The poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas, is only 56 lines long. As writing goes, it’s pretty perfect. But we all know there are people where you work, who feel compelled to make edits, no matter how perfect your writing is. Maybe it’s the CEO or CFO, or an engineer, IT guy, accountant, doctor, or even the lawyer. Sure, they just want it to be more accurate and legally correct. But are all of those edits really necessary?
Twas the nocturnal period preceding the annual Christian festival, when throughout the domicile
No one of consequence was moving, including the rodents
Long socks receptacles were suspended near the thermal unit, with safety as a top priority
in expectation that a legendary Christian Bishop, born in the region of modern day Turkey, in or about 280 A.D., who was later Canonized by the Pope, would arrive post-haste
The humans below the legal age of majority, were reclined comfortably within their sleeping apparatuses
While apparitions of dehydrated fruit, filled their subconscious
And the maternal figure donning a headscarf, and I, in a consensual relationship, did likewise
Had just reached a state of extended hibernation
When in an external grassy zone, a ruckus occurred
I spontaneously ejected myself from my sleeping device, to evaluate the situation
Away to an opening in the wall I expedited myself
With vigor, I forcefully opened a set of protective panels
The satellite of the earth unified with the flakes of ice crystals
Gave the reflective quality of noon, to objects below
When, while visibly curious there appeared
A smaller than common vehicle of transport and eight proportional deer, common to subarctic regions
With a demure heavy equipment operator, so agile and prompt
I surmise instantly that it must be the aforementioned Saint
More rapid than birds of prey, the mammals came
And he exuded a high-pitched sound, then proclaimed their given names
You may Google the historic names if necessary, since corporate policy prohibits us from releasing names without consent… and because some of the names imply behavior that may be deemed as inappropriate or suggestive, and not in keeping with our policies regarding sexual harassment in the workplace
To the top of covered shelter protecting the entrance to our domicile
To the top of the vertical structure supporting the inner and outer cladding
Now run or travel somewhere in a great hurry, bolt, and/or gallop
As foliage void of moisture within a tropical cyclone, having winds exceeding 74 miles per hour
When they encountered structures that hindered forward progress, they accelerating upward
So up to the structure’s ridgeline the beast maneuvered
With the vehicle at capacity with objects of play; and the Bishop inside as well
And then like chimes, I heard on the ridgeline
The exaggerated movement, and clatter of horny feet
As I extracted my head from the framed opening, and was moving in a circular motion
Down the vertical channel for combustion gases, came the Saint, with great haste, void of OSHA required protective gear
His wardrobe consisted of natural mammal pets with hair still attached, covering his entirety, much to the protest of certain animal rights activist
The garments were discolored with combustion residue
A sum of replicas were suspended to the rear of his torso
And like a merchant of goods, he displayed all of his wares
His visual organs – how they reflected the light
His facial indentions exhibited great joy
His face just below his eye socket, was reminiscent of blooming thorn-filled plants; his nostril area like ripe, round fruit
His pursed lips, they provoked such dry amusement
And his unshaven facial hair was similar in color to the crystalized precipitation
The extension of a tobacco burning device was clinched within the enamel-coated structures of his jaw
And cancer causing carbon particles were visible in a circular shape
His facial structure was wider than it was tall
His spherical abdominal region
Vibrated upon guffaw, resembling a food basin at capacity with sweet, semisolid preserve
His weight-to-height ratio was disproportionate; while he correctly personified a character portrayed in a seasonal holiday movie classic starring Will Ferrell
And there was humor in his antics, despite my presence
A non-flirtatious closing one eye, and a rotation of his neck
Soon indicated he was friend and not foe and therefore there was no need to seek outside mutual aid
He remained silent and demonstrated a commendable work ethic
And he filled the long sock receptacles; then made a quick, sudden movement
And he placed his index digit beside his nostril trunk
And with acknowledgement, he ascended the combustion chamber vent
He extradited himself to his transport, then repeated the high-pitched sound
And away the individual and his mammals departed through a control ascent in the atmosphere, similar in nature to the seed disbursement mechanism of certain plants
But I was able to discern his verbal proclamation as he departed from vision
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night… despite the edits.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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As a conference speaker and presenter, my presentation for the International Association of Business Communicators has been one of the most difficult ever. Why? Because new crisis communication and social media case studies pop up daily. One of my slides says, “You can tweet your way into a crisis, but you can’t tweet your way out of a crisis.” Then like a gift from heaven, Roseanne Barr tweets an insensitive tweet, her television show gets canceled, and at the last minute, I’m having to add another case study of social media at the crossroads.
Social media – it has all of the attributes and faults of a teenager. Like teenagers, social media can test our patience and resolve, as any parent of a teenager will attest.
We sit at the crossroads. Why?
Admit it. What you perceived as a shiny, new communications tool ten years ago, is now possibly the bane of your existence. As communication professionals and citizens of the world, most now have a love-hate relationship with social media.
Experts came from all around saying social media would allow you to engage your customers and employees. Stakeholders were asked to “join the conversation,” and “be heard.” Admit it. Now there are days when you wish you could hush the many voices on social media.
If your organization adopted social media only for sales and marketing, and not for strategic communications, you made a foolish mistake. Why? Well, when something goes wrong, consider where people go to complain. They complain on social media. If your social media channels are filled with marketing, then no one on the strategic communications side of the organization has a means to listen and engage.
Many global brands are starting to understand this. Frequently when I have a problem with an airline or hotel chain, I am able to resolve the issue with a tweet to the brand on Twitter. That usually leads to a useful direct message conversation and resolution of the problem. But the vast majority of organizations frequently use social media as a publicity channel.
You should question whether social media is now your primary “Un-selling” tool. When a customer has a complaint, they vent and rant on social media, where other customers get to see that complaint, and then share their own bad experiences. When a crisis happens, big or small, social media amplifies that crisis. Communicators must be prepared to rapidly respond to the crisis. Yet in responding to the crisis, you must use expert judgment to determine if responding on social media quells the crisis, or if it is more akin to pouring gasoline on the crisis.
At the social media crossroads, your crisis communications plan must anticipate how audiences will react to a social media post. Many in the field of professional communications believe that posting crisis details to social media and replying to each comment during the crisis is an act of being transparent. As a maverick, I would strongly disagree. Transparency can be achieved by way of a news conference and posting news releases to your corporate website. A link to video from the news conference can be posted on social media. A link to your website can be posted on social media. But a reply on social media to any comment, good or bad, can catapult your post and crisis to the top of everyone’s newsfeed, creating a vortex and volume of comments that should not be your highest priority during a crisis.
Furthermore, organizations must recognize that where once the news media was first on the scene reporting to the masses during a crisis, now it can be any human with a cellphone. By default, the person with the cellphone who is first to post images and video to social media during a crisis, becomes your default spokesperson, until you provide a better spokesperson with a better perspective and better images.
Can you produce a news release at the speed of Twitter?
Do you have a spokesperson who can make a statement at the speed of YouTube?
Social media is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. Organizations who saw it only as shiny and new, have been cut.
Would you agree that it is time to stop the bleeding?
To gain more insights on Social Media at the Crossroads, join Gerard Braud at the IABC conference in Montreal. His session on Social Media at the Crossroads takes place Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. in the reputation track.
About the author:
Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC, is a crisis communication expert. As a journalist, he spent 15 years reporting on crises. He has reported for CNN, NBC, CBS, The BBC and The Weather Channel. As a professional communicator, he has spent more 20 years helping leaders and organizations on five continents communicate more effectively in their most critical times. This veteran communicator blends the tried and true with emerging communication platforms to create a holistic approach to communication.
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Delivering the closing keynote for IABC Calgary. Taking off my pants to prove a point about the LuLu Lemon crisis of yoga pants wearing thin on the inner thighs.
As a keynote speaker at the IABC Canada-West Region Conference, I was asked to do a podcast discussing crisis communications lessons for public relations and communications professionals. Vice President of IABC Calgary, Will Tigley interviews me to talk about crucial communications issues in today’s industry.
Here were a few of the major crisis communications planning aspects to consider that were discussed in the podcast:
First, the need for speed is one of the greatest issues in the industry. With the speed of Twitter and all social media, there is no longer time to wait multiple hours discussing semantics of a press release. The key to speed is pre-written news releases. Put the systems in place on a clear sunny day so that when your darkest day comes, you are prepared.
Will Tigley asked, “How do you go from being good at crisis communications to great at crisis communications?” You must have a robust crisis communications plan with pre-written news releases. You must practice in private, media train your spokespeople at least once a year, and act out realistic, high-chaos, yearly crisis communications drills.
Another aspect to consider in crisis communications planning includes conducting vulnerability assessments. This means walking throughout your organization, interviewing employees, and conducting meetings to determine everything that could ever possibly go wrong. Categories range from white-collar crimes, to hurricanes, to violence, explosions and even social media crises. Again, these crises are remedied with a simple, yet thorough crisis communications plan, as well as pre-written news releases for each scenario.
If there is one thing to walk away with when leaving the IABC Calgary Conference, or any conference in the future, do not file away your stack of notes. A dream without a deadline is still just a dream. Narrow your list, prioritize it, and set a date to follow through with these crucial crisis communications strategies.
For those of you who attended the workshop, this blog will be part of the continuing education program you were promised. For those who missed the workshop, this will help you learn what the group learned. For those of you who would like a similar workshop for your chapter or professional association, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before the teach-back segment, here are links to the two additional free training modules I offered to everyone:
1) Reduced staffs, i.e. fewer reporters, photographers and journalists to tell your story.
Not too long ago a typical network news crew had five people. A typical local television or print crew had a reporter and photographer. Today, newspapers and television stations alike expect a single person to be both the reporter and photographer.
2) The “Caught on Video” craze.
With fewer employees to gather the news, the media depend upon videos submitted by eyewitnesses. The media save a lot of money by not having to chase the news and by letting the news come to them. However, verifying authenticity and facts is a problem. The old rule of, “consider the source,” seems to have gone out the window.
Statistics provided by IQ Media show that in the past three years, there has been a monumental jump in the number of times the phrase “caught on video” is said on television broadcasts.
3) Substituting Trending for News
Virtually every television news cast and every media website feature a segment about what is trending. This means that television airtime and web space are being filled with fluff provided by social media, rather than news gathered by professionals.
Statistics provided by IQ Media show that in the past three years, there has been a monumental jump in the number of times the phrase “trending” is said on television broadcasts.
4) Judgment Day is Everyday
The media have also substituted real news with social media comments from people who judge other people. A perfect example is the condemnation after the U.S. Navy rescued a family from their sinking sailboat on April 6, 2014. The parents had a small child on board and social media lit up with mean comments, which made up a huge part of the news coverage.
5) Pretend In-Depth Coverage
CNN looked foolish with their all-in attempt to cover the Malaysia 370 plane disappearance. Non-stop coverage of a single issue means fewer employees are needed than if your network covered a variety of issues affecting the lives of viewers.
6) Fake Breaking News
Combined with the pretend in-depth coverage is fake breaking news. The television media have a need to put up a banner across the screen each time they learn one new detail, regardless of how silly it is.
Among the many crazy things that CNN called “breaking news” in the Malaysia 370 story, is first breaking the news that the final words from the crew were, “Alright, good night.” The next day it was “breaking news” that the final words were, “Good night Malaysia three seven zero.”
Really CNN? In my time as a journalist we would have called that an error and a correction.
Statistics provided by IQ Media show that in the past three years, there has been a monumental jump in the number of times the phrase “breaking news” is said on television broadcasts.
Solutions to Media Changes
Among the many solutions we discussed, is the need to recognize that in the future, the media will expect you to provide video from any crisis experienced by your company, as well as a narrative. They will expect you to do a selfie style video directly from the scene.
Such videos are hard to do and require training and practice. While the interactive portion of our workshop taught some of the basic skills, the online 23-part tutorial will teach you even more.
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As social media and smart phones expand their reach, we are seeing a seismic shift that is sending tremors through the mainstream media landscape. This is creating both new challenges, as well as new opportunities for media spokespeople. Capitalizing on the opportunities requires you to adopt new approaches, learn new skills and be open to new realities.
If you are bold enough and brave enough to try something drastically new, then I’d love to meet you at the upcoming World Conference for the International Association of Business Communications in San Francisco. I’ve prepared an all-new special presentation for Monday, June 15 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in the Club Room. It only seats 100 people, so make plans to get their early.
This is not a lecture or a class but a do-and-learn workshop. You should come ready to write in the first hour, as well as to discuss the challenges you and/or your spokespeople have faced in previous media training classes or in previous interviews. If there is a problem, the first hour is dedicated to solving those problems so they never happen again. In fact, I’m ready for you to contact me outlining problems you’ve faced that you’d like to solve. Send an e-mail to me at email@example.com with the subject line IABC Question.
Our focus in the first hour will include:
Discovering why the media landscape is changing
Learning the 4 things you must be ready to say in every interview
Rethinking your approach to media training
In the second hour you will be up on your feet unlocking the futuristic power of your smartphone, learning how to do remote interviews. Please make sure to bring either your smartphone or your iPad.
While many spokespeople complain about how the media operate, the reality is that you can learn to be an expert every time either you or an executive within your business speaks to the media.
Social media is one of the biggest trends changing the media. Free content is competing with professional content. The reality is news stories are being told by eyewitnesses with a smartphone faster than the story can be told by the mainstream media and faster than a corporation might be willing to tell the story of their own crisis.
As social media grabs more of the media’s audience, the media are watching their profits disappear. That means there are fewer reporters and photographers employed to tell your corporate story in good times and in times of crisis.
Where problems exist in the media we hope you see opportunities.
The greatest opportunity for someone who is a professional business communicator or public relations expert is, on one hand, to improve your own interview skills, and at the same time, learn new skills for doing interviews and creating videos that are as good as or better than the ones being supplied by eyewitnesses.
If you crave a chance to walk away with new skills that you can immediately use as soon as you are back at work, I look forward to meeting you at this workshop.
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View this and subscribe to this channel http://youtu.be/ZeNyTcoQX3k
I’d like you to stop for a moment as you plan for the New Year and your public relations goals. Reflect if you will, on the year that just ended, as well as the years before.
Today is the Day of Epiphany, and I’d like to challenge you to identify moments of epiphany in your own life and in your own career. I’m even going to share with you some of my own moments of revelation and epiphany in order to help you out. We’ll get to that in just a moment, but you’ll do better if you understand why today’s focus is on moments of epiphany.
January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany (and it is my favorite day of the year). Here in New Orleans we celebrate it in multiple ways. Today is the last day of the Christmas season. It is the 12th day of Christmas that you’ve probably sung about. According to Christian tradition, this is the day the Magi – or three kings – reached the baby Jesus in the manger.
Gerard Braud as King of the Krewe of Mid-City with his father Allen Braud in 2001.
In New Orleans, this is also known as King’s Day. It begins our Carnival season leading up to Mardi Gras. This is also the day that many of the King’s are chosen for the various Carnival and Mardi Gras parades. In 2001 I was one of those King’s.
So, here is your assignment or challenge… Today is a natural day for you to go beyond setting goals and making New Year resolutions. Your ability to achieve those goals and keep your resolutions is directly tied to who you are and the revelations or moments of epiphanies that you have had.
For example, some of my greatest revelations have come when I have taken various personality profile tests over the past 20 years. These tests can be a window into your DNA and can affect your career and life positively or negatively.
Myers & Briggs confirmed I’m an ENTP – An extravert, dreamer, with opinions who values fairness.
True Colors indicated I’m an extravert who values fun more than money.
This means not everyone is going to like me. Highly emotional people and introverts are repulsed by me. My maverick approach to crisis communications plans is to get finished in two days, but analytical people who value a longer process and a series of deadlines may reject my maverick approach.
On the flip side, if you are a fun-loving, extravert who wants to get in, get out and get done with a crisis communications plan, then we are soul-mates, according to the epiphany presented by these tests.
My challenge to you is to dig up your old personality profiles or take a new test and see what moments of epiphany you have. It could help you know who your allies and enemies will be at work. Like-minded people give you permission to proceed in attaining your goals. Like-minded people are your advocates and will help you get the money or resources needed to achieve your goals. Conversely, those not like you may shoot down your great ideas or setup roadblocks to derail your efforts and ideas.
Who you approach for help will determine if your goals are achieved. Even the best ideas, presented to the wrong person at work, can go down in flames, ruining your year.
Happy King’s Day. I hope you rule your entire year.
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We began this 29 lesson discussion with the admonition, “Don’t talk to the media.” The original admonition was that you speak through the media to your audience and the media’s audience.
But as we conclude, let me take this thought a bit further. We’ve poured out for you 29 lessons of best practices for dealing with the media. These practices are tried and true. They work. Please use them.
If you deviate from any of these lessons, you will likely face consequences that damage you, your reputation and the financial health of your organization, whether it be government, non-profit or corporate.
My mentors and personal business coaches always tell me that if I want to achieve higher successes, I should hang around with and learn from people who have achieved the success I would like to achieve. My personal business coaches are the people I turn to in order to learn skills I don’t currently have, or to coach me through improving certain skills that need improving. My coaches remind me also that just as great athletes and performers practice constantly, so must all of us practice a variety skills in order to be better at them.
Dealing with the media and doing interviews with the media is not easy for most people. Some make it look easy, but those are the ones who have great coaches and who have taken the time to practice on many occasions.
I hope the information in these lessons is useful to you. I encourage you to hire a personal media trainer or coach to take your skills to the next level. Don’t allow yourself to feel embarrassed because you are asking for help and be willing to exercise a degree of humility if you don’t meet your own expectations in the early stages of training. Furthermore, I encourage you to make training and practice a regular part of your professional career. Media training is not something that you put on a list, then check off as completed because you have done it once. Learning the skill of talking to the media requires a commitment to training over many years.
If, on the other hand, you chose not to take the advice that has been so freely shared with you in these lessons, at least take this piece of advice: Don’t talk to the media.
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This lesson really could end with just that phrase: Never speak off the record.
Speaking off the record has been taboo among the wisest media trainers and public relations sages for decades, but rarely do I teach a media training class in which I don’t get asked if it is okay to speak off of the record. Furthermore, the question is usually asked by someone who thinks speaking off of the record is a good idea.
Let’s go back to 7th grade. Johnny likes Suzie. Johnny confesses to Suzie’s best friend, Mary, that he likes Suzie. Johnny admonishes Mary not to tell anyone. Within an hour the entire 7th grade class knows Johnny likes Suzie.
Now that you are an adult, do you think the rules and practices of confidentiality have changed? They have not.
Speaking off of the record is triggered by either an incentive from the spokesperson or a suggestion from the reporter. It usually happens when the interview reaches an impasse because the spokesperson knows that if he says more, his comments will compromise a relationship or expose confidential information. Sometimes the spokesperson would like the information to be known publicly, but not be associated with him.
When the discussion reaches an impasse, the reporter might suggest, “Would you be willing to tell me off the record?” Sometimes the spokesperson might initiate the agreement by suggesting, “If I tell you, can we keep it off the record?”
The inference is that once spoken, the reporter will simply sit on the information as though it helps paint a clearer picture of what is perhaps an incomplete story. Don’t believe it. Don’t do it.
A reporter will always, in some way, use the information. Perhaps in their report they’ll say, “confidential sources tell us,” then share the information. Anyone close to the topic can likely do enough deductive reasoning to trace the information back to you, which ultimately damages your reputation. Sometimes the reporter dangles your information in front of another source as an incentive to get the other source to say “on the record” what you would not say “off the record.” To me, it all adds up to bad ethics.
Some individuals will share information off the record as a way to get a reporter to attack an opponent or competitor. This often happens in politics and the corporate world. Again, to me it is bad ethics. If you have charges to level, say them for the entire world to hear and be prepared to back up what you say. If you can’t back it up, you shouldn’t be saying it.
Back in my days in journalism school at Louisiana Tech University, my mentors taught that as a reporter, if someone told you something off of the record, your only choice was to take that information to the grave with you. Using the information to pry information from someone else was unethical. Furthermore, we were taught that as reporters we should not ask anyone to go off the record, because someone else might tell us the same information “on the record.” If someone told us the same information on the record after we first went off the record with a prior source, the prior source might very well think we compromised his trust or confidence.
Speaking off the record creates a bevy of problems and sets the stage for a variety of ethical pitfalls, all of which can be avoided by always speaking only for the record.
Akin to speaking off the record is when a reporter will ask you to speak on background. This infers again that your comments will better help the reporter understand all of the facts, and in many ways infers the reporter will not quote you. It subtly implies confidentiality but really means the reporter will in fact use the information to garner more facts from another source.
I don’t like the vagueness of “speaking on background” and I would advise you to avoid this practice as well.
If you believe something and you have the proof to back it up, then say it. If you can’t prove it or support your position, then hold your tongue.
Let good ethics be your guide.
In our next lesson, I’ll tie up everything with some concluding thoughts.
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What you don’t say is often as important or more important than what you do say, when you are talking to a reporter. How you stand, how you act, how you fidget, how you move, how you stutter, how you sit, and where you look, all says a lot about you.
The easiest thing for a reporter to determine in an interview is that you are nervous. When I started my journalism career at the age of 20, I was five-feet-six-and-a-half-inches tall and 124 pounds soaking wet. I did not consider myself intimidating in the least. So why is it that learned people, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and elected officials got so nervous? Why did they fidget so much? Why did the sweat on their brow line and on their upper lip?
Actions such as sweating are harder to control because they are a result of nervousness. However, if you follow all of the advise in this book, if you hire a good media training coach and if you practice on a regular basis, then your confidence will go up and your nervousness will go down.
Folding and crossing your arms across your chest in an interview is almost always a sign that you are hiding something. If you are crossing your arms because you are cold, a better alternative is to wear warmer clothing. Sales people have long known that a customer with crossed arms will not buy anything form you. In the world of journalism, crossed arms means you are closed off to the premise of the reporter’s question and that you likely are not going to volunteer any information. Your body language may cause the reporter to probe even deeper because they can tell you are trying to hide something. If you are on television, the audience at home will also see this body language and may judge you harshly or relish in your discomfort. Many at home will sense that the reporter has “gotcha.”
Your eyes are the proverbial window to your soul. I suggest that in daily life you get in the habit of looking people directly in the eye and maintaining an appropriate level of honest eye contact. Traditionally we’re taught that looking someone in the eye is a sign of honestly. Conversely, someone with high anxiety caused by not telling the truth usually has difficulty looking another person in the eye. You’ve likely heard people called “shifty-eyed.” When your eyes shift from side to side it is an obvious sign of anxiety, discomfort, and begins to make the journalist think that you have something to hide. Behavior like this is a perfect example of why role playing with a video camera is so important during media training. You may shift your eyes all the time and never realize it until you see yourself on camera. Reviewing your interview on camera lets you observe the behavior, then lets you work to correct the behavior.
Whether you look up or down and whether you look left or right also says a lot about you and what you are verbalizing, including whether you are “making it up” as you go.
If a right handed person looks up to the right while answering a question, they are generally being creative in crafting their answer and it may be perceived as a lie. If that same right handed person looks up and to their left when answering your question, it is generally perceived that they are recalling actual facts and telling the truth. Looking up is generally associated with questions about things that actually happened, things you saw or people you know.
Looking to the side has some of the same perceptions and generally applies to questions about sounds and things you have heard. Looking down to the left and right is a great deal less about telling a lie and more about feelings and recalling things such as a smell, touch or taste.
A left handed person performs these acts in the opposite direction of a right handed person. One of the classic case studies is former President Bill Clinton, who is left handed. As he made his infamous statement, “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” he looked up and to the left, an indication that this lefty was a liar.
Other body language for lying includes touching your face, the tip of your nose, rubbing your eyes and covering your mouth. Essentially, these are all telltale signs that you are trying to hide something and hide, perhaps, behind your hand. Covering your mouth, for example, subtly says you don’t want me to see you tell a lie.
How you sit tells us a lot as well. As a rule, never sit in a chair that rocks and swivels. If you do, when you become nervous or uncomfortable, you will likely rock or swivel.
Never do an interview while sitting behind your desk. This is usually a place that is too comfortable and very intimate to you. As a result, you may speak perhaps too bluntly and openly because this is your comfort zone. You need to be honest, but being behind your desk may cause you to let your guard down. Instead of sitting behind your desk, pick two chairs in front of your desk.
Your posture while sitting says a lot. If you cup your hands behind your head, as well as if you lean back while doing this, it indicates that you perhaps feel superior to the person interviewing you. Akin to this, slouching in a chair during an interview could be an indication that you are cavalier, arrogant or feel superior to the interviewer. Many people who are described as “cocky” sit slouched or leaned back in their chairs. During my days on television, we affectionately called these people “cigar smokers” because they looked like the fat-cat, cigar smoking corporate executive made infamous in the black and white movies of the 1940s.
The position of your legs while you sit also says a lot. Women and men tend to have different sitting postures. Women who have been through some degree of etiquette training have been taught to place their feet on the floor and to cross one ankle behind the other. This is always a polished looked. Most women, when crossing their legs cross at the knee. The most common way women cross their legs might be called a scissors cross or inverted V cross, with the left foot pointed right and the right leg pointed left. From the knee, a woman’s feet spread like an inverted letter V. This cross is also generally accepted, but when nervous, most women begin to twist the ankle of the foot that is suspended above the floor. Some may even swing the suspended portion of the leg from their knee to their foot. The more nervous a woman is, the more the leg takes on the appearance of kicking.
Some women cross their legs at the knee, then wrap the upper foot behind their calf. This is a certain sign of being timid, embarrassed or lacking self-confidence. This is never an acceptable posture.
Somewhere between the ankle cross and the inverted V cross, is when a woman crosses her legs at the knees, but tilts both legs in the same direction. For example, if the upper leg is the right leg with the foot pointed toward the left, then the lower leg, which would be the left leg, would also have the foot to the left. In the world of etiquette, this type of leg cross is thought to be the more acceptable of the two ways women generally cross their legs, although etiquette purists say a woman should never cross her legs.
Also, when crossing their legs, women must also consider whether they are wearing pants or a skirt. If a skirt is worn, then the woman must also determine whether she is sending a message of sex appeal or sexiness. Some actresses and news anchors intentionally wear short skirts and sit in a posture designed to exude sex appeal. In the world of television and entertainment, sex sells and sexiness equals ratings, because most women secretly have a desire to be attractive like the woman on television, while most men are attracted to a woman that is more visually appealing. But while sexy may be right for the television anchor or actress, it is not the right look for a female corporate executive.
For men, sitting styles include feet close to one another on the floor with knees spread slightly, feet on the floor with knees spread wider than the feet, one leg on the floor with the ankle of the other leg placed on the knee, and sitting with knees crossed in the same way as described above as the women’s scissors or inverted V style.
The most offensive of these four male seating types is the legs spread wide open, essentially making his genitals the focal point of his posture. Many athletes tend to sit like this in interviews. While such posture might be fine in the locker room, it never works in an interview. The male sitting with his legs wide open sends a message of overconfidence and high superiority. And while that may intentionally or subliminally be the message the male is trying to send, a reporter or television audience may also interpret it as a sign of ignorance or stupidity.
A man crossing one ankle over his knee, almost in the shape of a number 4, is the most common posture for men and is often acceptable in interviews, but it is not without its problems. The exposed sole of your shoe could prove to be an embarrassment, especially if it turns out that a hole has started to develop on the shoe sole below the ball of your foot. Other times, you may have stepped in gum, which leaves a mark on the shoe sole. There are also multi-cultural considerations when a man sits like this. In many Asian and Muslim cultures, exposing the sole of your shoe is a great insult, so think carefully about your audience before sitting like this.
Men older than 40 tend to be more likely to cross their legs at the knee, in the inverted V style, than younger men. From a body language perspective, many people perceive this seating style to be more feminine, especially in younger men, even to the point of being stereotyped as being homosexual. For younger men, such posture may even be perceived as a sign of weakness. For older men, there is sometimes a degree of maturity or wisdom associated with this type of leg crossing. A key indicator of whether this type of leg crossing has a feminine or masculine appearance depends upon how far out and how high up the raised foot is. The closer the raised foot is to the low leg, the more feminine the appearance. The more raised the foot is in relation to the lower leg, the more masculine the appearance. This more raised approach is really a cross between the number 4 style and the inverted V style. One advantage this has to the pure number 4 style is that it points the shoe sole to the floor, shielding under-shoe blemishes and eliminating cultural insensitivity.
For both men and women, the best posture for sitting is to bring your back slightly away from the back of the chair, which also pushes your posterior slightly forward on the seat of the chair. With your body weight shifted forward, it virtually forces your feet to the floor, rather than having your legs crossed. Once your feet are comfortably on the floor, men generally slide one foot slightly more forward than the other. Women will do the same in some cases, but in most cases will now find it more comfortable to cross one foot behind the other. When attempting this style, you should not be sitting on the edge of the chair, but just slightly away from the back of the chair.
This slightly forward seating posture also makes it more possible for you to talk with your hands during an interview. Talking with your hands, especially with your palms in an upward position, is a sign of openness and honesty. It lets you gesture with palms up to the interviewer when directing outward expressions, while gesturing with palms up toward yourself for personal stories or to demonstrate personal accountability.
Among the things never to do with your hands in an interview is to flail them or pass them in front of your face. You should also avoid crossing your hands on your lap. Flailing is an indication that you are somewhat sporadic and lack focus. Crossing your hands over your lap and genitals indicates weakness for men and women. For men, having their hands crossed over their genitals is a big sign of feeling vulnerable.
Not only is crossing your hands over your genitals an incorrect posture when you are sitting, it is also incorrect when standing. Commonly referred to as the fig leaf position, hands over the genitals for a male, again, is a sign of weakness and vulnerability, as well as weakness for a woman. Many people instinctively cross their hands over their genitals when standing because this is the way they have taken so many group photos from the time they were in grade school. As an adult, it is time for you to learn that this is an old trick used by photographers to get children to stand still and keep their hands to themselves long enough for the photographer to snap the exposure. The trick kept Billy from punching Bobby on the arm while the children were positioned as a group. And from a photo perspective, crossed hands is never good photography.
Also while standing, you should avoid swaying back and forth. This demonstrates the same type of nervousness as swaying or swiveling in a chair. The preferred posture when standing is to have your feet spread slightly or to place your weight on your dominant leg.
Many people are also confused about what to do with their hands during an interview when they are standing. In addition to avoiding the fig leaf position, you should never put your hands in your pockets. Placing your hands on your hips comes naturally for some people, but from a body language perspective it is perceived as a sign of arrogance or superiority. Generally the best default position is to have your hands at your side then raise them between your waist and chest for gesturing. When not gesturing, a good standby position is you have your hands lying one inside the other just above the waist, waiting for the next opportunity to talk with your hands and gesture.
To wrap things up, your words will always be important, but whether the reporter or his audience believes you will depend in part on your body language.
In our next lesson, we’ll answer that age old question, should you speak off the record?
I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone.
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Looks are important. With just three lessons left to go, I would be remiss not to cover some important basics, such as how to dress for a news conference.
Dress for men has always been easier than dress for women in the world of media. That’s because men’s fashions tend to remain basic such as a coat and tie. About the only thing that changes much is the width of jacket lapels and the width of a tie.
Women, on the other hand, constantly face changing trends in clothing, ranging from sleeve types, to skirt lengths, to neckline styles. All of that is further complicated by shoe styles, hair styles and make-up styles.
As a basic place to begin, if you are in a formal news conference setting, traditional business attire is best. For men that is a business suit with neck tie. For women it is a traditional women’s business blazer with business skirt or business trousers. Both men and women should consider basic colors such as black, charcoal gray and navy blue.
What you wear affects you in two respects. In one respect, you have to consider how the audience perceives you based on your appearance. In another respect, you have to consider how you photograph and whether your wardrobe cooperates with cameras.
From the perception of the audience, consider that while some women look great in a red suit, some audiences may perceive red as the sign of someone who is power hungry. While certain women’s clothing may be trendy and acceptable in a social setting, in a business setting it may be perceived as too provocative. Women are likely to face greater challenges in this arena than men.
From the perspective of being photographed, many photographers complain that white shirts beneath a jacket make it difficult for them to compensate for the lighting on your face. This is less true today than in the past. As a rule, I think that especially for men, a white shirt is great under a business suit. Men have greater leeway with a white shirt than women do because it is broken up with a neck tie. Photographers often advise that a light blue shirt is often best for photography. From a lighting perspective it makes their job easier, but a blue shirt isn’t always as professional looking as a white shirt.
Excessively bright colors, flowery fabrics and fabrics with intricate patterns should always be avoided. They may look great in the mirror, but they look especially bad on television. Such designs tend to glow or create what is called a “moray” or “zebra” effect on television, which becomes a distraction to viewers. Soon the viewer is paying more attention to your glowing wardrobe than they are to your words. I have to leave many of my favorite neck ties home when I’m going to be interviewed for television.
And as for television, standing to be interviewed on television is less of a wardrobe challenge than sitting. While sitting in a news studio you are likely to be seen from your head to your toes. For men that means making sure your shoes are shined and that your socks fully cover your legs. Men should not have a gap of leg showing between the top of their sock and where their pant hem starts. Large men especially need to make sure their suit fits well. Too many men put on weight and don’t buy a new suit. This especially becomes obvious when their jacket doesn’t fit well when they sit. As you practice and media train the day before your interview, you should review your clothing and how it looks on camera.
Women on camera should select a conservative shoe that is not too trendy. Most women on television select to wear a skirt rather than pants. Selecting a skirt means you need to consider where the hem line rides as you sit. You also need to consider whether you have attractive legs on camera, as they are part of your image. Exposed veins and bumps and bruises become a visual distraction, detracting from your words. As fashion trends vary, hosiery may or may not be in style. However, on camera, hosiery is the equivalent to make-up for the legs. Just as foundation and power can cover skin blemishes on your face, hosiery can cover skin blemishes on your legs.
In considering these tips for women, keep in mind that television news anchors are increasingly breaking these trends, wearing trendy shoes, trendy dresses with little or no sleeves and often no hose. Some look downright silly and amateurish. Some can get by, for example, without wearing hosiery because they are still in the 20s and the skin on their legs has not yet betrayed them, as it often does to women beyond the age of 29.
For news events held outside of a news studio or a news conference room, a good rule to follow is to dress for the occasion and location. If you are in a factory, dress as a factory worker might. If you are volunteering at an outdoor charity event, a polo style short sleeve shirt or an appropriate long sleeve shirt with khakis may be appropriate. Both men and women should refrain from wearing shorts at such events. Likewise, don’t wear hats when being interviewed or photographed because the hat brim often shades a portion of your face while leaving another portion in bright sunlight. Such a lighting contrast is especially hard for photographers to deal with.
As a final thought to appearance, yes, it is true that both men and women should wear make-up if you are being interviewed for television. This is especially true if you are in a television studio with harsh lighting. You’ll notice that the news anchors are wearing a ton of make-up. The concept of make-up is often embarrassing to men, but you need to get over it and do it. When in doubt, hire a make-up artist who knows how to do television make-up. Keep in mind there is a big difference between general make-up that a woman may wear daily and how make-up is applied for men and women in a television studio. You may want to go the extra length and test out the make-up during your media training prior to your actual interview.
If you are outside and on television, a little press powder goes a long way to eliminate shine from oily skin. Balding men face an even greater challenge both in the studio and outside in the sun as the skin on their expanding forehead shines.
So in conclusion, in this lesson I’ve likely insulted both balding men and women with varicose veins. Sorry, I mean no offense. I’m just an old truth teller trying to offer you the most professional guidance possible.
In our next lesson, we’ll examine a question I get asked all the time: “Is it safe to speak off the record?” Well, in the next lesson I’ll answer that question, if you promise not to tell anyone.
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