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Taking Risks

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The catcher threw the baseball low and out of frame to me. I caught it with one hand. (I was holding the microphone with the other.) And I quickly pulled the ball up and into frame so viewers could see it.

When I returned to the newsroom, I received a standing ovation for my liveshot. I laughed and bowed and was about to head for home when the executive producer stopped me.

“Noeleen– that was so great! But it was such a big risk. Weren’t you afraid that you’d drop the ball? ”

“No. It never occurred to me that I’d drop it.”

Background: I grew up playing 16″ softball in Chicago. (Yes, the ball is 16”.  And we don’t use gloves.) When I was nine, I was robbed of a surefire hit to left when the shortstop leaped into the air and caught my line drive one-handed. For the next month I threw a 16” softball against a wall until I could catch it one-handed with both my right and left hands. So catching a tiny baseball was no big deal.

“But what if you dropped it? What would you have done?”

“Then I would have dealt with it and moved on. For example, the catcher’s throw was really low today and I handled it. No big deal.”

Confidence

I know I’m a confident person, but I am always amazed at people who are afraid to take risks. Without risk, there is rarely any reward.

Whether it’s public speaking, presentations or media interviews, you need to be willing to put yourself out there.

As I’ve said before, it’s the difference between playing not to lose and playing to win.

Winners take risks.

 

photo credit: chemisti via photopin cc

Fair Game

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“Kill his audio NOW!” I told the satellite truck engineer.

“But ESPN wants to test his audio,” he said.

“They can do it later. Tell them you’re having some audio issues. And don’t bring his audio back up until I tell you.”

Then I sprinted out to the professional athlete, his marketing person and his official “handler.”

I pulled his handler aside. “I know he’s a funny guy and I’m sure he thinks he’s being funny right now. But I promise you if ESPN records him saying, “I wonder what would happen if I got up on top of that building and started picking people off– no one will think it’s very funny.”

“But the interview isn’t for another 15 minutes,” the handler told me. “He’s just kidding around.”

“Let me explain something to you. Your athlete is ‘mic’ed up’, standing in front of a live camera AND he’s up on the satellite. ESPN is dialed in. They — and anyone else who happens upon these satellite coordinates– can record what he’s saying.”

“But that’s not fair,” he said.

“And life isn’t fair. So I am begging you–tell him to zip it! I don’t want to hear another word about him as a sniper. Is that clear? I’ll give you five minutes to talk to him. Then we are magically going to resolve our audio issues. And the only thing I want to hear is your athlete counting to ten for an audio test. Nothing else.”

“OK, I’ll talk to him.”

Happy Ending

Fortunately the athlete took my advice and behaved. And luckily no one at ESPN was rolling on the interview early.

The lesson: Everything you say is fair game. The second a microphone is clipped onto you and/or you step in front of a camera– everything you say can and likely will be recorded. Do NOT say anything you wouldn’t want broadcast to the world.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: If you’re going to be in the public eye, invest in media training!

Professionals
Versus Amateurs

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A couple of months ago I taped a segment with my friend, Carol Roth. She was promoting her new book, The Entrepreneur Equation, in which she offers advice to people thinking about starting their own businesses.

In one section she addresses the importance of getting publicity for your business. Carol asked me to share media strategies as well as messaging and on-camera tips for entrepreneurs.

I started by asking a series of questions: Are you serious about getting publicity? Do you want to be seen as the best in your industry? Do you want to really excel at doing media interviews i.e. taking control of an interview and shaping the angle of the story?

OR: Are you happy just being interviewed? Are you content with just doing an OK job?

If it’s the latter, then you don’t need executive media training. You’ll get by on what – if any scraps—are thrown your way. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you don’t want to settle for second best AND you really want to learn how to play the media game—then sign up for executive media training.

Interview Scenario

A start-up is founded. There’s a lot of buzz. The executives figure they can get by without media training.

A reporter shows up to do a story. The executives are interviewed. Their interviews are fine. One executive is really personable. Another is sort of intense but fine. And a third even gives a couple of good soundbites, but they are too “inside the game.” Most people at home won’t understand what he meant.

Did they do a decent job? Sure. Was it as good as it could have been? Not by a long shot. The reporter wound up doing a big picture story about new businesses. As a result, viewers didn’t learn much about this particular company or its services.

Had that team received executive media training, they could have greatly influenced the angle of the story. If they’d thought about their messaging ahead of time, they could have come up with soundbites about their business that were too good for the reporter to pass up. As such, they would have steered the reporter in the direction they wanted him to go i.e. focusing on their specific business as opposed to a big picture industry story.

Instead, this company got a mention. And it was a nice one. But this “mention” didn’t really help them because viewers still don’t know what they’re all about. These executives, who had an audience of millions in the palms of their hands, squandered an opportunity to really sell themselves and convince viewers to become customers.

And that is the difference between flying by the seat of your pants– hoping that a story will go your way (amateur) and taking the time to craft messages and soundbites that will sell the reporter and his viewers on your company. (professional.)

Facilitate or Dominate?

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“Will he never shut up!” I shouted at the screen. The host of the interview show was talking more than his guest; he told story after story. Truly, the host should know better. His job is to facilitate conversations, NOT dominate them.

Fifteen minutes in—I simply couldn’t take anymore. I turned him off.

And it’s a shame because the executive he was interviewing seemed really interesting. Too bad he could barely get a word in edgewise.

That said, the guest missed an opportunity. Had he received executive media training, he could have taken control of the interview. Just as any good interviewer has to cut off guests when they’re rambling—sometimes guests need to interrupt their interviewer.

What Would I Have Done?

1. Delivered in a nice way—think: butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth: “Excuse me, Jim but I thought this show was about interviewing me and hearing my stories.” Follow that up with a sweet smile.

2. Another option: Again—super sweet and calm delivery—“Jim, do you even need me here? I think you can fill this time by yourself.”

3. “May I interrupt you? Forgive me. But you’ve been going on for so long. Perhaps your viewers would like to hear what I have to say on the subject?”

Remember—you should never be afraid to take control of the situation. And with more and more online shows cropping up with hosts, who have no experience in television or interviewing people, it’s more important than ever that you do.

Interviewing Tips

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My male friend recently recounted a terrible first date story.

Within minutes of ordering drinks at dinner– the beautiful woman cut to the chase and said, ” Do you want kids? Because I want kids. And if you don’t–well, we should just end the date now because my clock is ticking.”

It occurred to me that a bad first date is a lot like a poorly conducted interview. You can’t just launch into a series of questions and expect to get good answers. You need to ease into certain questions and requests for information.

You see, interviewing people is an art form. Few people do it well. Watch any television news program or listen to any podcast and you’ll understand what I mean. The questions are often clumsy; they aren’t framed well. The interviewer doesn’t listen to his subject. He just recites a list of prepared questions. As a result, no real information is imparted.

INTERVIEW TIPS

1. Put your interviewee at ease by reviewing some basic questions that you’ll ask.

2. Think of your interview as a conversation. It’s not a series of rapid-fire questions. Rather it’s a way to get to know an interesting person.

3. Start out with a few easy questions to get your interviewee warmed up. Then ask your interesting or tough questions.

4. LISTEN. It’s so simple, but few people actually do this. Listen to what your interviewee is saying. I promise you that follow-up questions will jump out at you if you do.

5. Be courteous and professional. You will always catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

Lastly, you need to shift your thinking. Interviews are opportunities to learn… about people, places, ideas etc. As such, it doesn’t hurt to approach it as you would a first date: Be on your best behavior, listen intently to what someone is saying and try to be charming and courteous, even when the other person isn’t.

Pressure to Perform

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“Feel the breeze!” the shortstop shouted at me.

Much as I wanted to hit her at that moment–she wasn’t wrong. I didn’t even come close to connecting with the pitch. But if I had, it would have sailed to the moon. I nearly did a 360 after my missed swing. That’s how badly I wanted to rip the cover off the ball.

The game was on the line. It was the bottom of the ninth inning. We were down by two– with two runners on base. There were two outs and I was at bat, facing a full count. One more swing like that and the game was over.

Time Out

I stepped out of the box and collected myself. Instinctively, I realized that I was putting too much pressure on myself. I didn’t need to hit a home run. I just needed to hit the softball.

I stepped back into the batter’s box and waited for my pitch. It was a little high. It was probably ball four, but I liked it and I wasn’t batting clean-up for nothing. I killed that ball. It didn’t land on the moon, but it nearly cleared the left field wall. The outfielder mistimed her jump and bobbled the ball. It was an inside the park home run! We won!

Gut Check

It was over a decade before I thought about that at bat again. I was watching my TV news live shots and I found them lacking. They were good, but they weren’t great. They weren’t memorable. I wasn’t loose. I wasn’t charismatic. I didn’t look comfortable. In short, I was trying too hard.

It took me awhile but I realized what my problem was: I was putting too much pressure on myself to be perfect. I thought I needed a perfect live shot to put on my resume tape (“escape tape”) to get a better job in a bigger market. What I needed to do was relax.

Right Mindset

The next time I went live on breaking news I decided to roll with the punches. I talked about what was happening around me. I walked and talked. I never once thought about whether this would be perfect for my resume tape. I just did my job to the best of my ability, and I was great! I watched the tape back the next day and I thought, I’m back!

Perfection Trap

Most of us get caught up in being perfect, especially if we are doing something that is new to us. It’s not easy to give speeches when you’re terrified of public speaking. It’s hard to give good, concise answers when a reporter is asking you questions if you’ve never been interviewed before. It’s also tough to look and sound perfect every time you go live when you’re working 12-hour days in TV news.

My Advice

Cut yourself a break. Not every word you say will be enunciated perfectly. You won’t always project great charisma and energy, especially at the end of a long day. And sometimes you’ll make a mistake. It happens. No one is perfect all of the time, and those that are, often aren’t worth remembering.

In my opinion, greatness comes in those moments when you let go, trusting that your best instincts will win out.

Confidence is the Greatest Accessory

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I was waiting for the train to Florence to arrive when I noticed a man across the tracks.

Yes, ladies–he was good looking. But that’s not why I noticed him. (Throw a rock and you’ll hit a good looking man in Italy.) I noticed him because of what he was wearing. He had on expensively cut orange trousers, a wine colored cashmere sweater, a camel cashmere scarf and a bright navy blue beret. The combination should have been all kinds of wrong on the middle aged man. But on him it was all kinds of right. The reason? He wore his ensemble with great confidence.

This man is an excellent example of what I preach to people that I coach. When you’re presenting and giving on-camera interviews, it’s good to be memorable. It’s great to be unique. And most of all– it’s important to be confident. It’s easily the most important accessory you can wear.

If that man wasn’t confident in himself, I might have asked him how long the circus was going to be in town. (OK, I wouldn’t have been that rude.) Instead, I admired his flair for the dramatic. And not only did the memory of his je ne sais quoi stay with me some two weeks later– I am writing about him in my blog.

Crisis Comms
in Tucson

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First, let me say that I feel great sorrow and sympathy for the families of everyone involved in the tragic events in Tucson, Arizona. But my personal feelings are separate from my professional ones.

While I watched the events unfold, I was reminded that crisis communications are so important and so very difficult. It’s hard to prepare or train people to deal with worst-case scenarios. In many cases, there’s no plan at all because people hope that it won’t happen to them.

Hard as it may be—you must develop a plan BEFORE a crisis hits—not during or after.

The ability to communicate what is happening is critical to the management of a crisis. The sooner you are able to mobilize people, set a plan in motion and inform the public what it is—the better off you’ll be.

Admittedly, it is a terrible thing to have to think about because crises are times of great stress and often tragedy. But the reality is— how you handle the crisis will influence people’s opinions of  your organization/company for many years to come. (Think BP.)

The first 24 hours are critical. But they are also so stressful that you can understand if information isn’t flowing freely or is changing rapidly. You are bound to have conflicting reports about what’s happening during that first day. But by the second day—you should have command of the distribution of information. And there should be one main spokesperson. She should be the face of the crisis for your company, police department or hospital.

As I watched a news conference at University Medical Center on day two of the crisis, I was stunned by the number of spokespeople they offered up. I stopped counting after the fifth person took the podium. They were administrators and doctors. And they tried selling a team approach to medicine, which is presumably why so many people spoke. Unfortunately, only one of them was good at communicating information. The others looked and sounded over-rehearsed and/or awkward. Additionally, it looked like many people were trying to take credit and bask in the spotlight. And truly—that is not the goal of crisis communications where perception is everything.

My Advice:

 1. Choose one spokesperson for your organization/company. Let him communicate the big picture statements and answer the majority of the questions.

2. If you need a specialist to answer questions i.e. a doctor then have her on-hand to address medical questions. Don’t have every doctor involved take a turn at the microphone. Pick one.

3. Clearly establish expectations for future media briefings. (The hospital did this. 10am every day.) The issue: once a day isn’t going to cut it. You can limit news conferences to once a day. But you should make someone available for updates/briefings at least a few times a day—morning, afternoon and evening. And you should make sure that you communicate this fact publicly. This lets people know that you are on top of the situation.

Again—personally, I feel for everyone involved in this grave situation. But speaking professionally, this hospital needed to be better prepared and/or needed to have a better plan in place. Doing so would not only have reassured the families of those involved in the incident, but it would have showcased their facility better than any tag team “taking-credit” approach.

 

photo credit: bruce_fulton via photopin cc

Letting Go of Control

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An executive media training client called me up a few weeks ago about an interview she was asked to do on the late evening news. We chatted about the topic for a few minutes. It’s somewhat controversial, but she’s been interviewed on this topic before, so I wasn’t worried.

I spoke to her after the interview and asked how everything went. She said, “I did fine, but they tricked me!”

“How did they trick you?” I asked.

“They weren’t just interviewing me. It was a debate. I represented one side and an attorney represented the other. And I didn’t find that out until I was walking onto their set– right before we went live.”

I smiled and said, “I have no doubt that you did well in that situation.” (She’s a formidable businesswoman with a quick mind.)

“I did. I tore that attorney to shreds. But that’s not the point,” she said.

“Actually it is. You know when you agree to be interviewed that anything can and probably will happen. You did your due diligence. You asked questions ahead of time. You knew what you were going to say. That’s all you can do. The rest is out of your control. If you want free publicity on the news, you have to expect the unexpected.”

Rolling With the Punches

One of the first things that I tell my clients is that you cannot micromanage/control every aspect of an interview! (You can control your messaging, which is a topic that I have written about before.) But in terms of the overall content, spin and direction of an interview—at least in terms of the questions asked–reporters and anchors have “hand” to borrow a term from a Seinfeld episode.

As such, if you are unable or unwilling to give up control and roll with the punches, media interviews are not for you.

Fairness

Is it unfair when reporters misrepresent why they’re interviewing you? Absolutely. Is it wrong of them not to warn you if they’re going to play you off of someone else, especially if you’re being interviewed live? Yes. Are chances good that this will happen to you? Yes. Chances are good that you will be “lied” to in some way, shape or form.

For example, some reporters may not tell you the entire truth about the story they’re doing until you’re sitting in the chair with the camera rolling. Most often though, reporters will omit a detail about the interview as opposed to misrepresenting why they’re interviewing you. (It’s sort of like a white lie versus a bald-faced one.)

But you can’t and shouldn’t get angry about that. After all, you’re receiving free publicity when you do an interview, so you have to expect that the interviewer may throw some tricky questions your way. If you’ve gone through an executive media training program– and you’ve done your homework–you should be able to handle them.

If you can’t handle a curveball being thrown at you—and you want to be seen as a subject matter expert in your field—you really should get some executive media training. As I frequently say, it is some of the best money you’ll ever spend if being in the media spotlight is your goal.

 

 

Playing Nice

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It only took me about two minutes to determine that the anchors in LA hated each other.

My friend was amazed. “Really? How can you tell so quickly?”

“He never looks at her. She rarely looks at him. When she does, she looks uncomfortable. There’s no smiling or even pretense at getting along. They’re reading their copy—trying to out-do the other. My guess: he’s smarter than her with no personality. She’s all personality and not terribly bright. They each have something the other is lacking and that’s why they were thrown together.”

Putting on Your Game Face

Good anchors know how to fake it much better than these two. I’ve worked in newsrooms where anchor teams have hated each other for decades, but most viewers at home would never know it. They understand that in the TV news game- perception is reality. If you want good ratings, and by extension job security, you’ll play nice with your co-anchor.

It’s also an important lesson for you to remember when you’re being interviewed. Even if you don’t like the person who’s asking the questions, be respectful and cordial. It’s also crucial that you keep your cool–no matter what you’re asked. Remember, when you look angry, most people won’t know that you were goaded into that reaction. They won’t see the insipid or insulting question being asked. They’ll often only see your response.

So put on your game face. Listen to the question. Never react negatively. Don’t even allow yourself to think– what a so & so. (Your disgust will show on your face.) Instead, pretend that you really like the reporter and you’re genuinely interested in helping him understand your point. And when the interview is over, shake his hand and thank him for the opportunity to share your expertise with him and his viewers.

If he’s smart, your professionalism may just confound him. He’ll wonder if you’re really that bright and controlled or just impervious to his baiting. And if he’s not the brightest bulb, he’ll think you’re a really nice person and will look forward to interviewing you again.

Either way, you win.