Friday, December 02, 2011

Are you a TMI speaker?

Here's a speaking characteristic I suspect you don't want to demonstrate. TMI. Too Much Information. It might appear to be a good problem to have, especially if you are being paid to deliver your knowledge. However, it is not at all helpful to your audience to overwhelm them with facts and figures that they have little time to absorb, let alone use. I see the TMI phenomenon often at events all around the world. Some speakers fear that they are not getting enough information across, so pack their speeches with detailed evidence to back up their messages (yes, they deliver a whole bunch of different messages too). 

The symptoms of TMI can be observed in the audience, by watching people getting increasingly frustrated, and saying to each other "Did you get that?" There are several possible causes. Firstly, the speaker may be rushing through their material in order to finish on time. That's never going to work, since the audience will feel cheated. Secondly, there may be way too much information on the slides, accompanied by the speaker saying "You probably can't see the detail on this slide, so I will talk you through it". (Oh dear).

In most cases, however, it's simply a case of trying to deliver too many messages in one speech. Here's my rule of thumb; one speech, one message. That's it. It's simple, clear and prevents any confusion. The thing is, a week or two later, people in your audience will remember just the one thing that made the greatest impression on them.

So the cure for TMI is obvious and simple. Focus on one message only, and provide plenty of time for your audience to understand it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Please don't ask me for a testimonial...

...unless I've seen the quality of your work.

If I know you, and I know how good you are, I will happily give you a testimonial. You won't even have to ask, since I always write testimonials for people I work with (or see working with clients) that impress me.

Alas, I receive requests on a regular basis from people I've never met, or hardly know. Sometimes they have written a testimonial for me (often on LinkedIn), and ask for one in return. It's tough for me, since I don't wish to appear ungrateful, but I often reply explaining why I can't reciprocate. I often delete their testimonial for me too, since it's not based on any real evidence.

I believe that the practice of recommending and doing "testimonial deals" between individuals who barely have a relationship is devaluing testimonials in general. I'm not impressed by the number of testimonials on a profile. I rely on personal recommendations.

What's your view?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The OOPS Factor

TV presenter Dennis Norden used to front a show which featured clips of things going wrong on TV and in films. On one occasion, he mentioned the "oops factor", which he defined as "Objects Only Perform Sometimes". I believe it's a corollary of Murphy's Law, which states "If something can go wrong, it will" (to which I will add Stevens' variation "especially in front of an audience"). In short, you need to have a plan B. 

It's impossible to anticipate every possible cause of problems on stage. There may be technical issues, venue problems or external factors that cause disruption. However. you can greatly reduce the chances of embarrassment by taking some simple precautions in advance.
The best advice I can offer is to stay calm. Your audience will understand that things can go awry, but as long as you deal with them with patience and a little humour, they will forgive you. In fact, you can make a huge impression on them by taking problems in your stride and not panicking. Here are a few things to reduce your oops factor.

  • Take spares for everything - batteries, bulbs, memory sticks
  • Rehearse every use of technology
  • If there are handovers between presenters, rehearse those too
  • Establish what happens if audio or video fails
  • Practice in the same place, and with the same equipment you will be using "live"
  • Bring spare stage clothes in case of spills or damage
  • Always be prepared to give or finish your presentation without any technical aids at all
  • Smile. These things happen

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mike Tindall and the muppets at the RFU

Mike Tindall's international rugby career is almost certainly over. His removal from the England elite squad, and fine of £25,000 has made it unlikely that he'll ever pull on the white jersey with the red rose again. His punishment comes after a grainy video of his behaviour in a Queenstown nightclub with a former girlfriend, the day after England's game with Argentina.

It's clear that Mike Tindall had been drinking. So had most of his team-mates, since there was no squad ban on drinking or going to clubs. He also hugged, and was kissed on the head, by a former girlfriend. Er...that's it.

I'm not suggesting that Mike Tindall should have gone unpunished for being the worse for drink in a nightclub at 2am, but the penalty seems extraordinarily harsh. I think it has far more to do with the shambles at the top of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), and the struggle for power between the blazered officials. It looks like current head honcho Rob Andrew is trying to make a point.

Two England officials committed a severe breach of the Rugby World Cup rules by switching the ball before a kick. Their penalty? They couldn't sit on the bench at the next game. So deliberate cheating in a game is a minor offence, compared to having a few beers and being kissed by a former girlfriend?

No-one expects our sports people to be always completely sober and celibate. Bobby Moore and most of his England football colleagues were legendary drinkers. I was at Stamford Bridge many years ago when Bobby Charlton played his last game for Manchester United. He was given an award in the centre circle before the game - a silver cigarette box. Apparently he received a gallon of whisky in the dressing room later.

Having a drink from time to time is not a problem. I have a thick head right now after our team won the school quiz night last evening, and we returned home and drank the prize (some very nice shiraz). wink

Of course, times change. We expect our sports people to set an example. When they transgress, they should be penalised. But the punishment should be fair and proportionate, not a grand public gesture by an official trying to keep his job.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lest we forget

This is William John Godwin, my great uncle, and one of my grandmother's beloved two brothers. He joined the army in 1914, aged 20, and volunteered for the Machine Gun Corps. In 1916, he was posted to The Somme. On September 23rd, 1916, he fell in battle. All we have to remember him by is this photograph. His brother, Arthur, was in the Merchant Navy, and drowned on April 3rd 1917 when his ship, HMS Jason, was torpedoed.

My grandmother rarely spoke of her brothers. It was too painful. On the rare occasions when she did, it was with great sadness, but also great pride.

That's why I wear a poppy.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Is your presentation too linear?

I was in Mallorca for a few days last week. The railway line that runs from Palma to Soller is not what you could call a straight line. It runs through tunnels and winds through mountains, but gets to the right destination. Speeches don't have to be a straight line either. Traditionally, you tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them (the traditional "business sandwich"). Often a series of slides takes you along the path from start to finish, making it tough to deviate at all.

Some display software, such as Prezi allows the creation of a presentation from chunks of information that don't need to follow in any particular sequence. However, delivering a non-linear presentation is not about software, it's about an approach which many speakers find uncomfortable. Increasingly, audiences are demanding a style which is more than just a procession of slides, so now is probably a good time to think about your speech structure.

Not every speech lends itself to a non-linear style. Not every audience will appreciate it. Furthermore, you must still have some kind of overall structure and aim, otherwise you will simply be presenting a mass of information with no overall message. Delivering in a non-linear way may demand more preparation and more subject knowledge than a linear narrative. It may also require what a pal of mine used to call "a big dose of brave pills".

Many stand-up comedians are masters of non-linear delivery. They can deviate for minutes at a time, but still return to a core message. They may tell stories in a different sequence each time they speak, responding to prompts or questions from the audience, or just how they feel. In my opinion, the more interactive and non-linear you can learn to be, the more people will want to see you speak. You can choose to ignore the trend, but the train may leave without you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Liam Fox on the run

As I predicted in my email newsletter this morning, Dr Liam Fox MP has resigned as defence secretary.

Though he has remained dignified in the manner of his departure, and also in his resignation letter, his friends have already appeared on radio and TV to blame the media for his demise. It's a common plaint from politicians when they are forced to leave office after a series of indiscretions. However, there would have been no press interest had there not been some very odd goings-on. Speculation about Dr Fox's sexuality played no part in media reporting, nor should it have done. The damage was caused by a series of inexplicable events which grew more puzzling by the day. Alas, Dr Fox has only himself to blame.

Lessons for all politicians.

1) Don't misbehave
2) If you do, don't lie about it
3) If you get caught, apologise and admit everything.

Our Olympic dreams are shattered

When the announcement was made that the 2012 Olympics would be held in London, we broke open the champagne. My wife, daughter and I live four miles from the Stratford site, so we were sure we'd be able to get involved. We looked forward to seeing events, and maybe volunteering to help out. It would be the greatest party ever.

My daughter worked out that she and her friends would be 15 in Olympic year, and set her heart on some kind of role, such as volunteering to help, or taking part in a ceremony at the opening or closing. As a pupil at a local school, we were sure there would be some activities. We were wrong. As a governor at two schools less than a five-minute drive from the games site, there has been no benefit at all, and no involvement of the children in the Olympic project. Furthermore, worries about child protection have meant that only over-18s can volunteer or take part in ceremonies, crushing the hopes of thousands of local children, many of whom will be outside the fence, tearfully looking in when the games are on.

Then there's the ticketing fiasco. We didn't apply for tickets, for a reason I will explain shortly. However, many of our local friends did. Hardly anyone received any tickets at all. Despite having been affected by years of construction and transport "upgrades", there's been no thought given to any gesture towards local people, other than a two-fingered one from the London 2012 organisers. Around the UK, we don't know anyone among our friends that received more than a fraction of what they applied for. No-one got near the athletics or the swimming.

We didn't apply for tickets because I decided to volunteer for the PR and media team. Though I put in my application over two years ago, I still hadn't received a date for an interview when the ticket lottery opened. I knew that as a volunteer, I'd be busy during the games, so decided not to apply at all.

My Olympic volunteer application form specified three areas: Press and Media (First preference), General PR team, (second preference), Brand protection (Third preference). Why? Because I've worked in radio and TV for over 30 years, I've been in over 3,000 media interviews, I've written several books on media skills, I'm a Chartered PR Practitioner, and I run a successful media consultancy advising major global brands. I knew there were no guarantees, but with a requirement for over 5,000 volunteers in PR and media, I thought I had a pretty good chance of selection.

I did get selected for interview, but not for the press and media team, not for the general PR team, and not for the brand protection team. I was selected for the transport team. I rang to enquire what this meant, and was told "It's either driving officials to and from venues, or it's helping to run the car parks". I meant no disrespect to cabbies and car park attendants when I said "What???" Of course, I requested a change of team. "That's not possible" I was told "You have been allocated to the team best suited to your skills, and there is no appeal". I assume "best suited to my skills" means that I can drive, or point at a car parking space while wearing a yellow vest.

We're very, very disappointed. For years, my family and I have looked forward to the Olympics coming to our part of our city. We all feel badly let down. As things stand, we'll probably go abroad and rent out our house, so at least we get something from the Olympic debacle.

It just goes to show that to get things wrong, you need a Government oficial, but to really foul things up, you need an Olympic committee. I've lost interest in London 2012. Roll on 2013.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Speechwatch: David Cameron, Conservative Party Conference 2011

David Cameron was 25 minutes late starting, giving rise to speculation that he was doing a last-minute rewrite. He added in a "joke" about "catgate", which fell flat, like all politicians attempting humour.

He seemed confused about whether it's a Conservative Government or a Coalition Government, and used the terms randomly. In some sections he seemed to be positioning the Conservatives as more socialist that Labour. He called them the "part of the NHS" which I'm sure raised a few eyebrows nationally.

His regular speech patterns were in evidence "Let me say this.." "I'd like to say.." They weren't in the text of the speech, so are clearly part of his delivery style. He didn't over-excite the audience, and it was hardly his best speech. It was fairly subdued, possibly to match the national mood. He looked and sounded tired for much if the speech. 

I suspect that the re-writes and the media reaction overnight to the early briefings may have knocked the stuffing out of the speech to some extent. There were a few strong patches, but not as many as the audience probably hoped for. There were no major (or even minor) gaffes, but I doubt that any of the phrases will live long in the memory.

His delivery was faltering and hoarse to begin with (possibly the reason for delay). It built to a crescendo late in the speech and finished in strong. Not the greatest speech, but competent enough.

He can do much better. I'd rate it six out of ten.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Speechwatch; Ed Milliband, Labour Party Conference 2011

Ed Milliband is not the greatest political speaker of his generation, by quite a long way, but I thought his performance today showed that he''s improving fast.

I felt he overdid the opening bonhomie, with references to his wife and sons, but perhaps it gave him a chance to overcome his nerves. It sounded as though a speechwriter had written "icebreaker" at the top of the sheet, and then they'd decided how to fill a couple of minutes with family-friendly welcomes, like the father of the bride at a wedding.

Once he was into the speech proper, he aimed a few shots at Nick Clegg, but the audience were slow to pick up the pace. Even though the speech was short on policy, there were several clear themes. Firstly "New bargain". He used the phrase a dozen times throughout, and delivered a fine piece of anaphora in his closing remarks;

"The fight for a new bargain. A new bargain in our economy so reward is linked to effort. A new bargain based on your values so we can pay our way in the world. A new bargain to ensure responsibility from top to bottom. And a new bargain to break open the closed circles..."

A secondary theme was the "predator and producer", where he likened the bankers in general (and Fred Goodwin in particular) to the former, and manufacturing industry, like Rolls Royce, to the latter, No prize for guessing which he preferred.

Thirdly, there was the "closed circles" at the top of society, a clear reference to the backgrounds of much of the current cabinet. He linked this to tertiary education, though I'm not entirely sure what he meant by a "competitive university"

Overall, I think it's the best speech he's delivered so far as Labour leader. He rallied the faithful with "You can't trust the Tories on the NHS", and the audience warmed to him as the speech went on. Competent but not brilliant, with no obvious gaffes.

I'll give him 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Speechwatch: NIck Clegg. LibDem Conference Sept 2011

Nick Clegg had a tough speech to deliver in Birmingham today. Support in both his party and the country at large has fallen away in the 500 days since the election.

"Not easy but right" was a phrase he used often. He used the old ply of "this conference hall stands on the site of...." to link his speech to Liberal history. Barack Obama used a similar gambit in his brilliant "more perfect union" speech in Philadelphia in March 2008. Nick Clegg is not a great orator (nor is Barack Obama in my view), but he knows how to deliver a political speech to an audience outside the hall.

He indulged in plenty of Labour-bashing, but said barely a word about his coalition partner, for obvious reasons. The Tories have taken a lot of stick from other conference speakers, but the Deputy PM was having none of it. He tried a few lines of humour, such as the gifts exchanged between him and the French President (Kendal Mint Cake). Alas, the jokes were weak, and his delivery somewhat wooden. There was also the conference cliche of the personal story ("One young woman called Chantal told me..."). There was a good line about being "in nobody's pocket" that drew prolonged applause.

It was a fairly sombre speech overall, without any specific promises, and it was received well, if not rapturously. Paddy Ashdown, a party darling, received several mentions and praise.

He closed with a good triplet-based crescendo about the riots: "Britain is our home. We will make it safe and strong. These are our children. We will tear down every barrier they face. And this is our future. We start building it today."

Overall, a steady-as-she-goes speech, which was competent rather than spectacular.

MediaCoach Speechindex : 6 out of 10.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Bad, The Good and The Indifferent: Gordon Ramsay, Hyatt, BA

Brands are all about perception. Allow me to tell you a story in three parts about my weekend, that illustrates the point rather neatly.

I flew to Dallas, Texas, to attend a conference of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). I was booked to fly BA out of Heathrow Terminal 5, and I arrived in time to grab some food before boarding the flight. Like all new airport terminals, T5 is more of a fly-by shopping mall, so there is the usual mix of luxury shops and fast food outlets. Last time I passed through, I had a very pleasant huevos ranchos in Giraffe, the eco-friendly world music restaurant. This time, I spotted Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food (Geddit?) so wandered in to sample some fine fast dining, or so I thought. I was shown to a bench seat that stretched past several tables. Alas, a waiter was cleaning the same bench seat two tables down, so I was rocked back and forth for about thirty seconds as he scrubbed the beige vinyl. Not a great start. I ordered eggs Benedict (my regular travelling breakfast, by which I compare restaurants) and black coffee.

The food arrived fairly quickly, and was placed in front of me. I regarded it with suspicion. A large white plate had on it what appeared to be something like eggs Benedict, as conceived by a five-year-old. The base was half of an untoasted, cold, white bap. Several thin slices of cold supermarket ham covered it, with two tiny hard-poached eggs perched on top. The whole thing was covered in a yellow sauce with a darker colour, and different taste, to hollandaise sauce. The taste was unexpectedly bland, and unlike any other eggs Benedict I have ever tried. I ate two bites and gave up. The waiter returned for the "Is everything OK?" question and I reported "No, the food was awful". He replied "How strange, we've served lots of those today". That was it. No apology, no reduction, no concern. I wonder what Gordon would say?

On arrival in Texas, I took a cab to the Hyatt Regency, North Dallas. The service was of a standard I have rarely encountered. The staff were attentive without being overbearing, the food was tasty and healthy, and everything worked perfectly. I couldn't fault it. It was such a pleasure to be relaxed and comfortable.

On the flight home, I was reflecting on the contrast betweem my experiences of the Gordon Ramsay and Hyatt brands. They couldn't have been more different, but the difference was mainly the attitude of the staff. It's often said that service is better in the US because people work for tips. It's much more than that. It's an approach that is regarded as the norm, regardless of whether tips are involved. As I pondered this thought, my in-flight meal arrived. I will spare you the details, but every element was inedible. As the flight attendant collected my uneaten food she said 'I'm sorry about that - we have no control over this". Fair enough. She was doing her best, but the food production and quality control had failed.

So there we are. Three brands; Gordon Ramsay, Hyatt and BA. The Bad, The Good and The Indifferent. It's the small things that matter.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

What are social networks good at?

Someone asked me the other day "What are the really good things about social networks?" it made me stop and think. Like you, I use social networks on a regular basis. I make connections, find out interesting stuff, and let others know what I do. I've never really considered why I find social networks so useful. So here are three things that I think are really handy:  

1) Speed. News stories often break on Twitter, which is why all journalists have Twitter accounts, and alerts set up on their topics of interest. However, speed is just speed. It's not analysis. Social media is really useful in alerting you to something that just happened, so that you can look into it on more detail. If you're the kind of person who needs to know stuff first, social media is brilliant. But there's a caveat. Because you don't usually know the source of the information, there may be no validity check. It's probably better to say that social media can alert you to something that may have happened, and you need to find a trusted source to be sure.

2) Structure There's more and more random information flying around the web. Social media tends to facilitate hubs and groups of interest that provide structure to that information. Again, you need to be aware of the possible bias of the curator. However, getting a current view of a topic you don't fully understand is much easier than it used to be.  

3) Mood Finding out what people think about an issue is also made much easier by social networks. Online campaigns and petitions are now seen as reliable indicators of the public mood. Once again, the usual warnings apply, but if a few hundred thousand people feel strongly enough about an issue to comment online, there must be something going on.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Not quite beyond the fringe...

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Edinburgh, looking out on a glorious Scottish morning, reflecting on an interesting experience. Last night, I performed a stand-up comedy gig to an audience of around 150, some of whom had just wandered in off the street, having seen the “Bright Club – one night only – free show” signs outside the Informatics Building at Edinburgh University, where the event took place. It came about after a phone call three days ago from UCL (University College, London). A friend asked me if I might be free on Saturday evening. Thinking it might be an invitation to an event with free beer, I checked the diary, checked with my family, and told him I was. “Great” he said “We’ll book your hotel and cover your train tickets. We’d like you to do a stand-up comedy routine in Edinburgh on Saturday night”.

OK, I thought. I do the occasional spot of stand-up, and being a speaker, use humour in my speeches. But I’m not a career comedian, and the Edinburgh Fringe is full of cracking performers. Would anybody come to watch? If they do, how will it go? But there was more. “By the way” said my pal “the other comics are all scientists. Can you do a science routine?” So now I’m right in it. I’ve agreed to the gig, and I’ve got three days to write a ten-minute set of science gags, to be performed at an Edinburgh Fringe event. I pick up my pencil. Nothing occurs to me at all. I go for a run, and return with an idea for a riff about astronomy, featuring Patrick Moore and a few puns (“It may be no constellation to you….”). I work on it and find I’ve got about three minutes of material. I try it on my wife and daughter, and they both laugh. That’s a very good sign.

I then get an idea for a running gag based on songs with scientist’s names in; “What a day Faraday dream, Darwin-er takes it all, You were made Fermi…”. Alas, I get so interested in thinking these up that by the time I board the train to Edinburgh, I’m still around six minutes short, and I haven’t rehearsed. Luckily, it’s a four and a half hour journey, so by the time the train pulls into Waverley station, I’ve enough to fill the set, though I haven’t tested it on anyone (testing is a vital part of comedy). The gig is still 24 hours away, so I meet up with a good pal for drinks at a Fringe venue (he lives in Edinburgh and is a comedy veteran). We swap some stories, I try a few lines, and he suggests a couple of scientist song puns.

The next day, I wander around Edinburgh, buy a few gifts for my family, browse bookshops and linger over some strong coffees. It’s a very relaxing day, but my mind is still on the gig. As always, I wander over to the venue hours ahead of time (mid-day to be precise) to check it out for acoustics, lighting and “feel”. Like many Fringe venues, it’s somewhat rudimentary. I decide not to worry about it and at 3pm, head back to my hotel to rehearse the routine in my room. I find it helpful to run through routines out loud three our four times – the same discipline I adopt for speeches. Then I discard my notes and head off to the venue.

We’re due to start at 6.30, so I arrive at 5.30. The other performers arrive. None of them is even half my age, and they’re full of confidence. I agree to be the opening act, since they’re all local, and have their pals coming to watch, whereas I’m just the old guy from out of town. At 6.25, there are ten people in the audience. The MC, who appears to have just left school, suggests we delay until 6.40. It turns out to be a good call, as by then the barkers have managed to persuade around 150 people to come in out of the rain. I must admit, despite speaking to much larger audiences on a weekly basis, I’m a tad nervous. I need to nail this. The MC does a ten minute opening session, and it’s clear that he’s well known to the crowd. He picks out a few familiar faces and has some saucy banter with them. I realise that there are a number of other fringe performers in the audience. Fine.

Then I’m introduced, so I leap on stage and go into the astronomy routine. The line about Patrick Moore being so large he has his own gravitational field gets a small laugh. Things pick up when I ramble about new names for constellations (Three stars – the Bacon Sandwich…Four points of light, all dim – Cheryl Cole). Then I’m into a story about the time I played a Scottish shopkeeper in an Italian soap opera (absolutely true). I can feel the crowd is onside now. I decide to drop the running gag about song titles, and finish with a longer story about getting my MSc in 1975 with a disastrous research project. They love it. I’ve found their funny bone. I finish with a gag from a pal of mine (which he offered to me for this gig – I would never use it without permission). It’s about the male morning-after pill. “It changes your blood group”. It gets a huge laugh and I’m off stage with a wave of thanks.

The other comics perform well. The gig ends at 7.30 and we repair to a restaurant for a meal of faggots and gravy washed down with single malts. All the performers, including me, are high on adrenaline. I’m pleased that it’s an early finish so I’ll at least be able to get to sleep after the euphoria wears off. In the event we head off to the castle and watch the military tattoo and fireworks at midnight before more whiskies.

In the morning (now as I write this) I’m amazed not to be hungover. Maybe it hasn’t hit yet. So that was it. I managed to pull off a good gig at the Edinburgh Fringe. I’m not switching to a career in stand-up. It wouldn’t be an easy life. Bob Monkhouse used to say “My friends laughed when I said I was going to be a comedian, but they’re not laughing now”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Media Coach Radio Show - 19th August 2011

This week's show features an interview with, and music from, Lee Robert. We met at the National Speakers Association Convention (NSA) in Anaheim in August 2011, and spoke about Lee's father, Cavett Robert, the founder of NSA, as well as about Lee's unique style of music - Cowgirl Jazz. Take a listen...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Has X Factor lost the X Factor?

I know, many of you don't care about X Factor, so if that's the case, please look away now. No need to tell me how much you hate it.

For those still with me (both of you), I hope you'll be joining me (virtually as it were) in front of the show when it returns tonight with a 75% new judging panel.

Will Gary Barlow be nice to everyone? IS Louis Walsh still confused? Will Tulisa Contostavlos look more like Cheryl Cole every week? Will anyone remember who Kelly Rowland is? And will the absence of Simon Cowell drive away viewers?

We'll get a good idea tonight. I will be watching.

If you want to hear my take on the questions above, I will be pontificating on BBC Radio 5 Live tomorrow morning.

I wonder how many times Louis will say - "You know - you could win this...."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Wizard of Oz stays behind the News Corp curtain

So the big day came and went, and the highlight of the Murdoch's appearance in front of MPs was "Tiger Woman" Wendi Deng who sprang to her husband's defence in the face of a foam pie assault. I hear that the clip of her one-person rapid reaction force has now been watched tens of millions of times in China.

Alas, that will be the memory of the day for many. We learned little of what really went on in News Corp, or News International, which are apparently run by a father and son team, one of whom is confused and amnesiac, the other puzzled and unaware. It was hard to reconcile their demeanour with the power that both still wield in the tangled worlds of media and politics.

So was it all an act? To a large degree, I suspect it was. Not only was Wendi Deng sitting behind her husband and stepson, but a slight, balding man called Joe Klein was also keeping a close eye on things. He was taken on only last year by the Murdochs, and is a serious political and legal player. He was the man behind Bill Clinton during the Whitewater scandal and a few other local difficulties. He joined News Corp after a stint running the New York School system, after getting a call from Mayor Bloomberg. When there's a tricky problem, Mr Klein is the man that big-hitters turn to for advice.

Naturally, both James and Rupert Murdoch have received media coaching in advance of their appearance. The signs were clear, from the way both responded to questions. They had been given a few key phrases and gestures to use, not to mention advice on body language. The initial exchanges, where Rupert Murdoch interrupted his son to say "This is the most humble day of my life", were choreographed. That phrase was designed to become a headline, and did, all around the world. (Of course, it later became "Humble Pie")

Overall, little light was shed on the goings-on anywhere in the huge media empire. The Wizard of Oz has not come out from behind the curtain.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Four Great Pretenders of social media

In my opinion, there are several types of pretender on social networks. Here's how I describe them:

1) The pretend expert These are the people who publish reviews of new products and services, sometimes before launch. They haven't seen or tried the new stuff themselves, but have simply read all the reports from people who have, and pulled together a summary which makes them look as though they are "in the know".

2) The pretend writer These are real crooks, in my opinion. They reproduce articles and blog posts written by others, with no accreditation, leading people to believe they wrote them. Sometimes they even claim the writing credit. Sad indeed.

3) The pretend journalist This is a type I'm seeing more often. they pick up online news alerts or listen to broadcast sources, and then announce the "news" to their friends and followers. They overlook the fact that if people are interested in a story, they will have the same alerts set up. If there was an attempt to comment on the news, I could see the point of it, but simply sending out "news" seems utterly pointless. News sites do it better and faster.

4) The pretend friend of celebs They continually "chat" to celebrities on Twitter and Facebook as though they are pals. 99% of it is one-way traffic. Occasionally, they will receive a response, which they will talk about for weeks.

What do all these fakes have in common? I suspect it's a desire for status - to be seen as an important member of their online community. Alas, I think it's all wasted effort. It would be far better if they posted their own views and experiences, offered their unique perspective, and engaged in debate. It would provide some genuine credibility, not to mention some much-needed self-respect.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Seven Habits of Purple Cows who moved my Fish

I was chatting to a fellow speaker a while ago over a few single malts, and the topic of "business gurus" came up. Having been on the international speaking circuit for many years, we've seen them all, and know many of them personally - Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Lundin, Spencer Johnson, etc...

So we got to thinking - what if we were to write a best-selling business book? What's the secret? We came up with a set of rules, which I'm happy to share with you. By the way, we mean no offence to our best-selling chums. This is merely a piece of flim-flammery.

1) A heart-warming, simple parable. It doesn't have to be true, though it helps if it is. It should contain a simple lesson that can be absorbed in under a minute.

2) No pictures. They just confuse people, and attract copyright fees. They also don't work on the Kindle, your potentially largest source of revenue.

3) Keep it short. Large print, short sentences and chapters no more than five pages long. No point flogging yourself to death writing it.

4) Get a ghostwriter. Even a short book takes time to write, There are plenty of unemployed scribes who will produce the necessary words, and then keep quiet about their involvement, for only a moderate sum.

5) Have a colourful cover. You want it to stand out on a webpage and in a bookshop. Most people won't read it anyway. Make it easy to find and buy.

6) Make it repeatable. Set up something that can be turned into a series. We're looking at a lifetime of income here.

7) Become a "character". Shave your head, wear something odd, develop a quirky way of speaking. People will think you're worth talking to.

There you have it. Frankly, we decided we still couldn't be bothered to write the book. Maybe you will.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Ed Milliband - a media failure? Not on this evidence

There's been a lot of social media chatter about his BBC interview, where Ed Milliband gives almost exactly the same response to a series of questions. On the face of it, he appears to have lost the plot. But it isn't what it appears to be.

I'm in no doubt that Ed Milliband believed, and may even have been told, that this was an exercise to capture a sound bite. It's a common technique these days, where short clips from talking heads are used to compile a news package. It's an essential technique that I teach to my media clients. It has no resemblance to an as-live discussion, and is designed to ensure that the best possible clip is used.

Here's the evidence:

1) The interviewer is never in shot. There are no "noddies" or over-the-shoulder shots, which would have been edited in to a normal discussion.

2) The interviewer is not identified, and I don't recognise the voice. This suggests that a junior reporter was sent to capture a sound bite, and that his questions were not intended to be broadcast.

3) The questions are asked in a laconic, or even lazy style, suggesting that they were not meant to be heard.

4) Ed Milliband may not be the sharpest knife, even in the Milliband drawer, but he's bright enough to know how to vary his answers in a discussion.

5) Mr Milliband is delivering "complete" answers, by including the point of the question. For me, this is the key evidence, since that is exactly how to deliver a stand-alone sound bite.

In short, the interview has been presented as something it was not. It was probably an editorial mistake. I hope that's all.

Poor Ed Milliband has been castigated for something which is not what it has been portrayed as. Like him or not, it's simply unfair.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Wimbledon Guide to Email

Here are seven tennis-inspired email tips:

1) Get it back over the net. Focus on responding to emails within 24 hours, even if you don't have the full answer. People value a response of any kind, and it will stop them asking "did you get my email?"

2) Be aware of the other person's style. Try to respond in a manner that is appropriate for the person you are dealing with.

3) Stay within the court boundaries. Stick to the topic in hand, and don't wander about all over the place. Stay focused.

4) Keep the outcome in mind. It's not just about occasional point-scoring, there's probably a longer-term goal in mind.

5) Serve when it's your turn. Be helpful, and remember that at least half the time, your job is to serve.

6) Ask the umpire. Sometimes, you may need to consult a third party to resolve a dispute.

7) Accept the result gracefully. Whether you get the outcome you want or not, accept either outcome without gloating or complaining.

In praise of - Media Studies

OK, I obviously have to make a huge declaration of interest here. I'm a media guy. I made my first radio broadcast, aged 14, in 1967. I'm not exactly unbiased.

I've been in many discussions over the years, both on and off the media, about the value of "media studies", both as a subject examined in schools, and a degree course. In most debates, one protagonist argues it's a "soft option", while I defend its value and equivalence. Neither of us shifts our position, the phone-in guests usually take the "soft option" view, and we're halted by the traffic report (on radio at least).

Our 14-year-old daughter has just selected media studies as a GCSE option. She's bright (gets it from her mother), and is taking nine other subjects, including Russian, History and English Literature. I'm also a governor at her school, and the "link governor" for media, art and drama (each governor takes a special interest in a topic area). Accordingly, I've studied the syllabus, sat in on lessons, and talked in detail with the staff.

My conclusion is that media studies is not only academic, but it brings in many aspects of other subjects, such as literature (storytelling and the story arc), technology (computer generated image production), business studies (marketing of film, especially via social media) and psychology (acting and emotion). Getting an "A" is as tough as any other subject.

So why is it regarded as soft? We praise our top film-makers such as Ridley Scott, Gurinder Chadha and Ken Russell. We admire the talents of film actors like Joseph Fiennes, Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren. We lament the demise of the UK film industry. Nonetheless, many people sneer at young people with an interest and qualification in media. Funny old world, eh?

Monday, June 20, 2011

M&Ms show how to really extend a brand

At the weekend, I visited the new M&Ms store in Leicester Square with my family. We'd already visited the M&Ms store in Times Square New York, so we knew what to expect. Even so, we were still overwhelmed (yet again). The place was absolutely packed with shoppers. There was pounding rock music, over-enthusiastic staff and brightly coloured stuff everywhere.

It's a very impressive set-up, with an atmosphere that almost compels people to buy. One of the cleverest features is the use of set-piece photo opportunities at every turn, so that people are not only drawn into the store, but linger while they are waiting to snap or be snapped. It's shopping as entertainment. Not only that, but some of the tableaux are clearly aimed at parents (or even grandparents, as this re-creation of the iconic Abbey Road album cover shows). There really is something for everyone.

Obviously, you can buy M&Ms in every colour and flavour imaginable. But that's not where it ends. There are T-shirts, mugs, trays, shower curtains, sunglasses, models, etc, etc. In fact, everything you can think of that might have M&Ms on it, is available in a choice of colours. Even some things you would never have dreamed of, such as silver business card holders, are available at not inconsiderable cost. Take a look at the picture opposite. See the price on the model of the fifties diner? Over four hundred and fifty pounds. Extraordinary. So a packet of coloured sweets has launched a series of global superstores where people are clamouring to buy an amazing range of products, many of them not even edible. The question that I'm pondering, here in London, is: Smarties, where were you?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seven ways to make a speaking event amazing

I've spoken at thousands of events, and attended many more. Some have been astounding, some average, but many head-shakingly dull. When the most memorable part of an event is the goody bag, it's time to consider ways to liven things up. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Give the people what they want. The fact that you have access to a number of speakers who share a particular expertise does not mean you should build an event round them. Listen to the chatter on social media, talk to your clients and find out what problems they are trying to solve. Then look for experts to deliver the solutions.

2) Encourage interaction. The days of asking audience members to turn off their mobile phones are long gone. They will use them anyway, so make it easy for them to share information round Twitter hashtags, on Facebook pages and in other online forums. They are the best advocates for your event.

3) Make a one-day event last three months. Start the chat on social media long before the event, and encourage it to continue long after. The event itself is merely a milestone on the journey.

4) Book speakers who get involved. Ideally, your speakers should be there for the whole event, mixing with the delegates. It provides more value for everyone, since the speakers get feedback and find out real concerns, and the delegates have more opportunities to get their questions answered.

5) Get the technology right Too many events are ruined by poor sound, video that doesn't play or presentations that don't work. It's the reason why rehearsal time is important, and the need for a strong liaison between organisers, A/V staff and speakers.

6) Copy the best There are are a number of models for speaking events, from to Takahashi. Take elements from other styles and adapt them for your use.

7) Never settle for anything less than great. It's getting harder to get people to come to events. Make sure that every element of an event is as good as you can make it. The weakest link in the chain may be the thing that people remember, so always aim high.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Are you who you say you are?

Authenticty. It's a word used by a lot of people in the speaking world, but it seems to have a variety of interpretations. I think it's about being clear and honest, and behaving in the same way that you speak about. For example, I believe that one sign of authenticity is using your own stories. Another is being honest about your qualifications and experience. It's also to do with having experience in the field of expertise you talk about. Most importantly, it's about never making a claim to be something that you are not:

Being authentic on stage is very important. You are creating a bond of trust with your audience and taking them on a journey with you. They need to believe that you are a trustworthy guide who will offer them insights and techniques to help them in future. You can demonstrate your authenticity in many ways. Here are a few ideas.

- Conduct your own research and present the results as summaries and case studies

- Show pictures and videos that you have taken to illustrate your message

- Relate your experiences both recently and some years ago, and show how the same point still applies

- Discuss collaborations with fellow experts

- Use your experience to solve problems posed by audience members as questions

- Consider a masterclass-style presentation, working with one or two audience members as a demonstration

- Refer to the work of other experts, and indicate how and why you agree or differ

Finally, make sure that you "walk the talk" offstage as well as on. If your topic is time management, make sure you are never late or in a hurry. If you talk about teamwork, work with a team. If you are a communication expert, keep your messages simple. It's all about authenticity.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My FIFA Manifesto #honestal

I've given it some serious thought, and I've decided to put my name forward for FIFA President, just in time for the election. I would welcome your support.

My reason for standing

If you're reading this, you already know the reason.

My strategy

To persuade 156 member nations of FIFA to call for an election postponement, to allow for a period of reflection (and for me to campaign, obviously)

My Qualifications and Experience

I'm already President of a Global Body (The Global Speakers Federation) with 6,000 members worldwide.

I travel extensively, and understand global issues.

I'm an author of several books on media and PR, and know how to deal with the press in a diplomatic and helpful way.

I've been watching football for over 50 years, and since I'm a Fulham fan, know how to deal with failure and moderate success.

My Manifesto

Here is my seven-point plan to restore the credibility of FIFA

1) Immediate postponement of presidential elections for three months

2) All member nations to have one vote in future presidential elections

3) The entire FIFA board to resign, pending elections in three month's time

4) An interim committee to run FIFA to be appointed, consisting of Franz Beckenbauer, David Beckham and Pele.

5) Awards of 2018 and 2022 World cups to be rescinded and voted for in six months time on the basis of one nation, one vote.

6) All FIFA Board meetings to be held in public, and live-streamed online

7) An independent body to be set up to oversee ethical issues and deal with complaints

How you can help

Thanks for reading.

Simply tweet or re-tweet a link to this blog, using the tag #honestal

Thanks again,

Alan Stevens

FIFA - the castle crumbles

The goings-on at FIFA, the headquarters of world football, are beyond parody. As I write this, Sepp Blatter is due to be elected unopposed for another four years, with his only rival, Mohamed Bin Hammam, suspended pending an investigation of bribery allegations. Jack Warner, the longest-serving member of the executive, has also been suspended, and is now threatening to make allegations against Blatter himself.

Asked about the FIFA crisis at yesterday's press conference, Blatter said “What is a crisis? Football is not in a crisis. When you see the final of the Champions League then you must applaud. So we are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties.” Clearly he'd either been listening to Supertramp's fourth album, or the (alleged) remarks of Labour PM Jim Callaghan in 1979 (though Callaghan never uttered those precise words). Whatever the "inspiration" for his words, Blatter's stonewalling and denial of reality is breathtaking. An Australian politician, Nick Xenophon, has compared him to Monty Python's Black Knight, laying on the ground, all limbs hacked off, saying "It's just a flesh wound"

Jack Warner has revealed an email to him from FIFA Secretary-General, Jerome Valcke, Here's an extract "For MBH, I never understood why he was running. If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express much he does not like anymore JSB. Or he thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the WC." (MBH is Mohamed Bin Hammam, and WC is the World Cup).

But now we could be seeing the end game. Fifa’s major sponsors Coca-Cola and Adidas have become nervous, and are calling the position at FIFA “damaging and distressing”. Perhaps Sepp Blatter should give Tiger Woods a call to find out how to react to sponsors closing their wallets and looking for the exit door.

The castle is crumbling, but the king has his fingers in his ears and is singing "ni-ni-ni"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Media Coach Radio Show 20th May 2011

Featuring an interview with Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and music from Mick Terry.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bread, Wine and Wifi

I travel a great deal, as do many of us these days. On my recent trips, I've been thinking what makes me happy when I arrive. I'm a man of simple tastes, so I've narrowed it down to just a few things. Obviously, I need somewhere to stay (ideally with a shower that my six foot three frame can stand under). I like a nice comfortable bed too, and a room that's in the quiet part of the hotel.

But there are three things that really make travel a good experience for me:

1) Bread

Just bread? Well ideally a bit of cheese or ham too, or maybe even a salad. It's not what the food is, it's whether it's available. Airline food, despite all the marketing to the contrary, and the involvement of celebrity chefs, is still pretty grim. When I arrive in a hotel at 1am local time, my body clock may still say 4pm. I'm hungry. One of the worst things to hear is "The restaurant is closed right now, and room service is finished too. There are some snacks in the minibar." A packet of peanuts is not what I'm looking for. Many hotels do have 24-hour room service, but I've often dropped off to sleep in the 40 minutes between order and arrival. If some hotel chain offered an instant 24-hour cheese sandwich service, it would be top of my list.

2) Wine

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a great drinker. It's not even that I'm looking for a glass of wine. A cold beer, coffee or even a fruit juice would do. It's more about what goes with it. I'm looking for a quiet place where I can sit and relax and have an enjoyable drink in peace. Travel, although often a solitary activity for me, is also done in groups, whether waiting for a train or sitting on plane. There's something very restorative about being able to find a peaceful place to just sit and think, read a book, or do nothing at all.

3) WiFi

Being able to communicate with the rest of the world is invaluable for me. I'm not an email junkie, or someone who must be available at all times. It's useful, but not essential 24/7. But I'm also a husband and father, and the ability to chat on Skype in video with my family is a real tonic. It would be wonderful if hotels didn't try to pay off their nation's national debt with internet access charges too.

So that's it. I'm not asking for much. A little food when I arrive, a quiet place to relax and affordable contact with my loved ones. A few hotel chains do it, so could the rest please take note? Thanks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How old is online social networking?

I've seen a number of claims recently from people claiming to have founded "the UK's first online social network' or "the first online network without VC funding". The earliest such claim I've come across dates from 1998.

Now, I'm not hugely competitive, but I would like to set the record straight. On November 4th, 1996, a network called Which? Online was launched, by Consumers' Association in the UK. It was both an internet service provider and a content service, rather like AOL (remember that?). Most significantly, it featured a way for members to post information, connect to each other and get together to gain discounts on products and services. It was like a combination of Facebook and Groupon, years before either.

Not only that, it charged members a tidy sum to belong - around 14 pounds a month. Tens of thousands joined in the first year, and it still thrives to this day. The developer and manager of the service delivered a keynote speech to the first-ever UK conference on virtual communities (as social networks were called in those days) in 1997.

How do I know? I was that developer and manager. I don't suppose I'll ever get that film deal though.

Best wishes


Friday, March 18, 2011

How to lose potential business

I'm a great fan of good business practice, as we all are. I'm looking for good, efficient service. The sort offered by some of my clients like The Savoy (not that I'm taking all the credit)

With customers being a bit harder to come by these days, you'd think that companies would try a bit harder to get customers. Here are two examples of incredibly poor customer service that I've experienced in the past few days.

I was speaking recently at International Confex at Earls Court. It's the biggest UK show for event organisers and venues. There were hundreds of hotels, tourist boards and suppliers exhibiting. I visited fifty stands, explained that I was interested in their service or venue, since I may be able to recommend them to clients. In every case, my details were taken, either from my bar-coded badge, or my business card. In the two weeks since the event, I've received three emails from exhibitors. One was nicely personalised, referred to my interests, and suggested possible collaboration. The other two were sent impersonally and made no connection whatever. One was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. I also received one phone call. Just one. It was from a lovely lady called Jean, who represents a hotel in Dublin. She was superb, and I will definitely recommend her venue.

That was it. From fifty companies that I asked for information, in an environment where they had paid to meet potential clients, over ninety per cent failed to follow up.

Here's another example. I was asked earlier this week by a friend in the US for a recommendation of a PR company in China. I know a few, but not that well, so I decided to make some enquiries. Several people recommended the same company. I rang their London office with the query. I was put through to someone's voicemail, which included in the outgoing message "I will call you back within two hours". The next day, I still hadn't received a call, so I rang them again, and this time spoke to a real person.They said I'd have to ring a different office and gave me a number. It turned out to be Haymarket publishing, not their other office at all. I rang the company again. They gave me a different number, which turned out to be a fax machine. You can imagine my mood by now, since all I'm trying to do is to refer them to a friend who is looking to employ them. Finally, I managed to speak to someone in the other office, only to hear "We don't deal with that, you need to call our Singapore office". It was too late to call Singapore, so I rang the next morning (today as I type this). The phone diverted to a mobile number, and the person I spoke to told me "This is my personal mobile, you shouldn't be using this number". I apologised (even though it wasn't my fault). I've now given up on them.

So here's the thing. I've been in the position of a customer looking for a supplier. I'm offering paid work to companies. I've ended up so frustrated that I've given up. I would never dream of treating my customers and potential customers in that way. Nor would you, I'm sure.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ten things speakers dislike about event planners

This is not a career suicide note. It has been compiled following a challenge from two leading members of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) – Paul Cook (Former UK President) and Anthony Hyde (Immediate Past UK President). The latter has agreed to write “Ten things that event planners dislike about speakers”. Of course, we all love each other really. But just occasionally, things go awry.

So here’s my list:

1. No confirmation of the event. A booking has been made months ahead, it’s in pencil in the speaker’s diary, but there is no further communication until three days before the gig.

2. Re-organisation of the agenda. An opening keynote becomes a closing keynote, or a workshop becomes a breakfast seminar. The last person to know may be the speaker.

3. No time for rehearsal. A professional speaker will always want to run a sound check and room check well before their speech.

4. No-fee events, with no obvious benefit to the speaker. There may be promises of “great networking opportunities”, but when the tea and biscuits cost more than a top-quality speaker, something is wrong.

5. Filming the speaker without permission (or a release form which gives away the speaker’s copyright). This should never happen, and should be negotiated in advance.

6. Telling the speaker as they begin “Can you cut your speech by 20 minutes” or “can you keep going until coffee – the next speaker hasn’t arrived”

7. Demanding copies of slides three months in advance. Many speakers don’t use slides. Some event planners don’t understand that.

8. No briefing for the speakers, or no contact with the end client. This is all too common, and can lead to a mis-match between speaker and audience. Building a relationship between speaker and client is crucial.

9. No speaker liaison person and no response to speaker enquiries.

10. Late cancellations and subsequent debates about cancellation fees.

Other than that, everything is fine! Of course, the above happen only rarely – and I hope they never happen to you. I love event planners really.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Media Coach Radio Show 11th March 2011

This week; PR in exchange for coffee; Global Speakers Summit; Twitrelief; A grave affair; Slow and Simple; Being Controversial; Where’s my Tweet?; An interview with Paul du Toit; Music from Kynk

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Global Ambassador or Prince of Pratfalls?

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is under fire for his association with convicted sex offfender Jeffrey Epstein. This follows hard on the heels of his "Wikileaks' embarrassment when it was alleged that a US diplomat had reported on the Prince's remarks about bribery in Kyrgystan and the investigation into the Al-Yamamah arms deal.

His Royal Highness is no stranger to public approbation. Like almost every other member of the Royal Family, bar perhaps his mother, he has come under fire for his links, his behaviour or his comments. It goes along with having a high profile and a comfortable lifestyle, a circumstance coveted and often envied by many.

There's also no doubt that his role on behalf of UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) has been instrumental in securing valuable export contracts for UK companies. It seems likely that in purely financial terms, his work has made a large positive contribution to the UK economy, at little cost to the taxpayer. He takes no pay for his role, but his expenses are covered. I for one, don't begrudge the cost of his first-class travel and five star accommodation if it brings in business for British companies.

However, at some point his value may evaporate. It's the same as any celebrity that has an association with a brand, paid or otherwise. When things are going well, the relationship is good for everyone, but when a celebrity is caught (literally or figuratively) with their trousers down, they quickly become persona non grata.

It's hard to judge where Prince Andrew's reputation is going. His friends, and some government ministers are rallying round. Everything has to be handled very carefully because of his royal status. My guess is that he's been in a few private conversations with politicians and UKTI bosses, and he's been told to lie low and say nothing for a while. When the storm has either blown over, or reached a point where he has to leave his UKTI role quietly, a statement will be made.

As used to be said about a much earlier Duke of York, at the moment he's neither up nor down.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

How to manage a crisis at an event

I'm speaking today at International Confex on how to manage a crisis at an event. In case you can't be there, or as a reminder of the key points, I've created a summary of the main points. Of course, there'll be a lot more info if you come along.

Here are the ten key things you should do if a crisis occurs -

1. Recognise that you have a crisis

2. Prepare for senior staff being door-stepped and ambushed by reporters

3. Be seen and heard doing the right things

4. The media must not be ignored during a crisis. TV is the most important medium

5. Set up a communication process with the media as quickly as possible

6. The most senior staff must take charge and be seen as company spokespeople

7. Talk about people first, property second, and money third.

8. Focus on your feelings about the situation, and how it will be prevented from happening again

9. Become the single most authoritative source of information about the crisis

10. Keep a close eye on media coverage, and take every opportunity to correct inaccurate reporting

Of course, your key staff must be properly trained to speak to the media. Here's where to find help.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oscar Acceptance Speech Competition

This weekend sees the 83rd annual Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood. Acceptance speeches will be tucked inside the tuxedos and evening bags of dozens of hopefuls. But what makes a great acceptance speech? Here's where you come in. Inspired by my friend Max Atkinson's "Defend a doomed dictator" speechwriting competition", I'm running an Oscar acceptance speech contest. Here are the rules:

1. Write an Oscar acceptance speech, for any category, in no more that 250 words

2. Email it to me ( by 6pm GMT on Sunday 28th February 2011

3. I will judge the most entertaining and appropriate entry

4. My decision is final (of course)

5. The winner receives a signed first edition of Ping! or Mediamasters

I will announce the winner, and show their entry, on Friday March 4th. Good luck.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Tribute to Clive Gott

Clive Gott, my friend and fellow professional speaker, has passed away suddenly at all too young an age. Clive was, even amongst professional speakers, a remarkable man.Here's a few words of tribute to Clive from Graham Davies, FPSA:

'Clive did not pass through life in shades of grey. In the same speech, he would take great delight in grabbing an audience by its throat, either inspiring and entertaining them or disturbing and upsetting them. Actually, it was usually all four at the same time. No-one slept while he was on stage.'

I agree completely. Clive was a great supporter of the Professional Speaking Association in the UK, as chapter leader and tireless worker. He spoke internationally, completed the Marathon Des Sables (134 miles across the Sahara), climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and had countless adventures, all of which he recounted with enthusiasm and lust for life.

I remember him as opinionated, enthusiastic and challenging - everything a great speaker should be. The world is a poorer place without him.

Clive's partner, Elaine, has requested that anyone who wants to honour and remember Clive should buy themselves a bunch of fresh flowers. A lovely idea.

Thank you Clive. May your inspiration live on.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Media Coach Radio Show 18th Feb 2011

Hints and tips for media appearances, speaking and social media. This week; Calling all media companies; A debut album; A quiz champion computer; The wrong speech; One wedding and a speech; I’m going to sue!; Twitter and LinkedIn; An interview with Gail Emms. Music from Mick Wilson

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Prince's Speech (Memo to Prince Harry)

Your Royal Highness,

Allow me, as current head of the world's professional speakers, to offer a little guidance for your upcoming best man's speech on the occasion of your brother's wedding to Ms Middleton.

I know that you are no stranger to speaking in public, and that you do not suffer greatly from nerves. However, the occasion is a momentous one, and I'm sure that you will wish to deliver a speech that does it justice, as well as offering some light entertainment to the company gathered for the wedding buffet.

So here are some tips which may help.

1) Don't repeat jokes from a joke book or from a comedian you've seen on TV. Jokes should be left to professional stand-up comedians. Otherwise, there's a high chance of either failing to get a laugh, or of offending the audience, or both.

2) Funny stories work really well, and it's worth sitting down with a notebook (and whatever gives your creativity full rein, such as a small glass of ale) a few weeks before the ceremony, and thinking of incidents that have happened to your brother. Take a couple of stories and work on them so that you know them by heart, and ensure that they take no longer than two or three minutes each.

3) Remember that the humour needs to be appropriate. Probably best to test it out first with your father to be on the safe side.

4) Keep the speech down to around ten minutes. Short, witty and warm.

5) Wish the bride and groom well in their future careers, though speculation is not necessary here.

6) Just a little lemonade before you speak. Decorum at all times.

7) Remember to thank everyone for coming and offer a toast to the happy couple for their future success.

Lastly, I know it is often within the best man's remit, but I'm sure Pippa can look after the bridesmaids on her own.

Enjoy the day.

Your humble and obedient servant,

Alan Stevens, FPSA, PSAE, MCIPR, President, Global Speakers Federation

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What is Integrated PR?

Integrated PR is not about social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), nor about traditional media (TV, radio and print). It's about both. The important thing is to use as many different channels as possible to deliver your message. That's not to say that just using radio advertising, or a campaign on Twitter, is a bad thing. My contention is that you should use as many options as you can in a single campaign.I define integrated PR as A PR campaign which delivers a single core message, using both traditional and social media.

First, you need a message. The art of good PR is to be able to convey the right one, in the right way, at the right time, to the right audience. The essence of a message is always the precise detail we wish to impart.

So, how do you create this core message for your integrated PR campaign?

Here is a checklist of the most important elements:

Identify the Single Most Important Idea

People remember very little of what they see or hear. The most effective PR campaigns focus on the most important message that you wish to communicate, since that's what you want people to remember.

If you have several messages you want to deliver, save the less important ones for another time. One message that is remembered by your potential clients is worth dozens of half-remembered ones.

Keep it simple

Don't use jargon, or industry-specific terms. It's impossible to over-simplify a message, but easy to over-complicate one.

Make it Memorable

We are besieged with messages every day, through radio and TV, adverts, conversations and the like. Your job, when delivering your message on the media, is to make it something that people will remember. Think of words and phrases that are a little unusual, or conjure up an image. If your message is seen as a picture, even if you are on the radio, it will be much more memorable.

Make it Relevant

Put yourself in the shoes of your potential audience and think what they will find engaging, All you have to do then is to deliver what they want to see or hear.

Ask Yourself "So What?"

Imagine yourself hearing your own core message. If your immediate reaction is, "so what?" the message doesn't work. You need to be able to capture the value to your audience in whatever you say.

Be Sincere

If you want people to believe you, you have to be sincere. You have to really believe what you are saying. That is why it is very important for you, as a company spokesperson, to be involved in drafting the core message. It will be very difficult for you to recite words given to you by a PR person if you are not fully confident that they represent your opinion.

In summary then, your core message needs to be simple, relevant, memorable, beneficial and of course, true. How hard is that?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Are you playing hard to get?

It's all about communication these days, isn't it? We have mobiles with us at all times, we tweet, we foursquare (?), we facebook and we blog. We're always available, and people now where we are at all times.

Er - not quite. I've visited a number of websites recently where it's impossible to find a phone number or email address. Instead, there's a "contact us" link, which leads to a page with a number of boxes that have to be filled in. Often, these include a drop-down window with "reason for your communication', as well as a link to the FAQ page, with a phrase "have you checked this before sending us a message?"

OK, I understand that companies are trying to make it as easy as possible for their customer support staff to deal with customer queries. However, this form is the web equivalent of the phone-hold system - "Press 1 for accounts, Press 2 for 30 minutes of bland music...".

Here's the thing. I'm a customer, and I want to get a message to your company. That means I'd like to phone or email you. I'll decide what the message is about. If you play hard to get, I will simply go somewhere else.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seven more low-cost ways to boost your business in 2011

Last month, I gave you ten low-cost tips to boost your business in 2011. Here are seven more:

1) Give stuff away. In business, you have to give to get. Offer people help and advice, free of charge, and don't expect an immediate return. You'll find that the more you give away, the more comes back. As my bank manager says "It's better to make a deposit before a withdrawal"

2) Copy the best. If you see people in your line of business having tremendous success, try doing something similar. I'm not suggesting that you should plagiarise their ideas, but look at the way they do business, and see how you can adapt things to your offering.

3) Write it down. Decide what you want to achieve - five new clients, increasing turnover by 50%, or whatever. Put a timescale on it, write it down, and pin it up near your desk, where you see it every day. Keeping your goal in mind at all times will focus your behaviour, and make your goal happen.

4) Be responsive. Develop a reputation for getting back to people very quickly. Once you get into the habit, you'll find that it is easy to send a quick response to an email, or a phone message. Most people value a brief, quick reply more highly than a detailed response several days later. I must admit, I don't always succeed with this one, but I'm getting better.

5) Hone your presentation skills. No-one is a natural presenter, and everyone in business has to present from time to time. Make sure that you know how to perform professionally, and your business will benefit.

6) Practice what you preach. The best advert for your business is you. If you are providing advice on business efficiency, make sure that your business is super-efficient. If you are a website designer, make sure that your website is as usable as possible.

7) Become an expert. Immerse yourself in your topic, then offer to speak to groups about your area of expertise. Write articles, give interviews, and make yourself available to answer questions from journalists. Becoming known as a recognised expert in your field is one of the best ways of bringing in new clients.

Andy Gray - caught offside?

I was chatting with a media pal shortly after the Andy Gray/Richard Keys "lineswomangate" audio was released from Sky Sports. We were musing about the coincidence of its appearance across the news media and the fact that Andy Gray is taking action against the News of The World for alleged phone hacking. Both the NoW and Sky have the same owner, a Mr R Murdoch of various fixed abodes.

Andy Gray was apparently sacked not just for the remarks that he and Richard Keys made about a female assistant referee, but also because a video has come to light showing him making suggestive remarks to a Sky colleague, Charlotte Jackson. It would appear that Mr Gray's lawyers, Schillings, are taking a look at the circumstances to see if a claim for unfair dismissal is in order.

I'm not about to defend sexist behaviour or language. I don't know Andy Gray or Richard Keys personally, though I have met them both at Sky News. They know as well as anyone that whenever there is a microphone near you, your voice could be recorded. However, I suspect that the sort of banter that's been revealed goes on many times a day, in groups of males and/or females throughout the media, and in every other profession. This incident has been singled out for some reason. Perhaps a reprimand would have been appropriate. Perhaps a sacking has resulted from a series of incidents. We may never know, though an employment tribunal, should it come to that, will reveal more.

A question that puzzles me is this: How did an off-air conversation come to be distributed to a range of media outlets so rapidly? Is there any parallel with listening to private phone messages? One thing is for sure. This story is even more complex than the offside rule.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

House of Commons latest: Marketing 1, Alan and Jeremy 0

I was honoured to speak in a House of Commons debate last night. The event, organised by The Debating Group, was held in committee room 9, to a full house of around 100. I was standing in for Bill Cash MP, who was called to a debate in the chamber of the house.

The motion, which I was called on to propose, was "A century of marketing legislation restricts everyone while protecting nobody". A tough call, as it turned out, even though many of the audience members were from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, who sponsored the event.

Along with the seconder, speaker and broadcaster Jeremy Jacobs, I felt we put up a good case. However, the opposers, branding expert Robert Opie and legal mastermind Brinsley Dresden, won the vote by a large margin. As a reward, we were all treated to a fine post-debate meal, where the debate continued on a range of marketing issues.

It was a great night, and I can now put a tick in the box "Spoke in a debate in the House of Commons", thanks to the kindness of both the debating society and the CIM.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Best-selling author? The UK's leading...? Really?

There's always debate about what labels you can give yourself. Many argue (and I agree with them) is that the best labels are those bestowed on you by others. Nevertheless, some people choose to promote themselves to various degrees of hyperbole.

I know it's been mentioned here before, but the "Amazon best-selling author", or its shortened form "best-selling author" is still rife. This is trading on the fact that Amazon publishes hourly lists of sales performance in every category and sub-category (and even sub-sub-category) of interest. If you can persuade your pals to buy your books at a specific time, on a specific day, you can be ranked top of a list for an hour. Take a screenshot, and Hey Presto! - best-selling author! Except you aren't. It's what we call misrepresentation, especially if you drop the "Amazon"

Which brings me to "The UK's leading..." or "Europe's most sought-after..." If someone of respected stature has called you that, fine. If you made it up, it's probably not true.

So stick to the facts, please. Self-promotion is great. Over-claiming is inauthentic and dishonest.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bristol fashion disaster - Avon and Somerset constabulary blames the media

"Ship shape and Bristol fashion" It used to be a phrase that meant "all correct". However, that phrase couldn't be applied to the actions of the Avon and Somerset constabulary right now. They have made what I regard as a huge PR mistake by banning ITV News from a press conference today about the Joanna Yates murder case.

The ban comes in the wake of a report on ITV News at Ten last night which Avon and Somerset police took exception to. The report, by Geraint Vincent, raised questions about whether the police followed proper procedure in the investigation. A former murder squad detective was quoted as saying the police were failing to conduct "certain routine inquiries", such as carefully examining the murder scene for fresh evidence.

"We have made a complaint to Ofcom in respect of the unfair, naive and irresponsible reporting on the ITN 10 o'clock news yesterday evening," Avon & Somerset constabulary said in a statement.

The police need media co-operation, especially in a difficult case like this. Withdrawing access to national reporters because they don't like the way the news is reported is a foolish thing to do, in my opinion. The focus should be on the investigation, not the nuances of a news report. They need to get their priorities back in order, and bring ITV news reporters back into the briefings as soon as possible.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Let's get physical, not digital

Like many thirteen year-olds, my daughter spends a lot of time on Facebook, YouTube and Skype, not to mention texting her pals. She has an iPod, a Wii and a smartphone too. Her world has a lot of digital stuff in it. On Christmas Day, she still gets excited about presents, even though she knows that the fat guy in the red suit doesn't bring them any more. Her favourite presents this year? Some Cath Kidston bedding and pyjamas for he room that we're about to remodel and redecorate. Physical stuff.

At this time of year, we send out books to our regular clients as a small thank you for their business, and to provide them with some useful ideas for the new year. Physical stuff.

Whenever a client pays on time, we send a box of microphone shaped biscuits as a thank you to share around the office. Physical stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I love the digital world. I'm all over Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I send out digital newsletters and broadcast digital radio shows every week. But, like you, I also live in the real, solid, physical world. It's nice to get electronic greetings cards of dancing elves (though not quite as nice as it was last year, and the year before). What is really great, though, is to receive a card through the letterbox with a detailed, personal, handwritten message. E-books are nice, but also nice is a small book with a message written inside.

What's my point? Digital stuff is brilliant. It's not better or worse than physical stuff. Real, solid stuff that you can hold in your hand is important too, and I just wanted to offer a reminder about that.

As we rummaged through the loft a few weeks ago, trying to find the Christmas decorations, we found a dusty box that hadn't been opened for ten years or more. Inside was some stuff that had come from my office desk in the days when I still had a proper job. I found a coffee-stained, dog-eared business card of mine that must have dated from 1997. My job title in those days? Head of Digital Services. Plus ca change, eh?