public speakers will eventually use the powerful medium of video presentations.