Friday, June 24, 2016

The weekend read

The pools are open. What's standing between you and a deep dive into my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here for you? It's Friday, people. Plenty of time left to get smarter by Monday:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by MrTinDC)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Building relationships with reporters

"And if you print that, our relationship will be terminated."

"Sir, we don't have a relationship."

That exchange between Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and Clark MacGregor, then a White House congressional relations aide to President Richard Nixon, is captured in the movie All the President's Men (available free on Amazon Prime just now). It's also the classic example of what NOT to do when you're thinking about building a relationship with a reporter.

I've had amazing relationships with some reporters, the kind where they've said, "Denise, don't ever not call me." But each one was earned--and nurtured--over time. Here are my tips for building good, productive relationships with reporters:
  1. Avoid assuming you have a relationship with any particular reporter, no matter what your position or connections are. The relationship is individual to individual, typically; in other words, just because you work at, say, the White House doesn't mean you have an automatic relationship with any reporter. You're starting from scratch, every time, Mr. MacGregor. 
  2. Tip more, pitch less: Let me say this as simply as I can: Pitching does not build relationships, and pitching with cut-and-paste emails REALLY doesn't build relationships, as this roundup of reporter tweets demonstrates amply. Giving reporters tips, instead of pitches, does more to advance a potential relationship. That means sharing info that doesn't necessarily benefit you or your organization directly, being willing to point them in the right direction, keeping them in mind on something they might not otherwise see. Be useful first, before you have the need for coverage.
  3. Hit the bases, and the basics: Do you know your stuff/topic/advertised subject matter? Are you willing to share it? Do you correct yourself when you've made an error? Do you respond in a timely way? Go the extra mile to call after hours or accommodate someone in another time zone? Answer the actual question asked? See questions as genuine inquiry as opposed to an attack? Set up interviews with experts who actually show up (or, if you're the expert instead of the communications pro, show up for interviews booked for you)? Answer questions about other matters in your field, even when you don't have a press release out on them? Do your statements hold up under scrutiny? Will you respond on negative as well as positive stories? These basics are all good signs to a reporter of your reliability, range, and real-time willingness to help. Call it the groundwork for a good relationship.
  4. Learn what they're learning: Most reporters' professional groups either don't admit communications pros and experts as members, or charge them more as "associate" members. Whether you join, attend their conferences, or just read their coverage of what their conferences yielded, stay active in learning what journalists are learning. Read their professional journals. Being savvy to their issues will make your relationship less rocky and keep your own expectations in check.
  5. Listen to what they're saying: One of the great gifts of social media is its service as a microphone for cranky (and sometimes happy) reporters, all of it fodder to help you improve what you offer reporters. There's a public explosion of info out there for the taking, starting with Twitter--but do some research to figure out your reporters' favorite social media platforms. For example, you'll find loads of leads in slide presentations given by reporters and posted on sites like SlideShare. If you're worried the advice won't be specific, don't:
  6. Cultivate an internal atmosphere that supports relationships with reporters: This London School of Economics post--shared with me by a reporter--describes a seminar in which academics and communications pros were encouraged to cultivate relationships with reporters, and given advice on how to do so. Are you doing the same in your organization?
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The weekend read

Everybody into the pool that is the weekend...soon. First, check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here for you. Dip your toe in the water and get smarter by Monday:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Matthew H)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Will speaker coaching or media training turn you into a robot?

The short answer is no. Or, it should be. 

Training subject-matter experts to robotically repeat their messages over and over, no matter the question, just isn't a best practice in media training. Yet it still happens all the time. And in public speaking, the gold standard is authenticity, not a cookie-cutter approach.

In a Republican presidential candidate debate, the repetition became a sticking point for Marco Rubio, needled by Chris Christie for repeating his talking points:
But Mr. Christie had instructed the audience to listen for what he dismissively called the “memorized 25-second speech,” adding, with a twist of the knife, that it was “exactly what his advisers gave him.” 
When it was his turn to reply, Mr. Rubio — inexplicably — seemed to fulfill Mr. Christie’s prediction, repeating the main idea of that same memorized-sounding speech about Mr. Obama. Almost word for word. 
“This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true,” Mr. Rubio said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing.” 
Mr. Christie pounced. “There it is,” he said icily, turning to Mr. Rubio and jabbing his finger at him. “There it is, everybody.”
Neither of them, of course, won the party's candidacy. But the dig stuck, and sounded familiar--because audiences pay attention when all you do is reiterate your three key points.

So do reporters. In some situations, like long-form interviews, they really don't want you and your robotic message. I believe you can and should develop depth on your key points; then you can use them in interviews or speeches as a kind of menu, going in depth when the audience or interviewer expresses interest.

For me, the most important reason to avoid skimming the surface of your topic by returning to your key points again and again lies in credibility. If you avoid answering the question at hand and instead go back to one of your comfortable points, audiences will view you with more skepticism. Is that what you were aiming for?

If you're concerned about this approach, and you're the speaker or interviewee, open up a discussion with anyone you are considering as a coach, or the coach to whom you are assigned. A good coach should be able to help you go deep with an answer, as well as keep it brief, without making you look like a repetition machine.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Rog01