Today's post comes from ROAM Communications network partner, Dave Yewman. He is co-founder of Elevator Speech and owner of DASH Consulting and a master media trainer.
It’s usually a male executive who says it, and it usually goes something like this:
“Practice for my presentation? Oh, no. I’m good. I really don’t have time and I know the material really well anyway … I like to be in the moment, keep things real … I don’t want to be too rote … it’s basically the same speech I gave at the investor’s conference last month anyway …”
Bullshit. All of it.
Yes, they’re smart guys. Yes, they know their material well. Yes, it probably is a speech they’ve given before. But when you don’t prep for a presentation, a media interview, an important investor briefing or a speech to new hires you put yourself before your audience. And that’s a problem.
Your audience deserves your best effort and if you don’t practice then they’re not getting it.
In no other part of corporate America would such shabby excuses be permitted. Imagine writing a press release without having someone edit it for errors. Imagine letting a CFO “wing” a quarterly earnings announcement. Imagine letting weird Fred in HR write the employee handbook with quality controls.
Brands don’t permit any such nonsense because they know brands are fragile things, subject to much damage from even inadvertent remarks or statements.
Yet when CEOs stand on stage before 500 people at industry events - when they hold their brands in the very palms of their hands - we somehow are okay with a lack of practice beforehand?
There’s a great irony in speaking well - it’s that superb communicators appear to be “winging it” because they’re so in the moment, so confident, comfortable and in control on stage. They possess what’s sometimes called “executive presence,” which simply means they get to the point, they tell good stories to illustrate their messages, they finish on time and they appear as though nothing in the world is bothering them.
It’s not true. It just looks that way. Superb communicators practice like crazy to give the appearance of being calm, cool and collected on stage. Inside, their hearts are racing, adrenaline is surging through their bodies and they’re incredibly nervous. But they control it - because they’ve practiced. And practiced. And practiced.
Steve Jobs was superb because he spent two days practicing in the Moscone Center for those 45-minute Macworld keynotes, most TED speakers go through a rigorous prep process that typically equates to roughly one hour of prep for one minute of stage time. Master communicators practice out loud and often that practice is videotaped - which is equal parts excruciating and useful.
Several years ago I sat in a very nice executive conference room with a very prominent CEO of a major European brand. The company has just signed a deal with another huge brand worth hundreds of millions of Euros. The CEO was charged with delivering the news to 3,000 employees at a big company event one month away.
We sat down and I said, “Okay, what we’re going to do is have you practice the first 3-4 minutes of your speech out loud” and I gestured to the video camera on its tripod sitting next to me. “We’ll record what you say and watch it back to see what worked, and what didn’t.”
The CEO didn’t want to go on camera (no one ever does). He said, “I don’t want to go on camera, let’s just talk about the speech, read through the draft and look at the slides.”
“No,” I said. “Not how this works. Let’s project the slides, have the speech printed out and set in front of you and let’s have you deliver the opening on camera.”
Twenty seconds of uncomfortable silence ensued. For a moment I thought the beefy corporate security guards may come in to the executive suite and escort me from the premises. Then with a heavy sigh, the CEO stood up and delivered the opening 3-4 minutes of his speech out loud. I recorded it and we played it back.
It was awful. But because we had a month to prep and could work on the speech every other day, it got slowly better. If that CEO had “winged” his big speech it would have been a disaster. But he didn’t, he prepped very diligently. And he did a good job on the big day. No one in the audience knew he’d spent weeks rehearsing and making adjustments, they just saw his presentation and enjoyed the news of the multi million Euro deal.
Now that CEO, and pretty much every other C-suite executive I’ve ever coached - male or female - pretty much hated going on camera. But seeing yourself on video is what my business partner Andy calls “truth serum” because you see what the audience sees, and that’s powerful. In some ways, preparing out loud and on camera is like being a basketball or football player whose practice sessions are recorded. When you watch film of a practice - or a game - you can see exactly what went right, and what went wrong. Then you can make adjustments and get better.
But not if you try to wing it, not if you evade practice sessions, not if you yield to the bullshit notion that you, only you, are smart enough to deliver a great message without practicing.
If the first time you say the words out loud are when there’s 500, or 10, people looking at you, or when the press interview begins, or when the investors gather for your update - then heaven help you. Because even you don’t know what’s going to come out of your mouth, because you haven’t practiced.
Don’t be that person.
About Dave Yewman
A friend of Dave’s 11-year-old son Aaron asked, “What does your Dad do?” Aaron thought for a minute, then said, “He teaches people how not to say ‘um.'” That’s a pretty good elevator speech for a presentation coach. Dave likes to think there’s a bit more to presentation coaching than that — but it’s a great place to start. In the past 10+ years Dave’s coached CEOs, professional athletes, tech startup founders, engineers, creative designers and pretty much everyone in between.
Dave Yewman is a strategic communications expert with more than 15 years of experience. A former newspaper reporter and columnist, he speaks regularly to groups about how to use clear, concise, compelling language as a strategic weapon when dealing with reporters, employees, sales prospects, shareholders, and consumers.
Dave lives near Portland, Oregon.
Learn more about Dave and ElevatorSpeech at www.elevatorspeech.com.
Companies are always looking for ways to get in front of reporters and get their stories heard but they aren't the only ones vying for journalists' attention. The average reporter gets hundreds of email pitches every single day -- and they still have to conduct interviews and write their actual stories. There just aren't enough hours in the day.
These are important elements that companies and their leadership teams need to understand as they approach their PR programs and strategies. Now is your chance to to hear directly from some of the top journalists in LA -- what they are looking for, what pitches they avoid and what you can do to help your story rise among the fray.
We are excited to announce that we are hosting and moderating this panel at the new WeWork space in Playa Vista, CA on Monday October 24 at 6pm PT. More details below.
Please make sure to RSVP here. We look forward to seeing you there!
Stumbled upon an article this morning about a recent video game launch, where a Sony executive chose to blame PR for the backlash from gamers.
“It wasn’t a great PR strategy, because he didn’t have a PR person helping him, and in the end he is an indie developer."
Now, we weren't involved in this launch and aren't video game PR experts but this pointing of fingers and blaming PR (or the lack thereof) for the issues the company and its developer partner are having with their audience just doesn't add up.
We should all learn from this example of how NOT to communicate and work with our partners, launch products (until they are actually ready for primetime), and be held accountable. The blame game isn't smart.
This morning, Mic published a follow-up article on lack of diversity onstage at last week's Apple iPhone 7 event, resulting from an "off the record" conversation. This article brings up some very interesting debates in the PR world around the whole concept of "off the record" conversations.
Any basic Media Training 101 session should explain the differences between "on the record", "off the record", "on background" and other scenarios related to speaking with members of the press. (also see NYU's Journalist Ethics Handbook, points #4-10) Here are a few key takeaways that everyone should learn from this morning's situation:
In case you were living under a rock yesterday, you probably already know about the Apple event that happened yesterday in San Francisco. A new iPhone and Apple Watch were announced along with AirPods and a new mobile OS and a few other things. But unlike Apple events from years' past, there were no surprises. At all.
In fact, Mashable published a piece this morning about this exact concern: if Apple can't keep secrets, who can?
So many PR programs still rely heavily on pre-briefings, embargoes and keeping the details of the announcement under wraps until the very last minute, when the press release and blog posts go live along with a flood of press stories all publishing at the exact same time. While this tactic should remain in your PR tool belt, it shouldn't necessarily be the only way you approach garnering coverage around a company announcement or product launch.
We live in a "24/7 breaking news-wins and 'normal' business hours don't apply" world where you can keep very few things a secret for long, particularly if it is connected a well-known brand or public company. We need to rethink how we launch products and share news with reporters and the rest of the world.
Launch events, press releases, blog posts, social media, pre-briefings and embargoes still have their place. But we need to find additional avenues. And many of those approaches will be unique to your company, the industry in which you are a part of, your target audiences and the media that play in your world.
Let's start thinking outside the box.
Welcome to ROAMings, a compilation of thoughts and musings about the PR and media industries. This is an opportunity to discuss the “here and now” of the industry, interesting events or case studies, pivotal moments that affect how we approach PR, etc. It isn’t about brand loyalties or preferences -- and we will not be publishing self-promotional materials or talk about our clients in this setting -- but how those brands, individuals and events are leveraging (or in some cases abandoning) PR.