Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gordon Brown's Conference Speech analysed

I've just left a studio at Sky News, having commented live on Gordon Brown's Conference speech. I'm now sitting in the back of a car on the North Circular Road on the way home, so just setting out my initial reaction.

It was a solid, unspectacular performance - the kind we've come to expect from Gordon. There were three and a half standing ovations, and polite applause throughout. He stumbled over words a few times, showing his nerves, and was not helped by his speech writers, with several tongue-twisting phrases, and a lot of negatives "We won't even think of doing that, we'll do this instead"

The start was very strong, with a huge ovation for the list of Labour achievements. His warm-up act (Sarah Brown yet again) was brilliant - in fact we may have seen the UK's Hillary Clinton.

As the speech went on, it dragged into detail, some of it quite confusing, especially on fiscal policy (note to speakers - don't use the word fiscal in a speech unless you are speaking to economists). There were a few jokes at his own expense, but alas, he can't tell jokes well.

There were one or two decent sound bites "Markets need morals" "Never stop believing", but not much of the speech was memorable. It's 30 minutes since he sat down, and I've forgotten most of it already.

Some of the applause was a bit forced, and he's clearly been told to use gestures more than last year. It looked like he was chopping down a reluctant tree at one point.

There were a few good digs at the opposition in the closing section, but overall, my impression was of a man who wanted to avoid making any mistakes rather than someone with an inspiring vision. Maybe because that's the type of man he is, so perhaps we saw the real Gordon Brown.

Let's see how David Cameron responds next Thursday.

Comedy legend Jim Sweeney honoured

My good pal Neil Mullarkey alerted me to this brilliant tribute to comedy legend Jim Sweeney. If you don't know Jim, you should. He's the "godfather of improv", and peers like Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and Eddie Izzard explain why in this video.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anti-Social Media: 10 Essential Rules

With all the attention paid to Social Media, there's been little focus on its related discipline, anti-social media. Here are a few tips to make sure that you know how to use anti-social media for no gain and scant profit:

1) Promote yourself relentlessly, at all times. Make sure that every message is a selling one, so that your friends and followers understand what you are really about

2) Never offer help. Why give away something that people should pay you for?

3) Re-send messages from experts, to give the impression that you have the same thoughts. Occasionally "forget" to mention their name to reinforce this impression

4) Hide your identity behind a silly name or jumble of letters. You don't want to end up on a spammers list, do you?

5) Try to get as many people to follow you as possible, but ignore them completely. They are just your potential customers, so they have nothing to offer you

6) Cut and paste articles and pretend that you wrote them (or at least hint at it by making it hard to spot the name of the original author)

7) Automate everything so that you never have to be at your computer, There are better things to do than listen to the dull conversations in social networks

8) Constanly promote money-making schemes that you don't use yourself (because they don't work). You can make loads of money selling these as an affiliate

9) Insult and abuse others, to damage their reputations and reduce their chance of getting work.

10) Never miss an opportunity to tell people that they are doing it wrong, and you are doing it right. They will get the message eventually, and give up, leaving you the winner.

There you go. If you follow these rules on a daily basis, your business will change dramatically. You may even end up with an ASMO (Anti-Social Media Order).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'm really sorry about this post....

Actually I'm not. I don't have anything to apologise for, as far as I'm aware. However, there has been a spate of apologies recently, so I thought I'd get in on the act.

In the last week alone, Serena Williams has apologised for her outburst at the US Open Tennis; Kayne West has apologised for wrestling the mike from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music awards; and Manchester City's Emmanuel Adebayor has apologised for running the length of the pitch to celebrate his goal in front of the Arsenal fans. So what has brought on this spate of contrition?

Obviously, all of the above were given a stiff talking-to by their publicists. The best PR policy (other than not making an idiot of yourself in the first place) is to apologise quickly and completely. Of course, a fulsome apology doesn't make things right again. However, the old adage "Least said, soonest mended" does not apply in the world of PR. You need to come out with your hands up, admit your failure, and promise to do better in future. Unfortunately, some celebrities become serial apologisers (check the cuttings for Naomi Campbell).

You can't keep making mistakes and getting away with it by wringing your hands and saying what a fool you've been. But if it all goes wrong, a quick and hertfely apology is the best way to resolve matters.

By the way, I'm really sorry if this article caused any offence. Honestly.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Boiling Frogs, Lighthouses, Bricklayers and Starfish

Everyone likes a good story, especially if it makes a strong point. Some people like good stories so much they tell them over and over again.

However, stories told too many times become tired clich├ęs. There are a number of stories that fall into this category these days, and in my experience on the speaking circuit, the four most over-used are

- The frog in boiling water (illustrating that people don't notice slow change)

- The Lighthouse versus the battleship (even the most powerful have to give way sometimes)

- The three bricklayers (it's all about what you perceive)

- The Starfish ("it made a difference to that one.." - even Obama told this one recently)

Of course, if you hear a story for the first time, it may have a powerful impact. But for the person telling it, they have no idea how many of their audience is familiar with the tale. It's much better to tell your own stories, even to make the same points. Using old stories is just lazy and unoriginal.

So please, tell stories that you were part of, not hackneyed parables from business books.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Derren Brown's Brilliant PR Stunt (and how he did it)

As a PR expert, I take my hat of to Derren Brown. He has pulled off some audacious stunts before, but his use of viral PR on the Internet this week was brilliant. The Lottery predictions were a clever trick, of course (explanation in a moment). The real trick, however, was to promote himself across the world using YouTube and social media. His videos have had millions of viewings this week, added to by the tongue-in-cheek nonsense on his Friday show, when he "revealed" the secret. Of course the "deep maths" was yet another mis-direction to keep the mystery (and the viral PR) going. I don't expect him to win the Lottery tonight.

Oh yes, how did he do it? Simple split-screen technology. Watch the video below. At 5.09, watch the left-hand side of the screen as he says "28". It freezes as the switch is made from a pre-filmed image back to full screen. Around 20 seconds prior to that, the left-hand side of the screen switches from live to pre-recorded, to allow his assistant to replace the balls unseen. Even the camera shake is a mis-direction. There's no need to have a hand-held camera in a studio like that. It's all to do with suggestion, which Brown is a master at.

Nonetheless, it's the PR aspect I admire. Well done to Derren and his team. That's magic!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Go Local

Local newspapers are not as numerous as they used to be, but they are still read by millions of people. Local radio has a more loyal audience than national TV. Local TV is sometimes restricted to news bulletins these days. but they struggle to fill their broadcast time. Many people dismiss local media as a waste of time, but on the contrary, it's very valuable.

There are a number of reasons you may want to appear on local media. Firstly, you may have a product or service that people in your area will buy (duh!). Secondly, a good story that is featured on local media will often find its way onto national media, due to the efforts of a stringer (a reporter who gets paid for each job they do, rather than being employed by a news outlet). Thirdly, it's a good way to hone your media skills.

Whenever you believe you have something news-worthy, look for the local angle. Every story has one, whether it is the number of local people affected by an issue, or a well-known local person (maybe you) who is part of the story. Get to know your local reporters, particularly those who feature stories about your type of business. Offer them help and advice, and be available when they call. You will soon find that you become a trusted source of quotes, and your profile will rise.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Take charge of the room

The sight of empty rows of seats when you are giving a speech is a serious drain on your energy, and a constant distraction. It will also make your audience members think "why didn't everyone else turn up?". The problem is usually caused by enthusiastic organisers who want to ensure that everyone will have a seat, and therefore not only put out far too many chairs, but also provide much too large a room.

That's why you need to arrive early, and ask the organiser how many people are expected. Then count the chairs (yes, do it yourself). If there are obviously too many chairs, request that some are removed. Point out the disadvantages of a half-full room, and the fact that chairs can easily be added at the last minute. If you are able to, it may be possible to switch to a smaller room, or to change the layout from theatre-style to cabaret-style (circular tables with about ten chairs around each). In addition, a few people left standing shows how popular your talk is, which will reflect well on the organiser.

You might also wish to change the layout to remove a central aisle (one thing I always do if I can). Most importantly, you should take charge of the room, so that you and the audience feel comfortable, and have no distractions while you are speaking.

If you can't make any changes, try putting any handout material on the front rows only, and/or have people escorted to their seats at the front. If you end up with a tiny audience, ask them to re-arrange their chairs in a half-circle in front of you. Never, ever make an excuse like "I don't know why so few people turned up". Simply present your speech as though the audience is exactly what you expected.