Friday, October 20, 2017

The weekend read

Let's have a double shot and power through this Friday, shall we communicators? After all, the weekend is just ahead. Savor your shots with my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Caffeine FTW...
(Creative Commons licensed photo by brian)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Al Franken on the interview pivot: When it works, or not

While promoting his new book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, the former Saturday Night Live satirist-turned-senator sat down with NPR's Terry Gross. And just as his book turns U.S. senate procedures inside out, making them more transparent, the interview wound up demonstrating what's known as the "pivot," that moment when the interview subject changes the subject to something more on message than the reporter's question.

It's a risky move, as we've discussed before. In Media interview smarts: Do you have to answer the question?, researchers note that, in some situations, your pivot may not be noticed by the audience. But in other situations, it will stick out like a sore thumb--including those in which the interviewee egregiously changes the subject.

For Franken, it's been doubly difficult to learn, since his first instinct is to go for the joke. Franken and Gross had a funny and frank conversation about the pivot that demonstrated its pluses and minuses. From the transcript, after Franken talked about an interview when he blurted out something funny, but inappropriate, in answer to a question:
FRANKEN: And it - and they're going like, why did you do that? Why didn't you just say I can't remember one? And I write about that in the book. And it's about pivoting, learning the basic pivoting. You've probably experienced a pivot. 
GROSS: Oh, my God, I hate it when politicians pivot.
FRANKEN: Well, that's why you're... 
GROSS: You ask a question and you get a pre-planned answer to the question that you didn't ask. 
FRANKEN: But the good ones are good at pivoting. 
GROSS: So you get the talking point that the politician wanted to put out instead of an answer to your question. And you say in your book that you had to learn how to pivot even though you hate to pivot. So what is it like to have to do something in an interview that you - you used to call that stuff out, you know, as a satirist... 
FRANKEN: Exactly. 
GROSS: ...And then you have to do it yourself? 
FRANKEN: Well, some - see, the reason they give you the talking point, now, they should... 
GROSS: You better answer my question (laughter). I'm just... 
FRANKEN: This - I'll get to - I'll answer your question. 
GROSS: OK. 
FRANKEN: But the reason you do that is actually you do want to get the message out that you want to get out that day. It's strategic. And that's why your communications team tells you, you know, today you're about talking about the terrible Republican health care bill. And so if they ask me, why are you 20 points down to, you know, to your opponent? You know what? People in Minnesota don't care about polls. What they care about is the health care bill. That's a pivot, right? 
GROSS: Right. 
FRANKEN: So it took me forever to learn that. And it's because I think I'm a very literal person. And I think my parents just taught me if someone asks you a question, answer the question. And so what I would do is answer questions. And then I'd go on about it. And invariably, whatever was on the news or whatever was on the radio or whatever was on - in the newspaper was not our strategic objective. So I had to learn that.
There seems to be agreement with that, even from the reporters' side of the house. I was mildly suprised by this piece by reporter David Weigel, One weird trick Democrats could use to stop stumbling over Pelosi and abortion questions, in which he wonders why the Democratic leaders still answer their most difficult questions, when the Republicans--who used to do the same--pivot. Weigel advocates for the pivot, noting "As a reporter, I benefit tremendously when politicians can't figure a way out of a question. But I'm surprised every time."

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The weekend read

Been sawing wood at work this week, communicators? Time to stack it up and light a fire with my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. What better way to greet the weekend than with a roaring fire?
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Harry McGregor)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"I know what he looks like in a windbreaker:" Image after disaster

I heard a little death knell in coverage of Lin-Manuel Miranda's effort to raise funds for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurrican Maria, or what sounded like it. It may be that we've moved past, as a nation, the carefully sculpted image of the public executive in the wake of a disaster. From the New York Times:
Mr. Miranda was too busy completing the track to engage with Mr. Trump’s visit to the island on Tuesday. “If he’s announcing that he’s going to do an unprecedented push for aid, great,” he said. “Short of that I don’t need to watch. I know what he looks like in a windbreaker.”
The windbreaker is a shorthand reference to a phenomenon that's only been around since 1965, according to the Responder in Chief episode of John Dickerson's Whistlestop podcast. It's a great look at how the idea of the U.S. president as "action hero" evolved, starting with Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1965 after Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans, pictured above. Johnson blurted out a promise of assistance, the locals were very greatful, and the congressional delegation from the area had another chit called in--because that's what prompted this visit, an unwitting model. Before this, there were none of the high-profile visits to which we have become accustomed.

You'll note that LBJ is in an ordinary suit, but this was not to last. Over the past 40+ years, advisers have advised their public executives to make appearances in disasters dressed for the occasion: windbreaker, rolled-up sleeves, caps, appropriate shoes. I've certainly done it, and it makes sense that the responder-in-chief, be it a state official or U.S. President, dress appropriately.

The entire form seems to have jumped the shark this week, or at least turned a corner, with the U.S. President releasing a video supercut of highlights of his visit to Puerto Rico, and, apparently not happy with the response to his action-hero effort, this tweet:
I like the context provided by Dickerson's podcast, which walks you right through how we got here today, and how different our expectations of public officials were once upon a time...as well as how important it has always been to the forgotten people on the ground that there be some level of response. Especially interesting is how the phenomenon was fueled by television optics over the years.

That visual aspect of post-disaster PR could next involve VR, virtual reality. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg highlighted that in a tech demo, using VR to "visit" Puerto Rico post-hurricane. But he was widely criticized for insensitivity in doing so, and had to apologize. Perhaps the incident confirms that the public prefers "boots on the ground" approaches still, even from non-public-officials.

No matter what technology is involved, without a substantive response behind all that window- and action hero-dressing, you can expect responses like Miranda's. Applying a windbreaker does not an action hero make. So before you stock your CEO's office closet with outdoor gear, work on the substance of your response--and your statements--first. Otherwise, you're just a windbreaker.

(LBJ Library photo of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cong. Hale Boggs, and Sen. Russell Long surveying damage to New Orleans by Hurricane Betsy, 1965. Photo A1271-22 by Yoichi Okamoto)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.