Sir Richard Branson, delivers funny and engaging acceptance speech for the 2020 Transatlantic Leading Edge Award at the British Embassy in Washington, DC
Sir Richard Branson has often shared the fact that he is naturally an introvert and feels uncomfortable speaking at public events. When people first learn this, they are quite surprised, especially those who have seen him give great speeches and media interviews.
But, Sir Richard is a shining example I use with my clients who come to me with the same public speaking anxieties. With proper guidance and practice, it is possible to not just get through giving a speech or presentation but deliver a speech or presentation that is captivating, entertaining, and memorable.
I had the honor of being invited to the British Ambassador’s residence last night, where Sir Richard was given the Transatlantic Leading Edge Award. Presented by the DC branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the award celebrated Mr. Branson’s contributions to aerospace innovation and technology cooperation between the US and the UK.
In his relaxed and self-effacing manner, Sir Richard charmed all of us with hilarious stories about the origins of Virgin Airlines. He talked about how a lousy flight experience gave him the idea for Virgin Airlines. He then shared the challenges he had convincing investors to help him start his airline – since he had zero experience in the transportation industry – and the pushback he got about calling his airline Virgin.
Sir Richard only spoke for about 10 minutes, and the audience was transfixed. Regardless of what you may think, no one is a natural-born speaker. Sir Richard learned early in his career that developing his confidence and ability to communicate effectively with others was essential for him to turn his ideas into successful businesses.
For anyone struggling with public speaking issues, don’t think that is a shortcoming you have to accept. A good speech coach can help you transform your life, both personally and professionally. As one of the world’s most successful businessmen and a self-described introvert says, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”
Well said, and well done, Sir Richard!
2016 U.S. Presidential Debates: A Global Lesson in Speaker Training
On September 23rd I had the tables turned on me. Rather than being the coach for a media interview, I had the honor of being interviewed by Anna-Marie Capomaccio, a reporter with Radio France Internationale (RFN). This U.S. presidential election has gained extraordinary global interest and RFN is following every step of it for their 40 million listeners around the world.
The interview with me was part of a series of stories RFN is doing on our 2016 presidential campaign and the debates leading up to the November election. The story was broadcast Monday, several hours before the first debate.
I was asked about the “behind the scenes action” of a U.S. presidential debate, and specifically what kind of preparation each candidate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, might be doing. I was also asked to comment on how I would prepare them if I were coaching them. While each candidate has specific – and well documented – challenges, the objective of every candidate in any presidential debate is the same: Persuade the undecided voters to your side.
The art of persuasion, at its core, is the ability to clearly communicate your viewpoint in a way that is relatable to your audience. How is this done? By first knowing exactly what your audience cares about most and telling them what they want to hear. But, how you deliver your messages makes a huge difference in whether you win or lose the support of others.
As I said in the interview, if I were working with either candidate I would remind him or her that people are basically persuaded by three things. Yes, what you say is very important, but how you sound when you say it, and how you look when you say it can either help or diminish your credibility and buy-in from your audience. Presidential debates also give candidates the opportunity to look and sound presidential under pressure.
Body language and vocal quality have huge impact on the impression others have of a speaker. Looking and sounding confident and in control is essential to being a successful speaker or debater. Avoid sarcastic facial expressions or losing your “cool” and yelling. Maintain a neutral or positive facial expression – no matter what your opponent is saying. Your voice should reflect compassion, caring, strength, defiance, and determination depending on the point you are making. Don’t butt in. Don’t go over time. Keep your messages simple, short and relatable to the audience.
Most of us will not be preparing for presidential debates, but strong communication skills can make or break a career. If there is a public speaking problem you struggle with, I would highly encourage you to read the three part series on my website that gives many more tips for becoming a more engaging and credible speaker.
And, one final note: In past elections studies have shown that the final presidential debates typically didn’t change the poll numbers enough to have a huge impact on the election. But this campaign hasn’t been “typical” in any aspect – and neither are the candidates. It will be interesting to see how the debate styles of the two candidates evolve over the course of the next month!
LEADING WASHINGTON D.C. MEDIA TRAINER INTERVIEWED ON RADIO FRANCE INTERNATIONLE
Carmie McCook, President of Carmie McCook & Associates, a media interview and public speaking training and coaching firm based in Washington, DC was interviewed by Radio French Internationale (RFI) September 23rd to offer professional insights on the first U.S. presidential debate held September 25th at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York. The interview aired on RFI last Monday morning, several hours before the debate.
In the interview, with RFI reporter Anna-Marie Capomaccio, McCook was asked to share with RFI’s 40 million global listeners, how influential are U.S. presidential debates to the outcome of an election, her thoughts on what candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should be doing in preparation for the most talked about presidential debate in recent history, as well as what her advice would be to each candidate if she were coaching them. She also addressed what each candidate should try to accomplish during the debate to swing “undecided” voters.
Carmie McCook is a nationally respected, award winning executive communications expert, recognized for helping high-profile professionals become more powerful and credible communicators for any media interview, B2B presentation, or public speaking event. Carmie has taught thousands of executives, company spokespersons, and other prominent individuals how to confidently handle interviews with virtually every U.S. and international media outlet, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, BBC, NPR, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Times of London, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, Business Week, Washington Post, and numerous trade and business publications. For a full list of training services offered by Carmie McCook of Carmie McCook & Associates visit carmie.com.
Radio France International is a French current affairs radio station that broadcasts worldwide in French and 12 other foreign languages. It draws on the expertise of its Paris-based editorial teams and unique global network of 400 correspondents to provide news bulletins and features which give listeners the keys to understanding the world. Some 40 million listeners around the world tune into RFI every week (weekly audience without extrapolation) and its new media platforms attract 10 million visits a month.
For public speaking and media training tips follow Carmie:
Simplifying complex messages: Part 3 – Use big-picture concepts when explaining complex topics
What is the Electoral College and how does it work? What is net neutrality? Why don’t viruses respond to antibiotics?
These are just a few examples of questions some my clients, who are subject matter experts in their different fields, have been asked by reporters in long-format radio and TV interviews, and by audiences during Q&A sessions on panel discussions. They are all complex topics and, if you, as one of the speakers, are not properly prepared, the answers could go on far too long, get far too technical, and leave listeners far more confused than enlightened. However, doing this well takes practice and developing your “K.I.S.S” skills: Keep it simple, stupid.
Too often very smart subject matter experts have a tough time explaining a complex topic without sounding like they are reciting a Ph.D. thesis. They start from when the earth cooled and proceed to go into detailed explanations of every aspect of the topic.
So how can you take a complicated idea and present it in a way that is easy to follow? I offer two pieces of advice: Start thinking conceptually and, if before a live audience, use Infographics when possible.
Thinking conceptually: Start by thinking ahead of who is in your audience and their relationship to the topic. Look at the question from their perspective. Step into your audience’s shoes and jot down the questions they are probably asking in their heads. These are usually broad, big-picture questions and always go back to their real questions of Why should I care? and What’s in this for me? From there, group the questions into categories and respond to each in the simplest of terms. I always encourage keeping categories of information into no more than three categories. It helps keep the answers more concise and is easier for your audience to follow.
Infographics: Sixty-five percent of the world’s population is made up of visual learners. This means when complex topics are supported by simple graphics, they become much easier to understand. Obviously, this can only be used when the TV program is designed to show your graphics as you speak or if you are speaking to a live audience. Infographics consist of a series of simple images, graphics, and, sometimes, a few key words.
For example, let’s use the question, What is the Electoral College and how does it work? To explain what it is, first there needs to be a very short explanation on it origin and why it was created. Next, in the simplest of terms, explain the process. Use real examples that are relatable to the audience. Lastly, explain how this process impacts the American voter.
Okay, I know this little outline may still leave many of you scratching your heads. So, I highly recommend you look at a terrific example of how Electoral College expert Tara Ross explains the Electoral College using simple language and great Infographics: www.prageru.com/courses/political-science/do-you-understand-electoral-college.
Simplifying complex message – Part 2
Revisiting the scenario from last week: Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was attempting to explain how mosquitoes transmit the Zika virus. The long, technical, response from the doctor sounded just like that: extremely technical as if he was presenting to a panel of medical students. If the show’s host had not forced him to break down his explanation, the audience would have been lost and tuned out within the first 10 seconds. This all boils down to two points: Know your audience and present “what is in it for them” upfront.
If you are the subject matter expert on a complex topic, your knowledge on that topic is appreciated. But, any time you are speaking to an audience outside of your peer group, it should never be assumed that the audience fully understands all of the terminology and insider acronyms that you would use with your colleagues. You want to present the information in a way that is relatable and relevant to your audience. In the case of the medical scientist explaining the transmission of the Zika virus to thousands of people across the U.S. on national radio, it would be safe to assume that the majority of the listeners had little knowledge on this topic. The solution: Keep it simple.
The best way to explain complex messages to a broad audience is to use relatable, everyday examples and analogies that the audience is familiar with. And, use simple language. Lose the acronyms and jargon. The audience already knows you are smart, this is not the time to impress them with your extensive vocabulary. This is the age of very short attention spans. You must capture the attention of your audience quickly, so get to the “what’s in it for them” information as soon as you can. That is why they are listening to you; they want to quickly know, from an expert, how your topic will impact their lives.
Next week I’ll discuss an approach on how to break things into essential concepts and how to communicate them efficiently during a media interview.
Simplifying complex messages
Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was being interviewed on the Zika virus. The question was, How do mosquitoes transmit this virus? The three minute response from the doctor sounded like he was reading a PhD theses on the molecular biology of infectious diseases. The show’s host kept saying, “So, in simple terms, how would you explain this to our audience who aren’t scientist?”
This is a common scenario and often a huge challenge for subject matter experts speaking to reporters on complex topics. Whether explaining technology, astrophysics, medical breakthroughs, or other intricate processes, most experts feel they must explain every step of a process in order for everyone to “get it.” And, naturally, they lapse into using insider acronyms, words, and phrases that leave listeners looking like a deer in headlights.
When acting as a spokesperson or subject matter expert, it is important to remember your primary responsibility is to clarify and explain the topic. A media interview, broadcast or print, is not the time to break out the academic, engineering, scientific or technical vocabulary. This is the time to keep things simple and explain basic concepts.
But, how? When you are so immersed in a topic/subject/product/technology, it’s easy to skip the foundational elements, and jump right into the details. While you may think you will sound really smart and knowledgeable, you are most likely confusing the heck out of the reporter and the audience – neither of which is ever a good thing! Over the next three weeks I’ll share a few quick, but highly effective, tips that will help you simplify complex and multifaceted topics and specific key points: Here are today’s tips:
- Support statements with simple facts, charts, or visuals that are relatable to the general public.
- Use analogies and metaphors. Using comparisons to something that people do, see, or experience everyday will help with comprehension.
- Tell a story. Storytelling that relates to the topic helps keep your audience engaged when the topic is technical and dry.
Next week I’ll share three more techniques that help provide clarity and eliminate confusion when the topic is complex.
Establishing Credibility and Likeability
Two necessary goals when being introduced as a keynote speaker
Imagine this scenario: You were just selected to be the keynote speaker at a conference. This is a great opportunity for you to establish yourself as an authority in your field to a captive audience of potential clients. Of course, developing a short speech that grabs and holds the audience’s attention is essential. But, to make an even stronger, positive impression, you need to actually grab your audience’s attention before you take the stage. That means you must establish credibility and set the stage for likeability. How? By always writing your own engaging introduction and sending it to the emcee or speaker coordinator.
Web Conferences, Meetings and Interviews
How to look and sound your best in the virtual world
Technology has fueled the “connected” employee and has empowered the workforce to transition from physical to remote offices without skipping a beat. Even though instant communication such as email and internal messaging systems is the new way of “walking to someone’s cube,” for quick exchanges of information, talking “face-to-face” via WebEx and Skype has become a lot more common for more in-depth discussions and even job interviews.
What’s The difference? How to rock a TV and radio interview
Regardless if you’re live on the radio or on TV, everything you say must be engaging and dynamic. However, the devil is in the details of the delivery. For instance, when you are being interviewed on radio, your vocal inflections and tone play a more crucial role, as it is the only way to connect with the audience.
Radio interviews slightly differ in terms of format. For instance, don’t get caught-off guard by the spirit of the “shock jock.” Given that radio needs content to capture the audience – think Howard Stern – the radio host might feel more empowered to go rogue to attract listeners. As the interviewee, it’s best to be on your toes and prepared for off the cuff questions.
Piers Morgan’s Big Win: Christine O’Donnell Earns an “F” for Walking Off a CNN Interview and into a Firestorm
It has happened many times before, but the trend seems to be growing lately. Recently, rapper/singer Chris Brown did it on Good Morning America. Paris Hilton did it to ABC news reporter, Dan Harris. Sarah Ferguson did it on the Australian version of 60 Minutes. And, last week former Tea Party Senatorial candidate, Christine O’Donnell did it on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight.
“It” is walking out of an interview because reporters asked them questions they obviously did not want to answer. Not a cool move, folks. The reporter, unless he or she has been a completely unprofessional louse, will always win. The “walker” will always be viewed as a coward with something to hide.
Obama’s 4th of July Week Buzz Kill: How a Simple Shower Curtain Upstaged the President’s No-News Conference
Way back in olden times, when I was a journalism major at Georgia State University, I was taught that a news conference was a big deal. It meant that someone had, well, some important news to share. I guess I missed class the day the professor added, “Just kidding!”
Much Ado about Nothing
This all came back to me last week when I heard daytime programming was interrupted for a Presidential news conference from the White House. I was not actually able to watch the live telecast, but as soon as I could, and thanks to YouTube, I made a point to view it later that day. But, one hour, seven minutes, and thirty-two seconds later, I was still waiting for the “news” part. I did not hear anything about new developments, different strategies, innovative solutions, or new problems.