Friday, December 9, 2011

Media Training to Strengthen Your Message

"The medium is the message" is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan. Roger Ailes, media consultant to four Republican presidents and today Chairman of Fox Television Stations Group, believes that each person is his own message, whatever medium he chooses.

As we watch Republican presidential candidates rise and fall through too many debates and personal issues, we are witness to the Ailes message playing out. In an earlier blog post I commented on Newt Gingrich's big, bright and enthusiastic oratorical style. It took a few debates, but his innate and practiced communication style has caught on; and as of this writing he has finally engaged a large sector of the Republican voters. Newt is surging in the polls.

Newt clearly loves speaking, and he's done a lot of it. And he has tremendous experience from which to draw. Politics is about communicating, and he was re-elected to Congress 10 times; in 1994 he became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years. When he resigned from Congress in 1999, he didn't stop talking. He wrote and cowrote books, made speeches and became a television commentator.

If you're still with me, I think you understand where I'm going. Newt is comfortable in his own skin and appears to be comfortable talking wherever the opportunity appears. Whether at a state fair, on TV interview with a combative hard-news journalist, in a TV debate in a line up of other candidates, or in the sit-down, more intimate Lincoln-Douglas style debate with Herman Cain, Newt relishes speaking and expounding on his ideas. Experience and lots of practice has given him the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively in whatever medium he chooses.

Newt understands the media as probably no one else running for the Republican presidential nomination does. He's been on both sides of the camera, so there isn't anything mysterious or intimidating about studio lights and looking into a camera lens.

Because most of us have not been in the public eye on a daily basis, it's important to undergo training to become better strategic communicators in speaking to the press or with customers or clients. As with most things, 90% of success depends on preparation. Media training gives skills to think under pressure, gather facts to be prepared, and go on the offensive in a defensive situation.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Five Things You Need to Do to Become an Effective Communicator

This week I stubbed my toe. Besides it being extremely painful, bruised and swollen, it was the first time in ages I had injured myself. And, to add insult to injury, I had no one to blame but myself. I carelessly dropped my boots in the middle of a well-worn path from my charging Blackberry to the bathroom. Knowing the route well, I didn't think to look at the floor. And so in retracing my steps, I tripped over the boots; to avoid falling, my right foot plowed full force into the leg of an antique walnut chair. The chair survived without a scratch, but I did not!

I have to admit that this random accident, which happened Tuesday at 5 a.m., could have been avoided if I done three things: turned on a light, stopped multi-tasking, and cleared all obstacles on the path. Accidents happen, but I offer my mental takeaways to you to help keep your next presentation from getting de-railed.

Here are five important things to make you a more effective communicator.

  1. Clear the path. Clear all physical and mental obstacles from your path. Focus on what you want to accomplish, since creating a clear roadmap should be your first and final objective.
  2. Be aware of nonverbal communication. Drill down on the first impression you give to an audience—or anyone, for that matter. And yes, it generally happens for good or bad within five to seven seconds. Non-verbal communication is powerful and signaled by messages you send with your eyes, posture, facial expression, and even the spring in your step. Get feedback and then capitalize on your best qualities.
  3. Adapt a conversational style. Analyze yourself. Do you tend to dominate and/or complain, and can you be a sympathetic listener? Work to be likeable. Likeability is a major part of success.
  4. Read outside your field. The more you can bring to your subject, the more interesting your presentation will be.
  5. Control your space. If you're comfortable in your space, everything else follows. Practice moving out from behind a podium and using gestures to emphasize your space and passion for your subject.