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

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