Saturday, March 30, 2013

10 questions for event organisers to ask virtual presenters

There are many great speakers around who you could select for your next event. For those who are appearing in person, it’s fairly easy to get a recommendation from someone who has seen them before. However, it’s much more difficult to make the judgement when selecting a virtual presenter, who will be appearing only on a screen. Great speakers don't necessarily make great virtual presenters.

Here’s a check-list of questions that will help you to choose a virtual presenter that will delight your audience.

1) How much virtual presenting have you done?  Everyone has to start somewhere, but if you have an large, important event to organise, it’s unwise to risk a first-time or inexperienced virtual presenter. Allow them to gather experience at smaller events.

2) What software have you used? Every technology requires some knowledge and experience to make best use of it. Whether you are using Skype, GoToMeeting or any other system, ensure that presenters know how to use it.

3) What technology do you have? A reliable connection is a must. So is high-quality sound. Good virtual presenters will have a hard-wired, high-speed internet connection and a good external microphone.

4) Can we see testimonials? The view of other organisers is always a strong indication of how good a virtual presenter really is.

5) What training have you done? There are some skills required for virtual presentations, and any presenter who has had no training at all is going to be a risk.

6) Can we have a chat on Skype? You can use a Skype conversation to make a live assessment of someone’s skills. Ask them a question that requires a detailed answer, sit back, watch and listen. How good would they look and sound in front of your audience?

7) Can we see your YouTube channel? You can make a good assessment of someone’s on-screen skills by looking at how they communicate on video. They don’t upload videos? Look for someone else.

8) What do you think are the key skills of a virtual presenter? They should be able to tell you the important skills required - confidence, looking into the camera at all times, limited use of notes and the ability to “project” into the room.

9) Are you prepared to engage with the audience before and after your presentation? How would you do that? You need a “yes” to the first part, and a sensible response to the second.

10) Are you prepared to appear at short notice? Sometimes, the best plans need to change. If you need to bring in a speaker at short notice, is this someone you could rely on?

How do you assess the responses? There is no list of “right answers”, but any shuffling of the feet and embarrassed mumblings will reveal a great deal. In my opinion, demonstrable results and testimonials rank high on the selection criteria, but it depends exactly what your event is looking for, and is prepared to pay for.

I've delivered many virtual presentations, and I'm still discovering ways to offer an even better service. Don't risk the success of your event by booking a virtual presenter who can't deliver the goods.

Photo Credit - John Cassidy (Headshots)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Media Coach 29th March 2013

Hints and tips for media appearances, speaking and social media. This week; Easter Eggs; Abu Dhabi virtually; Renault surprise; Boris Johnson; Being there virtually; I wasn’t expecting that; The one (channel) show; An interview with Kate Russell; Music from The Lost Hollow Band.

Check out this episode!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Boris on the back foot

Boris Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr  show this morning to face a grilling from stand-in presenter Eddie Mair. It was not a pretty sight, and I don't mean Boris' hairstyle. The questioning from Eddie Mair was direct and blunt, and the response from Boris Johnson was evasive and unconvincing. He looked far from being a Prime Minister in waiting (though he also denied any strong political ambition).

When a leading politician is interviewed on a national politics show, they should expect some tough questions. In the majority of cases, they have anticipated the questions and prepared a response. That's simply good planning for a media interview. Perhaps Boris thought that his natural charm would see him through, but he was completely mistaken.

Here are some examples from the exchange:

Eddie Mair: "The Times let you go after you made up a quote. Why did you make up a quote?"

Boris Johnson; " are big terms happened was...I can tell you the whole you sure our viewers wouldn't want to hear more"

He then gave a defence of his actions, but hardly a convincing one. Here's another:

Eddie Mair: "Let me ask you about a bare-faced lie. When you were in Michael Howard's team, you denied to him you were having an affair. It turned out you were, and he sacked you for that. Why did you lie to your party leader?"

Boris Johnson: "Well....I mean that... never had any conversation with Michael Howard about that matter. I do not propose to go into all that again. Why should I? I've been through it a lot. Watch the documentary. Why don't we talk about something else?"

He was also quizzed about agreeing to supply the address of a journalist to Darius Guppy, an old friend, who said that he wanted to have the journalist "beaten up". Mr Johnson's  reply included the comment "I think if any of us had our phone conversations bugged, people say all sorts of fantastical things whilst talking to their friends."

Eddie Mair then summed the dialogue up with the damning phrase "You're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?". The response from the Mayor of London was far from convincing; "All three things I would dispute … if we had a longer time I could explain that I think all three interpretations you are putting on these things are not wholly fair".

There were then a few totally expected questions about his alleged ambition to lead his party, which elicited the phrase "an increasingly hysterical conversation", but no real answer.

And that was it. Overall, it was a right grilling. Boris Johnson undoubtedly suffered reputational damage from the exchange. Should he have done it? Absolutely, in my opinion. Should he have been better prepared? Absolutely. Will he fail to prepare in future? Possibly.

The lesson for anyone faced with a tough interview is to prepare well. If you have to admit something, admit it early and say sorry. If you want to be a leader, you have to go into the  lion's den properly armed.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Media Coach 22nd March 2013

Hints and tips for media appearances, speaking and social media. This week; iPads to the ready; video cards; TV proposal; Death Wish Coffee; Budget Leak; Just the facts please; Tips for TV debates; Is it the medium or the message?; An interview with Steve James of Doceri; Music from Mick Terry

Check out this episode!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Speakers - Just the facts, please

Back in the 1950s, Jack Webb created a character called Sgt Joe Friday of the LAPD, in the TV series Dragnet. All TV detectives have a catchphrase, and Joe was no exception. Ever since the show aired, the phrase "Just the facts, Ma'am" has been repeated and parodied thousands of times. However, Jack Webb's character never uttered the phrase. The closest he came was in one episode when he said "All we know are the facts, Ma'am", yet many people (including some who saw the show) still believe they heard him say "Just the facts". Similarly, Humphrey Bogart never said "Play it again, Sam" in the classic film Casablanca, and Darth Vader never said "Luke, I am your father" in Star Wars.

What's the point of this? It's that if speakers tell audiences something, it's their responsibility to check that (at least to the best of their ability) that they're telling the truth. Here are a few widely-used misconceptions:

1) 'We only use 10% of our brains". Untrue. This is often mis-attributed to Albert Einstein, though there's no evidence he ever said it, let alone believed it. Neurologists have long known that we use most of our brains, most of the time.

2) "Lemmings commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs". Untrue. The phenomenon has never been seen in nature. The idea comes from the Disney film White Wilderness, when cameramen pushed lemmings over a cliff.

3) "The Vauxhall Nova sold poorly in Spain because it means 'doesn't go' in Spanish". Untrue. Thousands of Spanish speakers worked on the project, and would obviously have noticed any problem. In fact it sold well in Spain, and many other Spanish-speaking countries.

4) "NASA spent millions developing a pen that would write in space, while the Russians used a pencil" Untrue. Both the US and Russian astronauts used pencils on early missions, then both used pens designed by the Fischer company at no cost to the space programs.

I've heard all these points, and many more, used by speakers to get a message across. If they have the desired impact, does it matter if they are false? I believe it does. If an element of a speech is untrue, what is the veracity of the remainder? In years past, I have used a couple of the statements above myself, until I took the time and trouble to check them out. Now I try to verify everything I say, unless it's my opinion, when I make that clear.

So let's please try to stick to just the facts.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Media Coach 15th March 2013

Hints and tips for media appearances, speaking and social media. This week; Winning in the meetings industry; A new Pope; Mind the gap; Video game news; The decisive moment; As someone once said; Anatomy of a Tweet; An interview with TJ Walker; Music from Jim Boggia

Check out this episode!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Speakers: Do you ever do the same speech twice?

A couple of points to ponder:

1) Do you ever do exactly the same speech twice?

2) Do you ever have identical audiences in the same few days?

If the answer to the second question is "yes", then the answer to the first could well be "yes". In any other circumstance, my answer to the first question would be "no". Every audience is different, and times change too. For me, that means I have to change my speech every time. I may use some of the same stories, maybe even the same opening and closing lines, but there will always be something tailored to the listeners and something that acknowledges current events. I may completely change the content of a speech with the same title from one day to the next, depending on who I'm speaking to and what's going on in the world.

The needs of your audience are paramount. They will be the arbiters of your success or failure. Their interests and drivers should be in your mind every time you create a speech. How much customisation do you do?

Photo Credit: Alan Stevens

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Speaking, Photography and the Decisive Moment

As well as being a speaker, I also dabble in photography. My father was a professional photographer, and I spent much of my childhood at his elbow in a darkroom, illuminated only by a Wratten OB orange safelight, my fingers stained yellow by the stop bath, inhaling the pungent smell of fixer. The joy of seeing an image slowly appear on photographic paper in the developer is something that digital photography cannot offer. 

I've always admired great photographers, including Eve Arnold, Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White and Richard Avedon. My real hero was the late Henri Cartier-Bresson. I never met him, but a few years ago I was lucky enough to spend time with one of his contemporaries at Magnum photography, Elliott Erwitt. I asked Elliott whether Cartier-Bresson ever gave him advice. He smiled and said "Yes Alan, and I now pass that advice on to you. Learn the skills of your trade, and then seize the moment". That's what great speaking is about too.

Cartier-Bresson is credited with the photographic concept of "the decisive moment". He never cropped his images, and relied simply on spotting the right time to press the shutter so that everything was perfectly in place and perfectly framed. When he published his first book of images, he took the title from the writings of the 17th century Cardinal de Retz: "Il n'y a rien dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisif" ("There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment").

I believe that when a speaker appears in front of an audience, a decisive moment occurs. That combination of people, place and time has never happened before, and will never happen again, and it is up to the speaker to make it memorable and significant. That's why no two speeches are ever the same. That's why a speech created with no particular audience in mind will lack impact. It is only by the delivery of a performance tailored to the expected audience, combined with the ability to react to the unique moment, that exceptional speeches are delivered.

Next time you speak, consider how your preparation and on-stage reactions combine to create a decisive moment for your audience.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Two reputations shattered - The Pryce of revenge

I don't want to add significantly to the distress already suffered by ex-MP Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce. Having both been found guilty of offences after she agreed to "take" his speeding points, they are now both behind bars. Their relationship, and their connection with their children has been exposed starkly in well-reported trials at Southwark crown court.

Huhne was snapped by my local speed camera at the bottom of the M11 in 2003. The camera itself has become a cause célèbre for raking in over half a million pounds a year in fines, and being the most "lucrative" in the country, but that's another story. No-one outside the Huhne-Pryce family apparently knew until 2010, when Mr Huhne revealed his affair with his PR adviser, Carina Trimingham. It was revealed in court that Ms Pryce then spoke to reporters about the case, and after initially blaming a constituency aide, revealed that it was her that took the points. A plan was created to try to persuade Mr Huhne to incriminate himself in recorded phone calls, but finally Ms Pryce ended up in court just after her ex-husband.

So what are the lessons here? Honesty comes first, obviously. Not only should it come first, it should come early. If Chris Huhne had simply admitted his speeding transgression, he would have been banned, and it would barely have merited a paragraph on page 27. His political career would have been virtually unscathed. Time and time again public figures have been brought down by an attempt to cover up an embarrassing issue, when immediate admission would have been a route to redemption.

And what of the attempt by Ms Pryce to put her husband in the dock while trying to avoid revealing her role? If revenge was her motive, it has clearly backfired. This highlights another prime rule of reputation management - if you go to the media with a story, be prepared for your own behaviour to be scrutinised. That may not always be fair, but if you have done nothing wrong, you'll be fine.

Of course, the prime rule is not to do anything that may damage your reputation, but we're all fallible. Whatever happens, talk about it early, talk about it yourself, and the storm will blow over much more quickly.

Picture Credit - Creative Commons

Thursday, March 07, 2013

10 ways to be a MediaMug

If you're a regular reader of my electronic billet-doux (see the yellow box to the right to subscribe), you will see a weekly award for the most inept media performance of the week. Naturally, I keep a record of what goes wrong, and the criteria that are ignored most often. 

So here are ten things that you should never do when faced with a reporter. 

  1. Stay silent. This will just make you look ridiculous on the TV news. Refusing to say anything says a lot.
  2. Become aggressive. An easy way to lose sympathy for your case is to shout and wag your finger.
  3. Hide. Don't duck behind your desk, especially if the cameras saw you go in to your office.
  4. Blame the media. Whenever I see this line taken, I see a reputation in decline.
  5. Run away. This also makes great TV. Stand your ground.
  6. Profess ignorance. If you know something, say so. You may have a reason you can't speak about it, but never claim to be ignorant if you aren't.
  7. Belittle the problem. It may be "not many affected", but for the victims, it's serious.
  8. Speculate without the facts. The truth will emerge. If you guessed wrongly, you're in trouble.
  9. Make no apology. Saying sorry is not a sign of weakness, or an admission of liability
  10. Lie. This will never do, and you will be found out.
Instead, the simple rule is to be honest, helpful and focused.

The Media Coach 8th March 2013

Hints and tips for media appearances, speaking and social media. This week; Justin Bieber turns up late; Professional Speaking; Bonnie Tyler; The Urge; Alvin Lee; Bobby Rogers; Make the room work for you; Ten ways to be a MediaMug; And what do you do on Twitter?; An interview with, and music from, Nugent and Belle.

Check out this episode!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Justin Bieber - creating non-Beliebers?

Every news bulletin this morning reported the fact that Justin Bieber arrived on stage at the O2 last night almost two hours after the advertised start time. Apparently he offered no apology, and by all accounts then proceeded to give his fans (those that remained) an excellent show. For those who are genuinely devoted to Mr Bieber (and there are many millions) he will be forgiven his tardiness. For many of his young fans, the experience was a disappointing one, since they had to leave early, or miss the entire concert as they would otherwise have missed the last trains home.

Bands arriving late on stage is something rock fans became used to many years ago. Guns 'N" Roses made a whole career of it, often not coming on stage until after the show was due to end. But their fans are made of sterner stuff, and tend not to have to be up in the morning to get to school. Madonna was booed last year in Philadelphia for appearing two and a half hours late, and later issued a fulsome apology.

Back to Mr Bieber. At the time of writing, the only apology that has appeared in the media is from the venue. There's no mention of the incident on his Twitter feed. I find that surprising. One of the basic rules of reputation management is to apologise as quickly as possible after doing something that upsets many people, especially erstwhile fans.

UPDATE: Mr Bieber has now tweeted an apology of sorts. He says that he was due to go on stage at 9.30 (not 8.30 as the audience believed) and he hit the stage at 10.10 (not 10.24 according to people who were there). He claims he was therefore 40 minutes late, not two hours. He added "My relationship with the media is not always easy but I'm trying. I'm all about the music and the performance and I respect my fans. I never have any intent to upset or let anyone down. and I'm not okay with things being exaggerated. once again sorry for anyone upset." So that's a little better. He still manages to dispute the facts and take a swipe at "the media". Presumably that's the same media that made him famous. It's also a late apology, suggesting a little external influence.

I doubt that his late arrival will do very much damage to his career. Anyone who has 34 million Twitter followers, and sells out concerts in a matter of seconds can afford to lose a few fans. However, respect for your audience is important. Many of Mr Bieber's fans last night were teenagers (and younger). Many had travelled long distances, and were escorted by parents who had paid a hundred pounds or more for each ticket. Some of the younger fans fell asleep, and others had to go home before the concert began, or after just a couple of songs. In short, some of the crowd left disappointed, and may well become non-Beliebers in future. That's no way to treat an audience, and no way to maintain a reputation, however good you are.

I'm betting he'll be on stage a lot earlier over the next three nights.

Picture credit : Wikipedia Creative Commons

Monday, March 04, 2013

10 things speakers do that upset event planners

Well, it turned out that my piece on "10 things that event planners do to upset speakers" generated a lot of interest. So it's only fair that I present the other side of the case, based on my experience of organising and MC'ing events for many years. 

So here’s my list - fellow speakers please take note:

1) No communication before the event. It's important to prepare well, and for the event planner to be confident that everything is in place. Even if not asked, the speaker should let the planner know that everything is under control.

2) Arriving late. This is something that can cause great stress, especially if there are no messages from the speaker. Delays can happen, but the important thing is to keep in touch, so that last-minute changes can be made, and the planner can breathe easily.

3) Ignoring the rehearsal and sound check. If time has been set aside for a sound check and technical rehearsal, the speaker should be there. It's especially important if audio or video are being used. The technicians will be there, and their time should be respected too. Handing in your presentation just before you speak is not acceptable.

4) Using inappropriate language. Swearing or making tasteless remarks are unprofessional. The audience should be respected at all times.

5) Selling from the stage. This may be acceptable if agreed in advance, perhaps as a favour for a low fee or no fee. In any other circumstance, it's a no-no.

6) Not delivering what was agreed. It should be clear in advance what the speaker should be doing to meet the objectives of the organiser. Failing to deliver that is unforgivable. 

7) Poor visuals. One of the most common complaints I hear from planners and audiences is that a speaker's slides were awful. If you use slides, learn how to create effective visuals. It's not that hard.

8) Over-running. Going over the allocated time causes problems for everyone, including other speakers, who may have to cut their speeches short. The schdule of the event may be thrown into disarray too. There's no excuse for bad timekeeping. 

9) Leaving immediately after the speech. It's important to show respect to people who may wish to chat to speakers after their presentation. Ideally, a speaker should be there for the whole day at least. Not only is it polite, it will lead to more bookings.

10) Billing for every little thing. I'm told that some speakers claim expenses for phone calls to the planner, and cups of coffee at the airport. It's just a cost of doing business, and not worth the bad feeling it creates.

I'm sure that many speakers never do any of the above. But if you meet one who does, have a little word in their ear. Thanks.

Picture credit: Alan Stevens