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How To Explain A Complicated Thing Like Blockchain In A Media Interview Media Training / Presentation Skills

How do you communicate complex or technical topics like Blockchain in a media interview simply, easily and in layman terms?

At the heart of good communication lies simplicity. Which is not the same as ‘dumbing down’. Simplicity allows the audience to understand you without fear of them misinterpreting you.

Imagine a technology company spokesperson being asked to explain Blockchain and digital currencies to a non-specialist audience. Often their first instinct (as a techy person) is to explain in detail the way the technology works – which is fearsomely complicated.

Journalists are usually focused on how issues, products and ideas affect people. So the essence of an interview question about Blockchain is ‘what does it do and how does it benefit people’? So how might we explain that?

We could communicate right at the start of our answer that “Blockchain is basically the technology that allows people to trust and use digital currencies like Bitcoin”.

Now that the audience knows what Blockchain does, we need to make it relevant to them. This audience may never use nor invest in a cryptocurrency and may neither know nor care that there are more cryptocurrencies out there than Bitcoin. But they want a shorthand way of understanding it. Maybe to get them through 60 seconds of conversation at the pub. So we need to use language and concepts which are familiar to them.

So maybe we then say “When you use pounds or dollars or Euros, you trust them because you trust governments and their central banks to maintain the value of the currency and to keep the system honest. If I buy something from you on eBay for ten pounds, I promise to pay ten real pounds for it and put ten real pounds in your bank account. My bank verifies that I have the money and that I have put it into your account. Your bank verifies that it has received ten real pounds. You don’t need to trust me. You can trust the banks.”

Our audience is now connected to what happens in an everyday financial transaction and now has a context for understanding how digital currencies differ and Blockchain facilitates them.

So perhaps we can now go on to say:

“A currency like pounds or dollars effectively has a single, central database overseen by government and banks that records and totals up economic transactions. It means that everybody knows how much money is in circulation, its value and who owns it.

But digital or so called cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, aren’t organised by a government or trusted third party and they don’t even have any physical form like pound notes and coins. So how can you be sure that if you want to get and use Bitcoin, that it has any true value or that you really own what you buy with it?

Well Blockchain is the technology that provides that trust in cryptocurrency transactions. Blockchain is not one centralized database owned by a single individual or organisation. It is owned by everyone who has a copy of it (even you can dowload it if you want to!) and the copies are exactly the same. And it continuously updates the digital record everytime there is a transaction as all the copies verify it. No-one can dishonestly tamper with it because their record won’t match everybody else’s and would be rejected.

When you use Bitcoin to make a digital transaction, Blockchain essentially checks with all the databases that the person paying really has the funds and so can own the item they are buying. And it cuts out the middle-man of the bank meaning the transaction is faster and cheaper.”

And why the name ‘Blockchain’? Well everytime a new group of transactions are recorded, the data file forms a ‘block’ that is added to the linear historical record of transactions. So you have a chain of blocks. Thus – Blockchain.”

Not saying that this is the perfect way to describe Blockchain and cryptocurrencies but remember, media interviews are a communication exercise. Complexity, jargon and abstract detail obscure; as a media spokesperson you want to illuminate.

So to communicate around a complex topic to a non-specialist audience, find relevant, everyday examples and analogies that provide a context for what you are talking about. Avoid jargon and concepts that need to be mentally processed. Explain concisely and simply why it should matter to real people in their busy lives. Only then explain ‘how it works’.

[As a sidebar note of interest, and for those communicating about Blockchain beyond cryptocurrencies or about other complex topics, the key question for audiences is ‘what can I/ we use it for?’ – or to put it simply, ‘what’s in it for me?’. In the case of Blockchain, it is potentially going to disrupt alot of processes. Since we can now verify ownership of anything digital without a middleman, then what middlemen can be dispensed with? Beyond verifying a Bitcoin, we could verify votes or the energy produced by the solar panels panels on your roof. Dropbox may not be long for this world if instead of that company holding my data on its server, it can instead be split up into millions of chunks and stored across millions of computers.]


Frustration Boils Over In Oxfam CEO Media Interview Crisis communications / Help For Communication Directors

What was the low point in Oxfam’s response to its reputation crisis?

 

It was frustration boiling over for Oxfam’s CEO, Mark Goldring, when he gave a media interview to the Guardian and said that criticism of the charity was “out of proportion to the level of culpability”, that no one had “murdered babies in their cots” and that some critics had an anti-aid sector agenda.

However, anti-aid sector or not, in that one moment he revealed that he didn’t viscerally accept or understand the audience outrage over the issue – “Hey people, it’s really not that serious; no-one died; we’re on top of it now; jog-on”.

Reminiscent as it what of BP’s Tony Hayward saying that “I want my life back”, Goldring’s language, tone and message were not only insensitive at a critical juncture in the story (fueling it further) but seemed to have missed the public and media context of his crisis – the post-Weinstein, #MeToo agenda about sexual predatory behaviour by individuals.

I wonder what his Communications team thought? Oxfam was already being accused of issuing misleading statements. Now it was also being perceived at best as tone-deaf and uncaring at worse.

Not a good place for a charity to be.


Should Company Spokespeople Expect More Hostile Media Interviews In 2018? Case Study / Media Training

Hostile media interviews. Was the Peterson-Newman Channel 4 interview a watershed moment?

Business has an image problem. Whether the focus is on its role in society, levels of executive pay, the privatisation of public services or the alleged behaviour of some of those attending the Presidents Club charity dinner, corporations are under greater scrutiny than ever before. So are hostile media interviews are becoming more common?

Anecdotally, media spokespeople feel that journalists’ interviews are becoming ever more challenging and take place through a journalistic lens that is distrustful of – if not hostile to – private enterprise. Instead of an interview illuminating an issue, spokespeople are put on the defensive and put to the sword. Anybody want to speak up for Carillion?

The media professional dinner party conversation over the last week has been dominated by the Channel 4 interview between presenter, Cathy Newman, and Professor Jordan Peterson. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist who criticises “Neo Marxist, post-modernism” and the expansion of ‘identity politics’. To put it more simply, he opposes ‘political correctness’ and favours ‘freedom of speech’ over ‘freedom not to be offended’. The interview (well worth watching it here), covered a number of topics, particularly the nature of the gender pay gap.

Within one week of Channel 4 posting the full 30-minute, pre-recorded interview, it had become its sixth most watched video post of all time with close to four million views. It had also attracted almost 80,000 ‘have your say comments’ which ran at 80:1 against Cathy Newman, mainly criticising her interviewing style.

The chief accusation was that the personal bias of the interviewer against the interviewee were such that she deliberately sought to paint Peterson as something that he was not. In particular, once he said something, she restated what he purportedly said so as to make his views seem offensive, hostile, or absurd.

As Conor Friedersdorf has written in “The Atlantic” it is sometime “useful to respond to an evasive subject with an unusually blunt restatement of their views to draw them out or to force them to clarify their ideas”. But in the case of Peterson, who was neither evasive nor unwilling to be clear about his meaning, Friedersdorf warns that this is damaging for the audience who may wrongly accept the interviewer’s characterizations. You can watch Peterson’s own analysis of the interview (here) which he characterised as a “dominance hierarchy dispute with an ideological overlay”.

So what about the poor corporate spokesperson who feels that they are being asked to take responsibility for all the sins of all business when all they’d done was agree to go on TV to talk about their company’s latest soap powder.

In preparing for an interview, spokespeople should always anticipate the negatives. Part of that is to understand what else is going on in the world that may be relevant to you.

We worked with one CEO of a mining company at the time of the banker witch-hunt in 2009, preparing him for media interviews about the company’s forthcoming financial results.

He was bemused at best and objected at worst to being asked whether he, like the bankers, had anything to apologise for. He couldn’t see the relevance of this ‘impertinent question’ and was sure that he had nothing to do with bankers apologising. The first journalist question when he made his results announcement was “will you apologise to shareholders for the ill-judged acquisition that the company made last year?”.

And so it is now. The role of business in society is the issue de jour – and it is a legitimate issue for the journalist to raise to an interviewee who mas any leadership role in a company. So yes, interviews may become more difficult and hostile in 2018. But as for any other difficult or negative issue, your way through this lies in your preparation. Then address the question before bridging to a positive aspect of your company’s story.


Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary speaks during a press conference in London on August 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE'N        (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images) Case Study / Crisis communications / Media Training

Because that would suggest that its reputation is being damaged. It is not. It is being confirmed. Just as Michael O’Leary likes it to be.

If O’Leary has said it once, he has said it a thousand times – fly Ryanair if you want the cheapest flights. He doesn’t say fly Ryanair for the best customer service. Although he did try being nicer for a short while – or as he put it “to stop unnecessarily pissing people off”.

Sure – there is currently a lot of bad publicity but when has Ryanair not been suffering from bad publicity?! Essentially Ryanair is suffering an operational problem of pilot availability that requires it to pay customer compensation. It is definitely having a negative financial impact but it is not making its reputation worse. Some would say that Ryanair already has a dreadful reputation so it cannot get worse. But that is to misunderstand the fundamental of Ryanair’s reputation.

If anything, O’Leary – quite rightly – is using the current media hoo-ha to reinforce his core story – that whatever the current problems, existing and new customers should and will continue to fly Ryanair because they want the cheapest tickets.

Ryanair has a short-term problem that’s pissing off thousands of customers. It probably also has staff morale problem which could damage it more. It has clearly misled customers about compensation. But these are not existential crises threatening the survival of the company. Such reputation as it has for customer service and reliability is neither part of its core story nor its public reputation.

And while we’re on the subject of reputation crisis, Volkswagen is selling more cars than ever before and United Airlines is still flying its friendly skies with more passengers than ever before. Many organisations suffer serious issues that absorb significant amounts of management time, money and mitigation measures. But the public forgives – or forgets – very easily it would seem.

It may be a weakness putting all one’s reputational eggs into one basket; it may not insulate Ryanair if for example there was a safety crisis (people may ask themselves just how do they make it so cheap? Have they cut safety corners?). Of course having a good reputation matters if you want to be as successful as possible. But very few organisations have collapsed as a result of a reputation crisis rather than an operational crisis. Ratner, Arthur Anderson, Bell Pottinger. I don’t see Ryanair joining them.


Tackling The Fallacy That 93% Of Communication Is Non-verbal Expert Guide / Media Training / Presentation Skills

So Many Trainers Get This So Wrong

Many people misunderstand Albert Mehrabian’s research if they think he concluded that people’s first impressions are based 55% on how you look, 38% on how you sound (i.e. the 93% total) and only 7% on what you say.

If someone was to give you the spoken instruction “Evacuate the building because there is a fire”, 100% of the meaning is in the words – i.e. there is a fire so get out. The speaker’s tone of voice and body language might add something to urgency but you fully get the message through the words without having to be a body language expert.

If I want to explain where you can find a pencil upstairs in a drawer, tone of voice and facial expression are not going to help you find it – only the words will do that.

The ‘Mehrabian formula’ (55%-38%-7%) was established in situations where there was a contrast between words and expression – i.e. where the words did not match the tone and facial expression.

If someone shouts at you “I love you” while their arms are folded, with a snarl in their voice and a sneer on their face, you’re probably not going to believe them!

The Mehrabian formula was designed to explain the importance of understanding meaning in communication as distinct from the words alone.


Why does a story go viral – like United Airlines bumped passenger? Case Study / Crisis communications

Why does a story go viral? The United Airlines bumped passenger story offers us a nice insight into the power of communications.

I suspect that this situation doesn’t make an appearance in United’s crisis manual. But then, it’s not a crisis. It’s a poorly handled issue – at the moment.

Much like when two weeks ago, the airline refused to let two girls board because they were wearing leggings in breach of a dress code for those travelling on an employee or guest ticket. But then those girls didn’t get bloodied faces for their pains.

Standing back from the fuss in both the Twitterverse and traditional media, what have we got?

Poor operational procedures by United Airlines that should have bumped passengers at the gate rather than on the plane – possibly a one-off circumstance.

Heavy-handed action by three security individuals who are not employees of United Airlines but of the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The reputational consequences arose for three reasons.

First, the operational issues were compounded by poor quality, tone-deaf communications by United Airlines. They lacked speed, a meaningful apology or demonstration of remorse for a fare-paying customer and failed to align internal and external communications.

Second, each member of the flying public can empathise. They can envisage themselves being in the same situation.

Third, it is rare. Out of 615 million travellers on US airlines last year, just 46,000 passengers were bumped to another flight. And while many of the them may have been unwilling, none of them were assaulted.

So where will this end up? I’m guessing some changed procedures, some slight short term turbulence in the share price, a tiny number of people who refuse to fly United Airlines and then no change. Whatever the Twitterati says.

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Help For Communication Directors / Media Training

Let us examine the oft-repeated claim that the directors of (especially listed) companies have a legal duty to maximise profit and to minimise tax for the benefit of their shareholders.

Under Section 172 of the UK’s 2006 Companies Act, company directors merely have a legal duty to promote the success of their company.

Specifically, directors are required:

“to have regard to the likely consequences of any decision in the long term;

the interests of the company’s employees;

the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others;

the impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment;

the desirability of the company maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct; and

the need to act fairly as between members of the company.”

Nothing here about a legal duty to maximise profit.

So I guess PR people should not allow their directors to say that they have a legal duty to maximise profit?

Correct. For the simple reason that it is not true.

Promoting the success of the company clearly implies a duty to generate profit (or at least a positive cash flow) but it says nothing about ‘maximising it’. Nor by implication, of finding inventive ways to minimise tax.

Moreover, it could be argued that maximising profit and minimising tax may actually be harmful to employees.

It may be harmful to shareholders who are the ones that are effectively penalised if HMRC fines a company for tax avoidance or claws back tax presumed by shareholders not to be owed.

It could harm the long term interests and reputation of a company if there is negative press coverage about a company’s tax affairs, or if HMRC successfully challenges the arrangements.

It could even harm a company’s commercial interests if customers boycott a company as a result.

So let’s put to bed the excuse that companies have a legal duty to maximise profit and find a better way of communicating why companies make profits.

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How To Manage A Trump-like CEO! Communications Function / Friday Fun

Do you have a Trump-like CEO? Watching the behaviour of the man in the White House, we shouldn’t forget that Trump has spent most of his life being a particular type of businessman.

Do you have a Trump-like CEO? They may share the following character traits:

Are they convinced that they are the smartest person in the room and the only one who is interested in succeeding (they call it ‘winning’)?

Do they see business merely as a series of deals?

Do they make key decisions without input from anyone else, dig in quickly and deeply, and then take any criticism of the decision personally?

Do they have a messianic complex, convinced that without them, everything will fall apart?

Could they do with trusting and listening a little more and going on about their own successes a little less?

Do the good people in the organisation leave because they can’t abide the Trump-like CEO?

Does the CEO look to belittle and drive out those who challenge them?

What Can You Do About It?

Let the Trump-like CEO take credit for your ideas. If you present them half-baked even better – it allows the CEO to shape them through their own greatness!

Keep on giving them productive things to do. If you give them a new idea to play with, maybe they’ll let you get on with your job.

Provide evidence of how their behaviour/ views/ decisions might be damaging their personal reputation – these people usually have a deep need to be liked.

Find ways to help them demonstrate that they can surprise the world. These bosses love proving that people have under-estimated them.

Give them an opportunity to align and interact with their peers. Then they can name-drop and gossip about them.

If they are the ‘big picture’ type, tell them how you’ll sort out all that trivial stuff with other minions. If they are detail-obsessed (for which read ‘control freak’), stay in constant communication.

Since these people like to run their organisation by focusing on the end objective, identify ‘easy wins’ that allow them to present themselves as having gotten things done.

And breathe – deeply!

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Expert Guide: How to Deal With Nerves Or A Phobia About Public Speaking Expert Guide / Presentation Skills

If You Have A Phobia About Public Speaking …

 

… then you’re suffering from ‘glossophobia’. It’s from the Greek – ‘glosso’ meaning tongue.

Fundamentally, the phobia of public speaking comes from a fear of being judged. So how can we lessen it?

First, take comfort in your expertise. You would not have been invited to speak unless you know your stuff.

Second, take confidence from your material and the preparation you have done.

Third, fearful speakers try to ‘get through’ the experience as quickly as possible. They therefore remain focused on resisting their fear and are unable to commit themselves to the role of being a speaker. So take a deep breath and do not focus on wanting to flee the situation. Tell yourself you can do that later.

Fourth, don’t imagine or think you see a crowd of people with upset faces who are all judging you. Don’t look at individuals in the audience – fix your eyeline on the back wall, just above the heads of the audience. Visualise happy faces – happy faces that are loving your speech and impressed with just how good you are. It will help you get through.

For More General Nerves …

 

… use a few discreet tensing and relaxing exercises. Try holding your breath for as long as you are able and then breathe out. Or take a number of slow, deep breaths which will give your brain the oxygen it needs while the slower pace will trick your body into believing you are calmer

Take a sip of water if your mouth is beginning to dry.

Stand correctly – balance the weight of your body evenly, make sure that your feet are firmly grounded, about a body’s-width apart.

Imagine that you are delivering your presentation to an audience that is interested, enthused, smiling, and reacting positively. Cement this positive image in your mind and recall it right before you are ready to go on.

Smile – it improves the timbre of your voice and is a natural relaxant that sends positive chemicals through your body.

If you’re concerned about starting your speech with a ‘squeaky voice’, just before you start speaking, count down under your breath “3-2-1” progressively lowering your tone. Hey presto, no squeak!

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Expert Guide: How Architect Firms Can Win More New Business Pitches Expert Guide / Presentation Skills

The remarks below are extracts from a presentation by our Managing Director, Andrew Caesar-Gordon, at the Royal Institute of British Architects, about how architecture firms and builders can pitch their designs more effectively to clients. Electric Airwaves train architect firms to win new business pitches. And many other professional service firms too. We help them find a compelling corporate story about themselves and provide presentation training so they pitch skillfully and successfully.

 

Architects and designers should make great pitchers. You are really immersed in what you do. You are fascinated by the challenge of design – the challenges to be overcome, the challenge in creating something new. A great design is a solution to a puzzle. And you want to tell people how you did it.

Ideally, you should have a well-known, over-arching story about your firm that appeals emotionally and rationally to people and differentiates you from the competition. If you don’t have one, you need one. It helps shape the panel’s mindset before you enter the room.

You also need a story about the project at hand. So how do you create one?

Imagine your firm is bidding to design or build a school. You might think that your project pitch story is “We have built lots of schools before so we know what we’re doing” or “We haven’t built a school before so we are bringing a fresh approach”.

These will likely be wrong. This is about you, not the client. Get someone in your firm who is not involved with the process to read the client brief and your pre-bid research.

Get them to answer a simple question in one sentence. The simple question is “Why did the client pick the winning firm?” The answer will be the firm that your potential client is confident will solve their problem best.

So let us say that your research shows that the client wants a keen price but is worried about project delivery schedules.

The answer to the question “Why did you chose your firm?” might be “We offered the right price and a successful team who we demonstrated had worked to tight schedules in the past”.

You now know what your story should be – perhaps something like ‘Confidence in Delivery’. To be confident of delivery the client needs to know you have:

The right team – people who have done this before successfully

The right ideas – how you will make it happen

The right price – maybe by offering evidence of past successful delivery at your proposed price

You now have a story framework onto which you can hang the detail.

How should you then structure the presentation of your story?

Many architects seem to think that everybody should understand the design process before they see the picture of what the design looks like. I think that pitch panels – especially the ones that aren’t made up solely of architects – find this annoying.

Humans are visual people first and foremost. What do we say when we understand something for the first time? We say “Ah, I see!”

So SHOW THEM THE PICTURE OF THE BUILDING FIRST. Think of it as a legal style of pitching. You posit the argument – or in this case the design. You back it up with evidence – maybe the why it looks like that and how the building works, and end with a strong conclusion about why you should be appointed.

And throughout it all, your three key themes are running through your presentation with proof – examples – of why this will work.

How should you tell your story?

It’s always good to start with a challenge, or a promise, or an explanation of what is going to contextualise your presentation. It gives the audience a reason right at the start for paying attention.

Norman Foster does it right up front, telling the audience what they can expect from his presentation.

Use examples, anecdotes, quotations and statistics that bring colour to your presentation, establish credibility and support your arguments.

Use language that an intelligent 14 year-old would understand. As Einstein said, if you can’t explain it to your grandmother clearly then you probably don’t understand it yourself.

Avoid jargon, for it is the weed in the garden of language. I have never been in a vertical circulation space although I have been up and down stairs and in lifts. I have never talked about floor plates. But I do walk around on floors and flooring.

When you use complex concepts or jargon, even if you are talking to fellow professionals who are familiar with them, they still must briefly stop and process the words to turn it into everyday language. And the time they are spending processing your language is time they are not spending listening to your pitch.

And say what you mean. Don’t expect the client to draw conclusions. If you have designed a similar building to the one you are pitching, don’t just say, “I’ve designed a similar building to this one”. Are you trying to say you’re experienced? Or can anticipate problems? Or the client really isn’t special? Who knows?

If the client has to interpret what you’re saying they may draw false conclusions. They may not be listening to your next sentence. Or worst, they don’t make the connection at all.  So instead you might say, “I’ve designed a building which had many similarities to this one, and that means I am familiar with all the challenges and techniques. It means I have focused my attention on the unique features of your project”.

Ah, you’re talking about me, the client. Great.

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Crisis communications / Expert Guide

To ignore an issue is to invite a crisis. So when is an ‘issue’ an issue?  When do you need to practise good issues management?

An issue occurs when there is a gap between your policies, performance, products or public commitments, and your stakeholder expectations. It usually threatens reputation damage. The issues management process seeks to close that gap through policy decisions or communication of your perspective to change those stakeholder expectations.

Managing these issues is not the job just of the communication department. The communication department can only communicate what the organization is doing to manage the issue as it evolves. But because communication departments are at the sharp-end of stakeholder engagement, it often falls to the communication team to explain and persuade senior management and operational people how what they are doing is impacting on the organization’s reputation and what they need to do to mitigate it.

Not all crises spring from unexpected causes and not all crises are unavoidable. Organizations today face a barrage of threats – from ethical concerns to activist campaigns, financial-market rumors to litigation, industrial accidents to terrorism – as well as more subtle issues that can grow quickly to undermine an organization’s ability to compete.

Sometimes the issue is quite simply one of confidence. An underlying issue that could build to a point where it becomes a crisis can be mitigated by a good issues management process that identifies and tracks the evolution of a multiplicity of issues that impact on confidence.

What is good issues management?

1. Issue identification: What issues could arise either because of the organization’s activities, industry or its scale? A vulnerabilities audit should reveal the internal and external factors that could evolve into issues to be managed. These issues can include system failures, customer service problems, health and environmental impacts, proposed legislation, the media environment and competitor initiatives. Regular PEST & SWOT analyses can help.

2. Issue classification & prioritization:

Which of these issues could cause significant damage to the organization’s reputation or operations if not managed effectively? Once issues have been identified, they can be prioritized to allow focus on those that have the greatest likelihood of happening and would have the most detrimental impact if they did. Some of these issues might merit the creation of a specific response plan. Less severe issues may only require the preparation of a stand-by statement.

3. Monitoring & analysis: Ongoing monitoring ensures that changes in the intensity of an issue or its likelihood of occurrence are spotted immediately and assessed. How is this issue evolving on a monthly or even daily basis? How are we evolving to meet it?

4. Options for change: What steps can we take to change the course of an issue’s progression by either the organization or the stakeholders?

5. Action programme: Execute the plan to close the gap between your policies, performance, products or public commitments and your stakeholder expectations.

6. Evaluation: Has the issue lessened in severity over time? Did we respond effectively to the issue, preventing its emergence as a crisis? What lessons were learned?

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: How to Practise Good Crisis Communications Crisis communications / Expert Guide / Media Training

A crisis is defined as: “an intense, unexpected and unstable state that disrupts normal operations and risks highly undesirable outcomes that requires extraordinary measures to restore stability”. Crisis communications management therefore involves the extraordinary measures that are taken to restore stability.

A crisis may arise when an issue is ignored or issues management fails or when an ‘act of God’-type disaster strikes. Within the PR function, its strategy as reputation manager is to minimise publicity, terminate long term coverage, preserve public confidence, identify positives, ensure balance and emerge stronger.

Effective recovery has its roots in prudent preparation. In the intense heat of a major crisis or acute issue, there will be little or no time for anything other than direct, active management of the situation.

Confidence comes from experience. Experience comes from learning. A crisis is not the time to start learning. While your pre-prepared processes are a guide, they will not meet every circumstance. Preparation is crucial but flexibility is key.

Top 10 Crisis Management Tips

1. Effective crisis communications is the result of diligent preparation, planning, training and practice. Organization of resources and facilities, training of spokespeople, preparation of materials, contact lists and check lists can all be done in advance. Training and practice simulations are about testing people, processes and the management of the flow of information.

2. Scenario planning should be less about trying to predict your crisis and more about thinking how your organization can and should plan its systems response (although some due diligence will be obvious – e.g. if you are an airline, then a crash is a scenario to train for).

3. Act quickly to assert control when the crisis hits. In the social media age, how quickly you can respond will define your ability to take control of the narrative of your crisis.

4. Identify the real crisis – the issue may be a proxy for something bigger and longer term.

5. Manage the flow of information – be honest and open with the media to create trust and ensure accuracy. Do not hide from the media. If you do not put your side of the story, there are plenty of others who will speculate and they are unlikely to be complimentary. Consider the impact of social media and citizen journalism.

6. To manage successfully the flow of information, centralize it and align your internal and external communications to avoid inconsistency and contradiction.

Apply the CAP process – express concern for those affected; commit to action in order to reassure the wider audience; offer perspective. Address the human factor and all your internal and external stakeholders. Do not speculate, apportion blame or admit liability until you have all the facts.

8. When a crisis hits, create a crisis team that deals solely with the crisis. They will need to be freed from existing hierarchies and processes. Make sure the crisis team understands the strategy, purpose and direction of your crisis media response. Clear leadership makes the difference – a crisis team is NOT a democracy – and common sense should inform decisions. Try to put yourself in the public’s shoes – what would you want to know and understand if you were observing the crisis?

9. You need third parties to speak up for you – identify and brief them as the crisis develops.

10. Learn from your crisis (and from others’) and apply the learning across the whole organisation.

How Does The Media Think

During A Crisis?

Your nightmare crisis is a journalist’s dream assignment. Your ‘trial by media’ will involve the media questioning you on all aspects of your organization including those not directly related to the crisis. Journalists want to report the human story and are trying to identify three things:

• That there is a problem that should interest their audience, affecting people emotionally and/ or materially

• That someone or something has failed

• It is or should be controversial

The key questions that a journalist has for crisis situations and you can prepare for, are:

• What happened?

• How did it happen?

• What are you going to do about it?

• What are the consequences likely to be?

• Who is to blame?

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: How to survive ambush or doorstep interviews Crisis communications / Expert Guide / Media Training

The key thing about surviving doorstep interviews is to take control. Running away makes it look as though you have something to hide.

If you do not know what you should be saying

If you do not know what they are talking about or do not want to answer any questions at all, say “I’m sorry but I don’t have enough information to hand to make a statement at this time. [An investigation is/will be underway]. I am sure that we will let you know via a statement or press conference as soon as we have enough information to give you an accurate picture”.

If you do want to say something

Take a moment to clear your head and calm your breathing and either say:

– “I can make the following short statement but cannot take any further questions”. Highlight in 20 seconds your key message/ defence/ line-to-take and then you can leave. This way, you have addressed the media’s issue and the audience will think you have been reasonable

– if you are more confident about the problem, “I can spare you two minutes but then I really must get on with resolving this issue”. Take the first question and using the address-bridge-communicate (ABC) method, talk calmly and slowly for two minutes (which will be over in a flash).

When the media scrum tries to ask further questions, say “I said I could spare two minutes which I have done, now I must get on with resolving this issue” and head off.

In both cases, before you take the question or make the statement, ask to position yourself on the pavement (by your car) or near to the building entrance. It is reasonable to expect the media to respect that your house should not be able to be identified from pictures. You can say that you want to take a position that allows everybody to see and hear you. Most importantly though, you can leave more quickly and without having to push your way through the media pack which creates opportunities for them to ask more questions.

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: How to run a Press Conference Expert Guide / Media Training

In Advance

Your invitation to the press conference should be brief: why it’s taking place, who will speak, where and at what time. There should be contact numbers on the notice. Journalists need to eat too so the offer of good food and drink afterwards cannot go amiss and gives you the opportunity for one-to-one background briefing to reinforce key messages.

On the day, ensure that journalists sign in and give a mobile number so you can talk to them afterwards to reinforce messages; give them a press pack (the press release, key facts about the organization etc) to take away.

The Press Conference

Choose your venue carefully. Ensure there is enough room for everybody (a media crush makes you look bad) and ensure that you and your spokespeople can enter the room from a different door to that of the media. Otherwise you can get trapped in the media scrum and forced into answering more questions when you try to push your way out (which also looks bad on camera).

The spokespeople should not chair the press conference. Maybe use your PR person who knows the journalists’ faces and can avoid inviting questions from known antagonists. Having two or three people on the platform provides variety and is more interesting for the media. You should have a specialist present to answer technical questions.

Make it clear at the beginning how long the press conference will last. If things are going well you can stay longer; if going badly you point to the time limit that was set at the beginning and wrap things up with a polite and firm (we must now get back to work sorting this out).

You must grab the audience in the first 30 seconds. If using slides or other visual aids, make the first one powerful. Tell the audience what they are going to hear, tell them, and then remind them what you’ve said.

The Q&A session is the moment when press conferences can go wrong. Listen attentively, answer engagingly. Do not be afraid of supplementary questions but if it is time to move on, move on. It is your press conference, you are in control. Do not be drawn into areas not being covered by the press conference (“we’re here to talk about ‘x’ not ‘y’”).

The chairman should field all questions direct to the person who is going to answer them. Make sure you ask for the journalist’s name and organisation (it might give you a clue to the type of question they are going to ask and a few precious seconds thinking time). If your colleague looks as though they need more thinking time, string it out by repeating the question back to the journalist. Log all questions for follow up.

Anticipate the negative questions and think in advance of the different angles from which journalists can attack the same issue. In a press conference, each journalist is looking for a unique angle for their own readers/viewers. At the end of the press conference, the chairman should use the final moment to recap on the key messages.

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: How to handle on or ‘off-the-record’ Expert Guide / Media Training

Electric Airwaves is the UK’s largest communications training company and the most frequent question we are asked by participants on our courses is whether they should ever go ‘off-the-record’. Implicitly linked to this is the question ‘do journalists honour such conversations?’

So is there such a thing as ‘off-the-record’? The answer is – ‘yes’ with a ‘but’.

What does ‘off-the-record’ mean?

You need to be sure that both you and the journalist understand the context for your comments. The most usual understanding is that whatever the journalist is told can be reported so long as it is not attributed to the person who said it. This is why a person speaking off-the-record is often described as ‘an insider’, ‘a party official’ or ‘a colleague.’

But a second form of ‘off-the-record’ is where neither the identity of the source nor the information they’ve passed on can be revealed. Press officers will often do this kind of background briefing when they need the journalist to understand the context of a story but do not want to have either their identity or the actual information revealed because it would prejudice them.

Why does ‘off-the-record’ exist?

Journalists are expected to develop and cultivate sources. ‘Off-the-record’ information is often valuable and can only be secured by keeping its source secret (some journalists have gone to prison rather than reveal their sources).

And no staff-contracted ‘beat’ journalist – those who cover a specialist area such as politics, business, education etc – would reveal sources if they ever wanted to have another source trust them.

So what should you do?

Looked at from the perspective of the occasional spokesperson, they do not often specifically cultivate on-going relationships with journalists. Therefore, they cannot be certain that a confidence will be kept or misunderstandings not arise, especially with a ‘non-beat’ or freelance journalist.

Whilst a journalist may be guided by their code of ethics, this is not legally enforceable and ‘the public interest’ is often considered more important that the requirement to protect an individual’s anonymity.

So our advice is that unless you are a Press Officer or have an established trusted journalist relationship, do not go ‘off-the-record’. Do not say anything to a journalist that you would not want to see quoted with your name attached. And if you are still not sure, do not say anything that if you were revealed to have said it, would get you fired!

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: How to Manage ‘Down the Line’ TV Interviews Expert Guide / Media Training

As broadcasters’ resources are stretched, ‘down-the-line’ TV interviews are increasingly common. Interviewees in one location talk to a camera, listening via an earpiece to the journalist who is questioning them from the studio.

The most difficult type of interview

Spokespeople often find these interviews unnerving. It is unnatural to be talking to a camera rather than a person. Unable to see the journalist, they cannot assess their reaction to answers and adapt accordingly as they speak. And while these interviews may take place inside or outside of your premises, if you are in a ‘down-the-line studio’, these are often tiny box rooms. There is a camera to stare at and a green baize screen behind you (onto which the broadcaster will project an image that audiences will see but you cannot) and nobody else. Surreal.

Top Tips

When doing a ‘down-the-line’ TV interview, stand or sit still – anchor yourself. Do not rock, wobble from side to side or shift your weight from either foot. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and you only move from the waist up.

If you are seated your lower body should stay still and your hands remain well below your shoulders. They can move as long as they don’t break into the shot too often and distract the viewer. Keep your bottom still and sit upright relaxing the upper body.

Your eye line must be steady and constant with the camera lens. Position your eye line in the top third of the lens and lift your chin up slightly. Look directly through – ‘down-the-barrel’ – of the camera. If you feel you must look away, don’t look up or to the left or right. That makes you look nervous and uncertain. Look down – it suggests you are thinking.

To compensate the viewer for a lack of physical interaction between interviewer and interviewee, you will need to enhance the tone and intonation your delivery and the animation on your face. Your energy levels, passion and personality must shine through the lens.

If your ear piece falls out, don’t hold it close to your ear – just put it back in.

At the end, maintain your eye contact with the camera until you are told that the interview is over.

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Media interview Expert Guide / Media Training / Presentation Skills

Many participants on Electric Airwaves’ media training courses ask how they can ensure that they don’t get unfairly edited by a journalist and can get their soundbites broadcast or published.

Why was I misquoted?

For busy journalists in a busy newsroom, confronted with something new, a few minutes on Google can often be the totality of their knowledge before they interview you. In answering questions, use the same language as the audience and do not assume audience or journalist knowledge.

Take responsibility for presenting your information to the audience clearly and concisely so the journalist does not have to intervene or audiences process what you mean. If you assume knowledge and dive deep into the subject or use jargon, the journalist will either have to fill the gap in their knowledge with their own interpretation – and a few minutes on Google really isn’t enough! – or summarise it (meaning they will ignore all the details and nuances of your answers).

Editing

Try to avoid pre-recorded interviews especially when they are preceded by a news package you won’t have seen and will have set the audience’s mindset. You can challenge interruptions, present your case unedited and thus exercise greater control of what is aired.

Journalists are rarely being devious but especially when editing longer, pre-recorded broadcast interviews, they are trying to find a short statement that summarises your position. The solution lies in delivering a really good soundbite that encapsulates your position so that the journalist doesn’t need to edit you.

When being interviewed

Get your key point across right at the start of the interview – this is the time that the audience will be paying the most attention to you and making a judgment about you. Moreover, if the interview gets suddenly cut short (as can happen in rolling news), at least you have got your point across.

It should be no longer than 10 seconds (this is about 30 words). The best soundbites are complete ones that sound like a direct response to the issue, perhaps paraphrasing part of the journalist’s question.

Short answers sound terse or rude so remember that throughout the interview your answers should be more rounded, using examples and imagery. Your soundbite should flow naturally from the broad points you are making to avoid sounding rehearsed or contrived.

Do repeat your soundbite later in the interview although try not to use the exact same words. It reinforces that this is your summary position and flags it to the journalist as the natural edit.

Avoid starting answers with something like “Well, as I mentioned earlier”. The edit may not use an earlier answer and so they won’t use this soundbite now.

To Repeat

A meaningful soundbite is a well prepared, 10 second summary of your position that you use early in the interview, and repeat to reinforce that this is your key message.

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: How to Avoid “Um” and “Er” and “YKnow” when public speaking Expert Guide / Presentation Skills

There are around 230,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary. ‘Um’ and ‘Er’ and ‘Y’know’ are not listed. Over-use of these so called ‘spurious spacers’ are at best annoying to the audience and at worst can damage your credibility and dilute your message when public speaking.

Y’know

The liberal use of “y’know” can signal pleading of an uncertain and vulnerable nature. However, the judicious and deliberate use of “y’know” can (whether hopefully or desperately) be taken as “Please see it my way – because we share the same world-view”.

Overcoming the use of such repetitive phrases

One of the best ways to improve and reduce one’s use of these words and phrases is to take a good look at yourself on video or audio. Few things are as humbling as hearing your own voice and noting your own (bad) habits!

If you’re brave, you can ask a colleague to count your spurious spacers during your next interview or presentation – some find the spoken judgment of a colleague to be an effective stimulus for correction.

Many people find that if they focus on reducing the use of a single word or phrase (perhaps substituting a pause which can be very powerful since it demands that the audience pay attention for and are expectant of the next word) they can make excellent progress by themselves.

Others need help from a third party. Electric Airwaves’ media and presentation training involves video-recording client’s presentations and coaching them on their content and delivery, with a particular focus on verbal and physical mannerisms.

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: Handling Appearances before a Parliamentary Select Committee Crisis communications / Expert Guide / Presentation Skills

Introduction

Select Committees were established and expanded during the 1970s and 1980s to ensure that Parliament could better scrutinize the Government and hold it to account. Most Committees perform without fanfare most of the time.

But in recent years, some Committees seem to have come to see their job as holding the wider world to account along other institutions and individuals which have some relationship with government. Select Committee hearings on high profile issues are increasingly characterized by an extremely aggressive style of questioning. For some witnesses, they feel they are on trial – no longer witnesses but the accused.

The consequences of a poor performance can be severely damaged reputation or even loss of employment. While most evidence sessions are not like this, if there is a public policy controversy lying behind the Select Committee inquiry, then your evidence session may take on a different hue.

What To Expect

• Usually a short, consensual and discursive style of questioning designed to unpack or help the committee understand, an issue. It will feel intense and you will feel vulnerable

• A session that may not just be a parliamentary event but a media/ public event. Preparing just with your public affairs people will not be helpful. Think about how personal and corporate reputation may be affected by the hearing and how the media will cover it

• Possible expert knowledge and insight from individual members of the Committee if this is truly an area of specific interest for them; probably not. Individual MPs may possibly grandstand for the cameras to burnish their own reputation or support/appeal to constituents or groups (e.g. Trade Unions, charities, business)

• You’re not in charge. It is not a board meeting or staff presentation. For CEOs it can feel like some unfortunate role-reversal. You are no longer ‘top dog’; you are now required to bow before people who you feel don’t understand your company or the drivers of the business world, and may appear intellectually shallow

• It is unlikely that legislators will have paid much interest to your background or experience. In fact, it is unlikely that they will have even heard of you; they may well not have read your evidence

Dos and don’ts

• Do prepare thoroughly. Think about what you want to present and how the audience will receive it. Plan your narrative. Don’t try and memorise a hundred answers to a hundred questions. You’ll end up confused or robotic

• Do understand the motivations and backgrounds of those holding the inquiry and any pre-determined views, or misguided beliefs. Monitor previous and forthcoming evidence sessions to ensure that you are up to speed with what others are saying (potentially about you) and to identify avenues of questioning

• Do prepare a nice turn-of-phrase.

You can make appropriate use of humour but never be disrespectful or flippant to a politician – they have a strong sense of self and hold the whip-hand here

• Do try to come across as informed and helpful but not subservient. Be concise but not monosyllabic; engaged not detached. As in media interviews, use examples and simple language

• The more aggressive the committee becomes, the calmer you should become

• Beware of making impromptu promises, concessions or policy commitments – you will be held to it! If you don’t know the answer or have the information to hand, apologise and promise to get it to the Committee as soon as possible

• Correct any inaccurate statements that Committee members make – if you don’t, it will be on the record and taken that you concur

• Don’t become frustrated or angered that the process isn’t fair – because it isn’t

• Do remember that a high proportion of select committee recommendations are taken up by the Government so appearing in front of a Committee is an important opportunity to directly influence its members and the political discourse

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: How to Apologise Crisis communications / Expert Guide

It is important to recognize that sometimes things do go wrong – your organization is after all, comprised of fallible human beings. Or your organisation could be the victim of somebody else’s misdeed.

While it has become very fashionable to apologise, how can you do so and sound like you really mean it? Because too often, apologies – whether from organisations or individuals – fail to strike the right note.

The usual reason is that it is caveated. For instance “I am sorry IF I have offended anyone”. What this really sounds like is that “I’m sorry you are so stupid/ paranoid/ sensitive that you get offended so easily”. It sounds like you have made it out of necessity rather than conviction.

Such ‘not quite’ apologises are caused because a real apology needs only one word. “Sorry”. The moment you start adding words to this, you risk detracting from the force of the apology.

So the rules for an effective apology are:

1. Be swift. Not only does a late apology suggest it has had to be dragged out of you so you probably do not really mean it, but it also suggests that you really do not know the difference between right and wrong.

2. Be sincere. If you do not feel sorry, do not pretend to be. Your audience will always know. And sincerity is not apparent if you have to read your apology from a piece of paper. If you are genuinely sorry, it is important that the audiencebelieves that you have a genuine sense of real shame, even if on behalf of others.

3. Be succinct – do not try to explain or qualify your apology.

4. Do something about it. Say what you’re going to do to fix the problem. Outlining your plans and next steps is as important in

restoring the public faith in you as the apology itself.

So a sincere apology should express regret, remorse and repentance. We could do a lot worse than remember the wise words of our parents: “Say you’re sorry and mean it”.Look at the great apology offered by Greenpeace in December 2014 when it was criticized for holding a publicity stunt on the ancient Nazca lines in Peru and damaging the 1500 year old monument:

Look at the great apology offered by Greenpeace in December 2014 when it was criticized for holding a publicity stunt on the ancient Nazca lines in Peru and damaging the 1500 year old monument:

“Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity … We are deeply sorry for this. We fully understand that this looks bad … We came across as careless and crass. We have now met with the Peruvian Culture Ministry responsible for the site to offer an apology. We welcome any independent review of the consequences of our activity. We will cooperate fully with any investigation … Greenpeace is accountable for its activities and willing to face fair and reasonable consequences. The International Executive Director of Greenpeace, will travel to Lima this week, to personally apologise for the offence caused by the activity and represent the organisation in any on-going discussions with the Peruvian authorities. Greenpeace will immediately stop any further use of the offending images.”

If you want to speak to one of our journalists in order to find out more about the media or want to enquire about booking a training session, please call us on +44 (0)20 7323 2770 or email team@electricairwaves.com.

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Expert Guide: Moderating Conferences and Panel Discussions Expert Guide / Presentation Skills

Just as there are few ‘naturals’ when it comes to media interviewees, there are few ‘naturals’ when it comes to moderating conferences and panel discussions. The good ones you see are the ones who have practiced – a lot!

As a moderator or conference chair, your job is to make the speakers look good and connect the audience to the subject matter. Here’s how.

Preparation Is Key

Try to find out as much as possible about who is in the audience and why they are there. Understand from the organisers what they want from you (to inform? educate? motivate? entertain?) and the tone you should adopt (challenging? inspirational? authoritative?).

Check the lay-out of the room (will half the room have their backs to you because they’re seated at round tables?; will there be audio-visual equipment or will you be projecting your voice?); speak to the presenters beforehand to gather information about them and their talk; double-check job titles and pronunciation of their names. All this will allow you to plan your approach and give you confidence in the situation before you walk in.

Engaging The Audience

Your performance sets the tone. Clear, positive thought lies at the root of success in communication. The best communicators have high levels of energy and focus.

Once emotionally connected to you, an audience will listen to you. So maybe start with a short, amusing story or anecdote, or play to the audience’s expectations about you or your organisation. Audiences also tend to like openings that contain factoids or challenges.

Avoid long formal introductions to speakers, regurgitating their biography. You want to do your bit for the speaker by getting the audience alert and engaged and it will make them more likely to ask questions at the Q&A. Talk to the speaker beforehand and ask for an interesting titbit about themselves that the audience might not know. Tell the audience what to expect from the presentation or session (again, speak to the presenter beforehand). Keep your language active as opposed to passive; use personal pronouns (I, we, you) to help build rapport with the audience.

Handling Q&A Sessions

People relate better to people than ‘things’ so talk in human rather than technical terms. Ask interesting questions e.g. instead of “how did you do that”, ask “what was the best / worst part of doing that?”.

Short questions are better unless you’re trying to kill time when longer questions will usually elicit longer answers from the speaker as they address each of your points. Identify some questions of your own (ask the speaker beforehand what they would you like you to ask as a first question if nobody immediately puts up their hand).

If the question is garbled or irrelevant, you might want tactfully to paraphrase the question to focus the audience on what you / the speaker want to talk about.

Accentuate differences of opinion between panellists (unaggressively of course) – it makes it interesting for the audience. To keep a dialogue going, ask supplementary questions – “can you give us an example”. Throw in challenges and possibly red herrings (e.g. “wouldn’t Greenpeace disagree with you?”); use your own experience to engage the audience or give the speaker something to play off e.g. “when I was studying to be a chemical engineer I spent a whole year before I realised that the module I had chosen wasn’t going to help me get a job – did you ever worry that your degree might not help you?”.

If questions aren’t flowing from the audience, there’s a limit to how long you can string things out. It is embarrassing for the panellist/ presenter that nobody beyond the moderator wants to know more. So wrap up by asking them ‘a final big picture question’ e.g. “before I let you go, tell us how you see things in 5 years’ time” or “what one thing do you think people should take away from this event” – it also helps affirm for the speaker that they are an ‘expert’, justifying their presence to themselves and the audience.

Dealing With Nerves

Use a few discreet tensing and relaxing exercises. Try holding your breath for as long as you are able and then breathe out. Or take a number of slow, deep breaths which will give your brain the oxygen it needs while the slower pace will trick your body into believing you are calmer

Take a sip of water if your mouth is beginning to dry.

Imagine that you are delivering your presentation to an audience that is interested, enthused, smiling, and reacting positively. Cement this positive image in your mind and recall it right before you are ready to go on.

Smile – it improves the timbre of your voice and is a natural relaxant that sends positive chemicals through your body.

Just before you start speaking, count down under your breath “3-2-1” progressively lowering your tone, and then start speaking. This will avoid you starting with a squeak!

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Expert Guide: Presenting in the Round Expert Guide / Presentation Skills

Speaking on a platform that is surrounded on all side by the audience is known in theatre as ‘presenting in the round’. It’s quite a different experience presenting to an audience that you sometimes cannot see! Here are some tips to help you do so effectively.

The main worry of a presenter in this situation is that they feel they are ignoring a part of the audience when their back is turned to them or that the audience cannot hear what they have to say. You need to reframe this worry and accept that it is impossible to face the entire audience all time!

Instead, plan to address each part of the audience throughout the speech. And not just by addressing one part of the audience before turning 90 degrees to address the adjacent section. Maybe turn 270 degrees. The audience is forced to ‘follow’ you and thus remains focused on you. It can also create a momentary pause which causes the audience to ‘wait with bated breath’ for your next point. If there is a particular group in the audience that you want most to address, do so but don’t ignore the others (especially during and Q&A session).

For two or three key sections of your speech (for instance if you’re using a list or a “first … secondly … thirdly” approach) try breaking it up into three to four words and present a word or point to each section of the audience. Or you can always turn and repeat the central key point to the other sections of the audience.

Psychologically, some presenters perceive themselves as ‘being surrounded’ and ‘trapped’ by the audience.

Think instead of yourself as the star of the show, the central point of reference for the audience. Think that there were so many people interested in your presentation that the venue had to set the stage up this way to accommodate them all.

‘In the round’ theatre normally has only 7-8 rows of seats so the audience is very close and can therefore see the smallest, most subtle movement. The audience can thus become laser-focused on the actor/ presenter’s body language rather than what they are saying. Therefore use bigger, more deliberate physical gestures and voice projection to keep the audience focused on the words.

While ‘In The Round’ has no ‘weak spot’ and traditionally the centre of a stage is the most powerful place to be, try using the whole stage. Try not becoming rooted to the same spot for more than about 20 seconds; practice moving to make a new point or going closer to the audience when the content of your talk calls for it.

As well as being the UK’s largest media training company working with almost half the FTSE100, we also offer presentation and public speaking training. For more information, call Andrew Caesar-Gordon on 020 7323 2770 or email andrew@ electricairwaves.com.

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The fake news problem and the consequences for PROs Corporate Story

Jesus:                   Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

Pontius Pilate:      What is truth?

Since the election of Donald Trump, debate has raged about whether the flood of ‘fake news’ on the web swung the election to him. Leaving to one side Trumps’ own contribution to a ‘post truth’ world – and dishonesty is hardly a new trait in politics – the ‘something-must-be-done brigade’ wants to know what Google and Facebook in particular are doing to prevent ‘fake news’ trending in their news feeds and results. But howare PROs going to respond given its importance to many in our industry?

Facebook, as the most popular platform for people gathering news on the web, is wary of being the arbiter of truth. It knows all too well that once you start injecting human judgment into editorial decisions, accusations of bias are sure to follow. Facebook used to have a team of editors who were tasked with curating news for its ‘trending news’ box. Then they were accused of suppressing right-wing views.

Facebook’s response was to replace humans with software. But the algorithm isn’t sophisticated enough to identify what is or is not a fake story. And those fake stories started trending (ironically mainly in Trump’s favour).

Google and Facebook have announced that they will remove advertising from fake news websites but they have yet to take any other steps that might flag when news has been provided by credible, established media organisations (whatever they are) as opposed to more obviously partisan writers (if indeed that would be possible or desirable).

There are three interconnected issues here for PROs. First, increasing numbers of people choose to get their news curated through the likes of Google, Twitter and especially Facebook. People are shaping their media consumption around their own opinions and prejudices and social media aggregates and amplifies this. An echo chamber is developing as individuals are presented with more of what the computer algorithms perceive they like, thus filtering out differing viewpoints or indeed, whole swathes of news.

Second, while we don’t know how big a problem is fake news, whether it results from deliberate deception (for instance, the story that the Pope endorsed Trump) or sloppy or partisan journalism, its effect is to sow doubt in the public’s mind about the veracity of news and the motives of news-gatherers (as recently asked of me: why doesn’t the BBC report how the USA is funding ISIS?!). For organisations that wish to engage digitally or otherwise with the public, this creates a trickier external operating environment for the delivery of information and messages.

And thirdly, in a ‘post truth’ age, experts are no longer respected and ‘facts’ no longer provide us with a reality that we can all agree upon. As Michael Gove said during the EU referendum, “people in this country have had enough of experts”.

This is not just about conspiracy theorists distorting the lens through which we analyses facts. PROs stand accused of seeking the eye catching headline (have wildlife populations really declined by 58% since 1970?) just as much as newspapers (are High Court Judges really the ‘Enemies of the People’ as claimed by the Daily Mail?). The public suspects that the PR people can always find an expert or create a survey result that endorses the corporate point of view.

To be honest, we have long lived in a ‘post-truth’ world. People have always responded less to rational argument and more to emotional entreaties. Social media has merely allowed people to discover that their gut feelings are shared by millions of others.

Brexit, Trump and the rest are just a wake-up call to communicators that they need to change tack. Facts and data are helpful but to persuade people they need to be presented in such a way as to touch people’s emotional lives.

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Communications Function

Nothing personal but I’m going to challenge a conventional wisdom about the PR profession. The wisdom that it is indeed a profession. Instead, is what we do rather more like a ‘craft’? One that is mainly learnt as one goes along (a bit like most journalism!)?

I suspect that if you asked 100 people in the street whether they considered PR to be a profession, few would agree. They see lawyers, accountants, doctors, architects, scientists, engineers and surveyors to be members of a profession. PR does not exhibit the accepted characteristics of a profession.

Fundamentally, professions and professionals are governed by professional bodies that tend to have secured a monopolistic privilege to perform their work. Members must satisfy minimum requirements to be granted the right to call themselves a member of their chosen profession; they are then required to participate in continuous learning to remain a member. Such bodies control the actual work of the profession and the conditions that surround it (institutionalised admission, examination and licensing, ethical and performance standards, professional discipline).

This is not the case in PR. There are no barriers to entry – if there were, perhaps CEOs would hold the PR person in the same esteem as the finance director. While the PRCA and CIPR have taken significant steps to introduce elements of the above, the stamp of their approval is not compulsory in order to practice PR and few PRs are asked by clients or employers for such a stamp.

 

Because of the way in which they are structured and run, professions are also characterised by a high level of public trust and confidence both in the profession and in individual practitioners. Professionals – collectively and individually – are supposed to possesses a body of abstract knowledge and a repertoire of behaviours and skills not possessed by the non-professional. Few outside of PR believe this about us.

And professionals have a vocational sub-culture which comprises implicit codes of behaviour and an espirit de corps (or group allegiance) that confer certain occupational advantages. The medical profession seems to strengthen its reputation every time someone gets struck off. No so with PR.

It has been oft-commented that the PR industry seems to crave esteem – and that it has managed its own reputation poorly. Becoming a true ‘profession’ may help and while many PR people may well possess many of the attributes we value in a profession, we are a long way from it.

There is much we do in our world of PR and communications of which we should be vocal, proud and celebratory. But let us not try and kid our publics that we are yet something we are not. Otherwise they might think we’re spinning them. And we know how long it has taken to live down that moniker!

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