Friday, February 26, 2016

The weekend read

Facebook just expanded your range way beyond the "like," but with mittens, no one can see what you're gesturing...except for that "thumbs up" for my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Get your mittens on and toss some of these snowballs:
Knit one, purl two: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels; tell your colleagues to put this blog in their feeds; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Hedgehog Fibres)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The re-use blues: Recycling press releases, speeches, slides

My wonderful former boss and mentor, the late Thomas P. Gore II, grandson of a U.S. senator and raised in Washington, DC, used to recount insider tales of the halls of Congress, where he served as a page back in the day. Gore was the guy who talked me out of journalism and into communications by urging me to do media relations "as you would have wished someone to do it when you were a journalist," still good advice today. But his insider stories were a way of teaching me the ropes, usually with a lot of humor thrown in. And one of the best stories was a cautionary tale about why you shouldn't re-use one communications vehicle--in this case, a press release--to play the role of another, such as a speech.

Here's the tale: A to-remain-nameless Member of Congress leaves Washington for an event in his home district, announcing that he's succeeded in bringing new funding to his constituents for some purpose. There's a live event and a big crowd. Instead of having the speechwriter craft special remarks, someone said, "Wing it from the press release." So he took the press release on stage to read from, and bellowed into the microphone:


And then he proceeded to read the entire text of the press release as written: The dateline. The third-person references to himself. The facts and figures. When he got to the parts where he was quoted, he read the quote, followed by, "said Representative Nameless." At the end, he even read the "-30-" that indicated, back in the day, that the final sentence has appeared. The delivery was spirited and enthusiastic, in the style of his normal stump speeches. There's no word on whether the crowd caught on, although I am sure it felt odd to be on the receiving end of this recitation.

The real message to me was that you can't count on your speaker to wing it from materials not designed for the task at hand, nor should you. And if you're the speaker, don't think you can do this.

Sometimes, many times, you get away with it, as Congressman Nameless did (although I am still telling that story). But sometimes you don't. Rep. David Scott of Georgia got caught re-using a banking lobbyist's previous testimony, From the Huffington Post story:
At a House Financial Services Committee hearing last week on new rules intended to rein in abusive forms of payday lending, Scott couldn't seem to stop praising the industry, using language that sounded, well, bizarre. He bemoaned over-regulation by two agencies that don't actually oversee payday lenders. He said such "small-dollar" loans were "highly transparent" with "built-in controls to limit the use" -- products so good, they're designed to prevent people from using them. 
And then Scott gave away the game. 
"They've all received positive feedback from our borrowers," Scott said. 
As a member of Congress, David Scott doesn't have any borrowers. But Richard Hunt, the top lobbyist for the Consumer Bankers Association, represents plenty of companies that do. Scott, it turns out, was basically reading from 2013 testimony that Hunt gave to the Senate without disclosing his source.
A Congressman lifting phrases and passages from a lobbyist's testimony isn't just a bad look. Testimony before Congress is a legal proceeding, and generally, a matter of public record. The assumption is that your testimony is your testimony.

The alternative is plagiarism. Many would shrink from that term, yet just that kind of creative re-use of public statements happens daily, or becomes tempting, for all kinds of public and private sector executives. You could "just" read the speech from the press release. You could "just" reuse Fred's slides, because they're so much better, or your own slides created for a different audience, because they are already done. You could "just" reuse Janet's speech, because hers said what you wanted to say and so much better, and besides, the message deserves to be repeated. That's how the thinking goes. And then you wind up with "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE!" or "This is a slide we often use to explain this issue, and let's move on..." or plagiarizing a lobbyist. It's a slippery slope.

Sometimes, this comes down to bad staffing. This testimony borrowed parts, not all, of the text. Someone had to manipulate that, and didn't catch that the Congressman doesn't have borrowers when they wove the lobbyist's words into his testimony. And that's the trouble with borrowing from or re-using a speech written for someone else. It's nearly impossible to get into the head of the other speaker, who would emphasize certain things or include or exclude certain things for reasons that have nothing to do with your message. That's true whether you are the speech preparer, or the speaker.

I often tell the speakers I coach that the words need to "fit you like a glove," and I mean it. So in the preparation process, I make suggestions and edits, but urge them to adjust to fit themselves. In the end, reading from someone else's speech, slides, or heaven help us, press release isn't going to have the impact you think it will. Making your own statement is the only thing that can have true impact.

(Creative Commons licensed photo from GotCredit)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Unplugged for the week

This and all my blogs are on hiatus this week while I unplug. Normal service will resume next week!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Craig Sunter)

Friday, February 12, 2016

The weekend read

You've done all the heavy lifting this week, haven't you, communicators? No need to continue that CrossFit feeling. It's Friday, time to lift my list of finds shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Take a breather:
Build muscle: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels; tell your colleagues to put this blog in their feeds; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at

(Creative Commons licensed photo by USAG-Humphreys)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Do longer sentences in speeches, interviews = lying politicians?

Hear a long sentence, sense a long-nosed, lying Pinocchio? When it comes to politicians, NPR reported on one study suggesting that verbose sentences more often escaped the mouths of lying politicians.

You've heard this a million times, haven't you? A question is posed to which the interviewee doesn't know the answer, or one which he doesn't want to answer, and the next thing you know, there are words flying everywhere...enough to wrap around his throat and hang him.

A related problem in media interviews happens when the subject doesn't answer the question being asked, another situation that can lead to over-long answers. Turns out that doesn't fool the audience at all, and may impact your credibility.

Politicians, and others, who default to a long answer, particularly in a media interview, might want to know the formula for answering an interview question. It goes like this:

Pause. Answer. Stop.

You pause to be sure the interviewer has finished her question, rather than second-guess where she's headed. You answer the question. Then you stop, the part of the formula that most interview subjects skip. You don't go on to embroider, divert, digress, or add on. You wait for the next question, letting the reporter get a word in edgewise. And then, perhaps, you're not seen as using your long sentences to lie.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Dmitry)

Friday, February 05, 2016

The weekend read

Did this week feel like a long walk off a short pier, communicators? Or did you focus on the view ahead: The weekend? Take advantage of the start of the weekend to dive into my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and curated here just for you. Man overboard:
Swim further out: Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels; tell your colleagues to put this blog in their feeds; sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or let me know how we can work together in 2016 with an email to eloquentwoman at

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Riza Nugraha)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Take charge of your own communications training. Here's why.

Harvard Business Review's recent article, Plan your professional development for the year, has some great suggestions--but the best one is in the headline. As a speaker coach and media trainer, I can tell you that it's the planning that's most often missing in bringing professionals' skills up to a higher level.

How can I tell? The random nature of some of my gigs. I'll be in a company training one group, and the group next to them says, "Hey, we need training, too." Or I get calls at the very end of your budget cycle, when you realize you're about to leave training money on the table. Neither situation leads to an ideal start for training. And I am sometimes called to do "corrective" training for executives whose presentation and speaking skills have become a performance issue...yet no one offered them training before it became a problem.

Seth Godin tackled recently the return on investment for training, and why so many companies are missing out on those returns:
The short-sighted organization decides it's 'saving money' by cutting back training. After all, the short-term thinking goes, what's the point of training people if they're only going to leave. (I'd point out the converse of this--what's the danger of not training the people who stay?) 
It's tempting to nod in agreement at these obvious cases (or the similar case of getting, or not getting, a great new job based on how skilled you've trained yourself to be--again, a huge cliff and difference in return). What's not so easy is to take responsibility for our own training.
We've long passed the point where society and our organization are taking responsibility for what we know and how we approach problems. We need to own it for ourselves.
That goes double for communications pros, who often act like the shoemaker's children, securing training for everyone but themselves. While I'm flattered by the number of comms pros who tell me "Your blogs are my professional development," there's yet more you can do to improve your skills.

So there you have it: You're going to have to be in charge of going out and getting your own training and professional development. On The Eloquent Woman blog, I offered speakers a memo to send to the boss with 8 reasons why you need speaker training, and you can adapt it for whatever else you're seeking to develop as a skill. If your workplace doesn't offer such training, ask your professional membership groups what they offer, and take advantage of it. If you're assuming a new leadership role--president of a volunteer group, chair of a conference, keynote speaker--ask whether training is available to help you make the most of that new role. Even if you're an entrepreneur, you need to take this action. (I shared 6 things I do for professional development here.) But ask, and act. You'll have so many more advantages if you do.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Laurie Sullivan)