Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year, New Speech

Now is the time of year to review material, including speeches. To be honest, you should keep speeches under constant review, but the turn of the year serves as a good reminder. Think about any speeches that you deliver regularly. Consider the stories, the people you mention, the examples you give. Are they all still relevant to your audiences? Although we get older every year, our audiences don't, so it's important to keep an eye out for material that should be retired gracefully.

Not only should we be chucking out material, we should be incorporating new stuff. There will have been many things that happened to you in 2008 that could make a strong point about your topic. Provided you have been making notes (you are keeping that story file up to date, aren't you?), then you will have a wealth of information to draw on.

How much to change? Well, it depends on your topic. If you talk about technology, you might have to replace more than half the content of your speeches every year. If you talk about leadership, then maybe only twenty per cent of your content needs to be let go and replaced with contemporary examples. Whatever you speak on, make sure that you do change at least some elements of your speech regularly. If not, you will hear your audience saying "I bet they gave that same speech five years ago - they clearly don't care about us any more".

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All I want for Christmas - is to be on radio or TV

Actually, it's easy.

If you asked a TV or radio producer what they want for Christmas, the response will very likely be "A guest to talk to".

Over the Christmas and New Year period, the media still operates, but guests are hard to find. It is often the easiest time to get on air, and because the audiences tend to be large, it can be a very good time too. How to get on air? Call them and tell them how much you enjoyed an earlier item. Ask to speak to the editor or producer. Chances are, they will ask you if you are available to chat.

If you receive a call from a journalist, asking if you might be available for an on-air interview in the next few days, say "yes" - even if it means missing a couple of hours dozing on the sofa in front of a repeat of that comedy show that you never really liked anyway. You'll be glad you did. It could be the start of a new career.

Have a happy media Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A sound bite in time...

...can save nine, as my gran would have said if she'd been a PR expert. However, you may have very little time to react and craft a perfect message when a reporter calls. It is more important to be responsive to the media than to spend hours deciding the best possible response. If you don't supply a statement or quote quickly, someone else will, and they may be a rival, or someone with a grudge against your organisation. You need to establish yourself, very quickly, as a prime source of information that the media can approach to for a viewpoint.

If a journalist tells you that they need a response by eleven o'clock in the morning, you need to supply it by five to eleven, not ten past eleven. A few minutes late can mean that your brilliant quote may never be heard. Of course, you can sometimes prepare your quote in advance, such as when a report is due for publication, and you know you will be asked to comment. In the apparent "heat of the moment" you can then deliver your carefully crafted message.

The best way to deal with a sudden media request is to have a list of agreed "position statements" in the hands of anyone who might be confronted by a camera or microphone. Update these statements regularly - say every three months - and your spokespeople will be able to deal with most issues without having to call a meeting first. When I was a media spokesman for a large organisation, I could recite any one of ten position statements on various issues, and could adapt them for any situation. That's what you need to do too, otherwise you could be caught out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Media Myths

There are lots of misconceptions about the media. Here are a few.

I need to ring journalists to make sure they have received my press release, and see if they are going to use it

Er...No. This is the first job given to a press office trainee to make them realise that it is not a good idea. Never pester a journalist about press releases. They'll contact you if they want more information.

I should ignore freelance journalists - they move around too much

No again. Freelance journalists should be cultivated, because they move around. They work for more journals and broadcasters, are more experienced, and likely to be career professionals. Aim at developing a long-term relationship with them.

I need to wine and dine editors

That's fine if you just want a chat and a nice meal out. Editors don't write copy. If you want to entertain anybody, try some of the poorly-paid journalists. But don't expect to receive anything in return, and don't ask for any favours. Se it as part of building a relationship.

The press are out to get me

Probably not. Journalists rarely have vendettas against individuals or companies. It doesn't mean you will always get an easy time, but there isn't any hidden agenda.

There are lots more, of course, but we'll discuss those on another day.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Don't apologise on stage

I've seen far too many speakers who make self-denigrating opening remarks. OK, the best person to tell a story against is yourself, but don't do it right at the start of your speech. Worst of all, in my view, is the person who wanders on, looking hunched and nervous, handles the mike as though it's a poisonous snake, and then says "I'm not very good at this, and my speech isn't very well prepared"

We know you're nervous. We know you're not too confident. But we want you to do well. If you appear in front of us and start off by apologising, we'll expect the worst, and that will probably be our perception when you've finished.

So, take a few deep breaths, walk on stage with your head held high and smile. It doesn't matter if you are feeling nervous. We understand. The important thing is to do your best, and the audience will support you. If you lower our expectations by hand-wringing like Uriah Heep (no, the one in David Copperfield, not the elderly rock band), than things will only deteriorate.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How to drive away web traffic

Here are a few rules that you can implement if you want to keep those annoying visitors away from your website. After, all, they only send you pestering emails trying to buy things from you. It's a real nuisance. Even if you only follow one of these rules, you will be able to reduce the amount of inconvenient requests from potential customers by a huge amount. Ready?

* Insist on customer registration before they can see all the pages
* Keep popping up screens asking them if they want your newsletter, or would like to fill in a survey
* Have text scrolling across the screen, like a neon sign
* Give detailed information about the history of your organisation
* Hide links under innocent-looking pictures
* Use lots of flash, so that poorly-sighted people with screen readers can't make sense of the page
* Include the phrase "Optimised for Internet Explorer"
* Tell users that they have to download software to see the page properly
* Use cheap clip art and standard images
* Tell the visitor what their problem is

There, that should do it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's all about.....timing

There's an old line about the most important thing in comedy being.......timing. Like all old lines, there's some truth to it. The importance of timing when dealing with the media, though, is critical. Here are some key points about timing that you need to bear in mind -

* Have a stockpile of messages ready, and update them often
* You can't extend a journalist's deadline
* Anticipate events that might affect your business
* React within minutes, not hours
* Become the primary source of information
* Don't let your competitors comment first
* Make sure that someone is always available to take a press call
* Ensure that you know where your spokespeople are at all times

Get the timing right, and the media will love you for it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Ego has landed

The person who talks to the media on behalf of your organisation need not be the Managing Director. Of course, reporters will often call seeking an interview with the top person, but if they are either not available (because they are managing the crisis) or are not very media-friendly (and despite hours of media training, this can still happen), then someone else has to face the cameras.

The problem is, lots of MDs feel that they should be the company spokesperson, regardless of their communication skills. Their egos won't allow them to delegate the task. Under these circumstances, you need to have a very strong communications manager. If the MD is a poor speaker, or worse, actively distrusts the media, then you need to rely on prepared statements, limit the length of interviews (on the pretext of having to manage the crisis), and brief the MD very strongly on the core message.

One company I worked with deliberately set up an interview with the MD on a local radio station, and then offered the same timeslot to the BBC. Since the MD was already in another studio, a media-savvy company spokesman handled the Beeb. I'm not sure the MD ever found out (unless they are reading this, in which case I just made that up).

Friday, December 05, 2008

I want news and I want it now!

The news media seem to have an insatiable appetite for speculation, comment and analysis. Before a report is due out, its possible contents are discussed by experts. On its release, there is an on-the-scene report from outside a building where the announcement was made. After the event, another panel of experts gathers around the studio desk to dissect, discuss and digest the results. That's the way it works.

So how do you react if you are caught up in this news maelstrom? One thing is certain. You won't have a great deal of time to prepare yourself, particularly if it isn't a report, but a breaking news story. Here are a few tips if you find yourself in front of a camera as the first expert to comment:

* Deliver simple information that is easy to remember
* Never speculate
* A good sound bite will take seconds to deliver - but may have a lasting impact
* Write down your key message and keep it in your pocket (believe me, this works)
* Never lie
* After 30 seconds, people are losing interest
* If you have nothing to say, don't go on air
* If all else fails, just say how you feel

In summary, keep it brief, honest and sincere. That's it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmas video competition

Watch the December videoblog, be one of the first five correct entries, and win a DVD on how to get free publicity.

Good luck!

Best wishes


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Why we need the Turner prize

Well done to Mark Leckey, last night's winner of the Turner prize, for his works which include cartoon characters like Homer Simpson and Felix the Cat.

As ever, there has been a lot of comment in the press about the Turner prize (though less than in previous years), and whether or not the entries constitute "art".

Frankly, I'm delighted to see awards made to artists whose work does not have universal appeal. Why? because it makes us think. If ever I'm in need of a creative idea, I head to the Tate Modern, and browse the exhibits, with no particular aim in mind. Sometimes I'm disappointed, sometimes annoyed, and sometimes amazed and impressed. It doesn't matter. It makes me think, and as I linger over a coffee in the cafe, ideas occur to me - and not necessarily answers to the problem I arrived with.

Try a visit to a gallery you wouldn't normally go to - we need art that challenges us.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mike and the Mechanics

You will often have to use a microphone when you make a speech. We've all seen people using microphones, and the principle of using one is pretty simple - you speak, it picks up your voice. So why do so many speakers treat a microphone as though it is a threat to life and limb?

Here are a few microphone tips :

* Always do a sound check before your speech. Arrive early and make friends with the sound technician. With the mike switched on, walk in front of the speakers to check for feedback.
* Know how to switch the mike on and off.
* If you have to swap wireless mikes with another speaker, practice first.
* Keep your head up. Never lower your head towards a fixed microphone.
* Don't turn your head away from a hand mike - keep it in front of you at all times.
* Keep the mike at the same distance from your mouth. If using a lapel mike, this is easy.

Always ask for a wireless lapel mike (or lavalier to be technical) for preference, since it gives you the freedom to move (or stay put). And never, ever, tap the mike and say "1, 2, 3 testing - is this thing on?"