Friday, May 29, 2009

Do you know what you're talking about?

Forgive me for being so blunt, but I have a very simple view of speeches. Imagine two circles on a page. One contains all of your knowledge. The other contains everything that your audience is interested in. If those circles overlap, then you should deliver a speech to that audience, on the topic(s) in the area that overlaps. If the circles don't overlap, you shouldn't even consider delivering a speech.

Of course, you wouldn't be as foolhardy as some speakers I've heard, who have no connection with their audience at all. I'm sure you only speak when you have a topic that is of interest to your listeners. However, problems can arise if you stray out of that overlapping zone, and start talking about things that you don't really understand, in order to please (or rather in an attempt to please) your audience.

From time to time, all speakers can suffer from the "edge effect", where they reach the borders of their expertise, but then stray over the line because the audience seems to like it. In fact, it's being disrespectful, and could lead to disaster, especially in any Q&A session. The best way to avoid the problem is to ask the event organiser to give you contact details for a few likely audience members, and have a chat with them a few weeks beforehand. Then base your speech solely on the overlap of your knowledge and their interests. It works every time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's not who you know, it's who they know

Social networking is not just about who you know. It's much more about who they know. My good friend Jan Vermeiren points out in his excellent book "How to Really use Linkedin" that it's your second level contacts who can really help you. When you have a mutual, trusted friend in common, it is often very easy to effect an introduction. And assuming an average of just 200 first-level contacts, your second-level contacts will number 40,000, which is a large pool of potential business partners, employers or clients.

It's the same on Twitter, although the numbers are even larger. For example, I have around 2,500 followers. Assuming an average of 500 followers for each of them, I can reach over a million people in two steps. It's this, in my opinion, that is making Twitter the "collective brain" of the planet. Once, I used to turn to Google if I had a question I couldn't answer. Now I turn to Twitter. In the last week alone, It has helped me find the source of an obscure quote, located a cosy bed and breakfast in Sedona, Arizona, and allowed me to set up an interview with an innovative PR company. All of the responses came back within ten minutes.

It's not who you know, it's who they know (and what they know, too).

Friday, May 08, 2009

A huge PR gaffe - MP's expenses affair gets worse

The Daily Telegraph has been having a field day with its revelations about the minutiae of MPs expenses. Although the revelations are hardly of a scale to prompt resignations, they are embarrassing for the Government. Note that the opposition parties have kept fairly quiet on this issue, since their MPs have no doubt been claiming for similar trivia. Of course, the Telegraph is more interested in Labour-bashing than "outing" the Tories. Maybe the next few days will see things change.

The sensible thing, in PR terms, would be to ride out the storm, point out that nothing illegal happened, mention that all parties have used the same system, and promise to change the rules.

However, sensible behaviour is not a hallmark of politicians at present. Now the matter of how the expenses were leaked has been referred to the Metropolitan Police. A Commons spokesman is on the radio blustering about "serious offences" and "a possible breach of the Official Secrets Act". What idiocy this is. No-one cares how the Telegraph received the details, and no-one is denying their authenticity.

As an example of how to make a PR drama into a crisis, this is a classic. When you're in a hole, you should stop digging.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Is it Spin, or is it Media Mastery?

No-one likes a spin doctor, but everyone admires a good communicator. Is there a difference? Maybe it depends on your point of view. Politicians of all persuasions try to ensure that their audiences, and particularly their supporters, know what they stand for.

So how do politicians ensure that they really do deliver a clear message, and what can we learn from them? Like him or loathe him, George Galloway MP demonstrates communication skills of the highest order. His advice for interviews? “Know exactly what you want to get across in the interview, and don’t be diverted or put off in any way by the questions that you are asked. In a very real sense, it doesn’t really matter what the question is. You have a few moments on the media, and you want to make the most of that opportunity, to get across the message you want to deliver. Now, if you can make it fit the question, it is much better, since the message will be better received and understood, but don’t be sidetracked by an interviewer trying to take you down a siding you don’t want to go down, because then you will lose the opportunity of getting across your unique and important message.”

Jo Swinson, the UK’s youngest MP, adds “When doing an interview, it is important to control your nerves. I always take a deep breath and smile, even on radio. When I appear on ’Any Questions’, I have one-page briefing sheet about the issues, and at the top it says in big letters ‘Slow down and smile’, since I do have a tendency to speak rather quickly. You also need to be authentic. If it’s something that you aren’t passionate about, or don’t even care about, are you the right person to do a media interview? Particularly in politics, but also in business too, if you are passionate about something, people will engage with you and relate to what you say”

So much for those in the front line of politics. But what about those in the background? Political blogger Iain Dale says that a sense of humour comes in handy during tricky interviews. “Often if David Cameron is asked a tough question by John Humphries or Jeremy Paxman he dismisses it with a laugh. The questions can get quite personal, but he doesn’t get upset, he just giggles. Nick Clegg on the other hand, will do the same interview and he’ll start getting tetchy at the tough questions. At home, the listener or viewer will see him start to lose his temper. Whereas Cameron doesn’t let himself get riled.”

So it’s all down to technique. Whether you laugh it off, slow down and smile, or use the question as a prompt to deliver your message, the important thing is to know what you are doing. Very few of us are natural communicators, but learning a few simple strategies can make us sound like one.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mind Your Language

You may find yourself speaking in a country where you are not too comfortable with the language. If you are at an international conference, then sessions will probably be conducted in English, or simultaneous translation will be provided. Whatever the circumstances, you may wish to include a phrase or two of the local language in order to "please" your audience. If you do, then make sure that you practice and deliver it accurately. US President John F Kennedy, on a visit to Berlin during the cold war, uttered the memorable phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner". In fact, he meant to say "Ich bin Berliner" ("I am a Berliner"), since the former phrase means "I am a doughnut". However, being who he was, he got away with it.

Your audience may not be so forgiving. Talk to a locally- based colleague to find out what would be a useful phrase, and what behaviour is acceptable. I can tell you from experience that having advance knowledge of a culture is a tremendous help when faced with a roomful of foreign dignitaries.

If you use an interpreter, here are a few tips -

* Meet the interpreter in advance
* Find out whether the translation is simultaneous or consecutive
* Avoid idiomatic phrases, such as "right on the money"
* Talk to the audience, not the interpreter
* Speak in short sentences
* Avoid humour