Ted Cruz

Media training 101: When you do dumb things, admit it and don’t blame others!

We’ve all heard about it and seen the news clips by now. Senator Ted Cruz jetting off to Cancun from a Houston airport with a bag packed with flip-flops and suntan lotion while his constituents were fighting for their very survival during one of the most devastating winters in Texas’ history.

Shocked travelers Tweeted photos of the Senator that went viral. When Cruz arrived in Mexico for his sun-and-fun getaway, reporters descended on. He was bombarded with questions about his rationale for taking a sunny holiday during a state-wide disaster that had millions of Texans in freezing, ice-covered conditions with no electricity, no heat, and no access to food, clean water, or transportation.

Instead of immediately admitting he had made a terrible decision, the quick-thinking Senator decided to blame his daughters and to gallantly fall on his sword for being a “good dad.”  No one bought that lame excuse.

Within an hour, Cruz was busted. Reporters uncovered Cruz’s travel reservations, text messages to friends, and other evidence clearly showing what everyone suspected.  Ted Cruz willingly planned to abandon his senatorial leadership responsibilities and constituents in their time of need for several days of margaritas and snorkeling at a posh Mexican resort.

As a media trainer, I drill two big rules into all my clients’ heads, whether they are well-known or not. One is to never lie to the media. Reporters are great detectives, and they will uncover the truth and report it. Secondly, never blame someone else for your bad judgment or behavior. Politicians are notorious for blaming others for their wrongdoings. But, I have to say, blaming your children is a new one to me. But, both reactions will tarnish your reputation even worse than just immediately owning up to the scandal.

What should have Cruz said? 1) Immediately taken responsibility for making a wrong decision. He shouldn’t put qualifiers or excuses in the statement. 2) Profoundly apologize to his constituents in Texas. 3) Say what he will do to fix/rectify/resolve the incident – then do it!

Will this absolve someone of all guilt? Well, it depends on the level of “the crime.” In Cruz’s case, this will probably be a wart he’ll wear for years. If it were closer to his reelection year in 2024, it could overthrow his political career. But, in recent years, voters and colleagues seem to have shorter memories.

We’ve seen political leaders boldly lie, be offensive, skirt the law, and put their personal goals ahead of the needs of the people who they serve. Their punishment? Unfortunately, they end up getting a pass. They are not held accountable, so they continue their bad behavior.




Screen showing a video conference

12 Technical Dos And Don’ts For Making A Good Impression During Virtual Business Meetings

Working from Home: Lights! Camera! Professionalism!

Although stay-at-home restrictions are relaxing in all states, workplace productivity experts say the concept of working remotely will grow and play a much bigger part in company culture for the foreseeable future. With Twitter and Square recently announcing that their employees can now work from home permanently, more business will likely follow suit.

That means more of us will be using videoconference platforms from home to meet with clients, colleagues, and other business associates regularly. And, based on some Zoom meetings I’ve attended, it also means that many people could benefit from polishing their virtual meeting skills on several levels, especially getting the basic technical setup right.

Keep in mind that all aspects of the way you participate in virtual business meetings still impact your professional image, reputation, and connection with others in that meeting.

For years I’ve taught scores of people how to deliver presentations via webinars and videoconferences more effectively. And, because of my past career, I approach training for virtual meetings, not only as a communications coach but as a former video producer.

Applying past experiences to present day situations

My first career was both in front of and behind video cameras. I produced and hosted hundreds of corporate news programs as well as produced TV commercials and documentaries. The technical requirements for producing professional-looking corporate video programs are, in many ways, similar to preparing for a videoconference.

Today, whether I’m preparing clients for in-person or virtual situations, many of the techniques I teach my clients come from my years in video production. This approach ensures they look and sound their best on all levels for media interviews, business presentations, and keynote speeches

Of course, the following 12 technical suggestions are by no means the only factors for ensuring successful remote meetings. But, these tips from my production experience will correct some of the most common equipment-related missteps for videoconference meetings that a lot of people don’t think about.

Internet speed test websitesBandwidth and basic technology fixes

I admit that I’m one of the most technically challenged people on the planet.

Even back in my days of writing and producing documentaries and commercials, I always surround myself with people a lot smarter than I in this field and learn a lot from them.

  • The #1 piece of advice related to at-home video meetings: Make sure you have strong bandwidth (internet connection) to prevent break up or freezing of the video image and audio.

Bandwidth requirements will vary based on many factors. Search the term “bandwidth test” on the internet. In moments you can get a reading for your computer. For the best video and sound, you need a connection with 2.5 Mbps (to receive) and 3.0 Mbps (to send).

  • The lesser the speed of your internet connection, the weaker the connection with your audience, and the more technical issues you will experience. If your test results are close to 0.5 Mbps (receive) and 0.5 Mbps (send), you should probably invest in faster internet service with your provider.
  • Always test accessing the platform’s connection, and audio and video quality a few hours before the meeting – not 5 minutes before start time. You don’t want to be “that person” who held up the meeting because you had trouble simply getting into the meeting. Sure, you will be remembered, but not in a good way.
  • Wipe the computer camera lens with a soft cloth to remove smudges and dust. You want to be clear and identifiable to others, not look like you are in a fuzzy dream sequence from a Lifetime movie.
  • Do you know people who sound like they are in a giant soup can when they speak in video meetings? Yeah. It’s annoying. So, if you are in a cavernous room, such as kitchens and rooms with very high ceilings, chances are your voice echoes when you speak.

There are two options to fix this:

  1. Get a plug-in device, such as a desktop USB mic, a USB or wireless headset with a mic, or an external USB webcam with a built-in mic. Any of these will make you sound better than the built-in microphone on a laptop. Just make sure your add-on mic is selected in your meeting software’s settings as the input source.
  2. Move your computer to another room with no echo effect when you speak. Problem solved. Ta Daaa!

Proper camera position

  • In old horror movies, to make villains look extra threatening, the camera was placed at a low position to shoot up to the bad guy’s face. That unflattering perspective truly helped increase the audience’s loathing factor. But, that probably isn’t the reaction you want from your colleagues during your at-home videoconferences. So, take some preparation time before the meeting.

Sit in a chair in front of your computer. Hold your head up, looking straight ahead. Then position your computer screen’s camera to be about an inch above eye level. If necessary, put your laptop or computer screen on a box to elevate the height. Trust me; it’s worth the effort.

  • Look at the camera when you speak or listen to others speak. Don’t look at the small images of meeting participants. When looking at the camera, you appear to be making eye contact with your audience, which makes you look more engaged.

I usually use the “active speaker view” so whoever is talking is full screen. That makes it easier for me to look at them and the camera while I’m listening. When I am speaking, I look straight to the camera, not at any of the thumbnail images. I know this technique takes practice to get used to, but it makes you look more present in the meeting.

Poor lighting casting shadows during a video conferenceLighting

Now, back to the horror movie villains. Another technique that made Dracula, Frankenstein, and other evil-doers look super creepy, was using lights to cast dark shadows on their faces.

Your takeaway from this movie trivia: Have front-facing, white light on you for video calls.

Video conference with good lightingA simple solution is to put a desk lamp close behind your computer screen or place your computer in front of a window to ensure, so your face is lit evenly.

There are also a variety of ring lights that are free-standing or clamp on the top of computer screens available online.

Example of a good background for a video callBackground

Yes, nearly all movies today use expensive CGI (computer-generated images) and green screens to create spectacularly real looking backgrounds that transport us to any place in the world or the galaxy. (Seriously, didn’t you really believe Jon Snow climbed a wall of ice in Game of Thrones?)

But, I advise against using instant virtual backgrounds offered with videoconference apps for business meetings.

Without a high-end greenscreen and professional lighting kit, these click-on backgrounds usually look cheesy and often distort your image the moment you move your head.

Instead, choose a room in your home with a neat and simple background. Participants should not see anything messy or distracting behind you, such as unmade beds, the TV turned on (even if it is muted), clothes thrown over chairs, or stacks of dirty dishes on a countertop. Yep, I’ve seen them all.

Props – Using screen share

Documents, videos, and other information you want to share are like props in a movie. Have them already open and on your desktop before your meeting.

When you click on your screen share option, they will be quicker and smoother to locate and show others.

Wardrobe and hair

Yeah, I know this topic isn’t equipment-related but warrants special attention.

  • “Looking the part” is a huge factor when actors are cast in a role. Credibility is enhanced when the actor’s appearance is suitable for or expected for the character they play. Studies show the same perception is true in the business world. People who “dress for success” are likely to have more successful careers.
  • When working at home, T-shirts and jeans are fine if you aren’t seeing anyone. But, it’s never a bad idea to dress for a virtual meeting as you would for an in-office meeting. If you usually wear a business suit to meet clients, wear that for your virtual meetings. If your typical work attire is business casual, wear that, even it is only from the waist up! It’s best not to look like you just rolled out of bed or returned from the gym.
  • Comb your hair. Don’t hide a bad hair day under a baseball cap. You probably wouldn’t wear one to the office, would you? Besides, caps cast shadows on your face, and you look like one of those people in a whistle-blower news story who has been disguised to protect their identity.

Closing Credits

I agree with the workplace productivity experts who believe the number of businesses that allow employees to work full-time or part-time from home will grow significantly over the coming years. Already Google and Square have announced their workers can now work from home permanently. And Facebook said within five years, all of their employees will do the same.

Developing our ability to look and sound our best in virtual meetings requires attention to much more than these tips. But, the ability to skillfully use virtual meeting technology from home will be as important to career success as being a valued subject matter expert.

So, for now, that’s a wrap!

a video teleconference in progress

Virtual Communications: The Connection That Will Keep Your Business Running

Coronavirus has turned everyone’s world upside-down and delivered a real shock to our system.  As we navigate our way through these sudden and significant changes, resilience is essential. Good communication is at the heart of resilience.

We believe resilience is the process of adapting to change.

Woman getting virtual training on a laptop

During this pandemic, reliable, regular, and effective communications with your employees, clients, and colleagues are vital to sustaining morale, minimize business disruptions, and maintaining good business relationships.

And now, communicating with your stakeholders can only be done virtually – and this will be our new normal for quite a while.

In response to your needs, we adapted all of our renowned, customized business and sales presentation training, media interview training, crisis communications, webinar training classes, and other classes to a virtual format.

Our virtual training still teaches everything our classroom training provided.

  • We still provide expert instructions on everything business professionals need to develop and deliver credible and engaging presentations and media interviews.
  • We still customize every class to your business’ unique topics, audiences, and goals.
  • The classes are still very interactive with the instructor (not dull lectures!)
  • We still provide on-camera practice and replay for individual coaching and send you a copy to review later.
All classes now include teaching you how to look and sound like a pro
when using your laptop or desktop from home.

Just because you now use SKYPE, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other technology-based video conference platforms from home, you don’t have to look like an amateur. Every class now includes teaching a wealth of techniques that ensure you also look and sound professional and credible using virtual video communications.

a man looking at a screen with 12 live video conference windowsA new world, a new day

Our world will be different when this is over, but how well we adapt and emerge from it is a choice. So, my personal message to all of you is this:

Be kind, be selfless, think positive, be innovative, and we’ll come through this stronger!

Kindest regards,
Carmie McCook

How to deal with a “frienemy” in the media – Media training

Before the Iowa caucus, the news was peppered with Donald Trump’s decision not to participate in the last republican debate. His reason: He said the reporter chosen to moderate the show had been unfair to him with her questions in a previous debate.

While there is much discussion as to whether his “no show” decision will hurt his campaign, the incident begs a question in the larger context of public relations and media relations: How do you handle an interview with a reporter you believe is using “gotcha journalism” tactics?

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Don’t try to MacGyver your way out of a crisis

Remember MacGyver? If that does not ring a bell with you, here is MacGyver 101: Angus MacGyver was a secret agent known for his uncanny abilities to heroically overcome crises’ by “winging it” and always return unscathed the following week.

In the real world, companies and organizations can find themselves in a crisis situation at any moment, but that is not the time to pull a MacGyver and “wing it.” Protecting and saving an organization’s reputation is a delicate, communication balancing act that requires preparation and skill. The most essential item when planning for a crisis is a well-thought-out crisis communication plan that can be put into place quickly.

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The Importance of Having a Crisis Communications Plan in Place for Emergency Management for Business

Crisis communications is often ignored by businesses until – quite suddenly – a public relations emergency erupts in the media, creating havoc with business bottom lines, personnel and brand recognition.

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Politicians Gone Wild: Weiner’s “Walk of Shame” Resignation in Era of Sexting

Last week we were treated to the finale of another installment of the on-going reality show, “Politicians Gone Wild.” In this episode, the star, New York Congressman, Anthony Weiner (D-NY), announced due to “the distraction that I have created…I am announcing my resignation from Congress.”

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Obama’s News Conference on the Disaster in Japan – What We Can Learn?

Last Thursday afternoon President Obama held a brief news conference to address the growing fears about possible radiation leaks from one of Japan’s nuclear power plants hit hard by the earthquake there just more than a week ago. Since the disaster, reports have varied and rumors have spread like a virus about potential danger to people living in Japan as well as those living as far away as Hawaii and California.

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