Crisis Communications, Crisis Management, Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Chelsea Vs. Ivanka

By Susan Tomai, Founder, Oratorio Media and Presentation Training

The two presidential nominee daughters handled tough questions quite differently with Cosmopolitan this week.

CNN wrote that “Ivanka Trump cut short an interview with Cosmopolitan published Wednesday after being asked about some of Donald Trump’s past comments about childcare and maternity leave. Trump criticized the interviewer for having ‘a lot of negativity’ in her questions.

Trump had hoped to highlight the Republican presidential nominee’s new childcare policy, which she helped craft and introduce this week.”

What a missed opportunity. Instead of handling the tough question and delivering some valuable messages about her father’s childcare policy, she threw the baby out with the bathwater.

In a separate interview with Cosmo, Chelsea Clinton did the opposite. “Although not happy with the expected comments about her father’s past indiscretions, the former first daughter said she was ‘unmoved by the subject,’ which Trump alluded to in the final moments of Monday’s first presidential debate.

‘My reaction to that is just what my reaction has been kind of every time Trump has gone after my mom or my family, which is that it’s a distraction from his inability to talk about what’s actually at stake in this election and to offer concrete, comprehensive proposals,’ Clinton said.”

Chelsea, seasoned and media-savvy from a lifetime in the spotlight, knows how to anticipate the difficult questions and use her media opportunities to advance an agenda. Ivanka, not so much. Will the election hinge on what Ivanka or Chelsea says? Nah. But Ivanka’s petulance stands in stark contrast to Chelsea’s preparedness. In both cases, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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Crisis Communications, Crisis Management, Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Memo To Politicians: Get To The Point

By Susan Tomai, Founder, Oratorio

Last week we conducted media training for a candidate for Congress who felt it was important to “educate” his audiences. This is of course admirable – we certainly don’t want to dumb down the political discourse in this country any further. But for the purposes of the four-minute live television interview, candidates (and all spokespeople) can’t over-explain. They have to know how to tighten up their messages and avoid delivering a seminar, or they won’t be effective.

Now, this particular candidate is a very smart guy – he knows his issues inside and out and is passionate about them. But you should have seen his Communications Director tearing his hair out as the candidate repeatedly elaborated, digressed and went on tangents.

There’s a time and a place for thoughtful and detailed elaborations on policy points – it just isn’t the live TV interview. The more effective approach – one that fits the time constraints and the audience’s limited span – is to deliver key messages backed up by pithy evidence and stories. And with clock ticking down to Election Day, the time to start is now.

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Crisis Communications, Crisis Management, Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

An Understandably Unsteady Moment

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during in a televised town hall meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas on February 18, 2016. The town hall discussion focused on issues affecting Nevada and the Latino Community was held just two days before Nevadas First in the West presidential caucus on†Saturday, February 20, 2016. / AFP / JOHN GURZINSKIJOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images

By Susan Tomai, Founder, Oratorio


My husband went to a Nats game last week. It was a day game and it was hot. He stood in the sun for more than an hour, waiting for our chronically late teenage son to arrive, and it did not end well.

Apparently my husband didn’t drink enough water. Heat exhaustion got him – all of a sudden he couldn’t hold his head up, everything went black and he was nauseated.   Sound familiar?

When Hilary went wobbly at the 9/11 memorial event,  I don’t think it was much different.  My husband and Mrs. Clinton are the same age. My husband is retired, he’s not campaigning all over the country and he doesn’t have pneumonia. He was at a baseball game in the middle of the day. So regardless of your political position, it might be a good idea to give Hilary a pass on this one and walk a mile in her heels.

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Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Look Sharp On Your Video Chat


By Susan Tomai 

With Skype video, Google Hangouts and a dozen other video chat formats so commonplace these days, why can’t we make an effort to look better in these on-camera situations? Take a look at this clip from CNN this week:

The old up-the-nose, camera-pointed-at-the-ceiling shot strikes again.  On one side we have Chris Cuomo in the studio, looking great as he always does; on the other side Mark Cuban, presumably working from home and using his computer, and not looking so great.

Cuban commits several video chat sins: his computer is positioned below his eye level (thereby giving us the front-row view of his olfactory infrastructure and the ceiling), there’s harsh light coming in from the window, and he seems to have misplaced his hairbrush.  Maybe Mark Cuban doesn’t care – he’s richer than several small nations – but here’s how you can avoid this amateurish fate:

  • Elevate your laptop. Put it on a stack of books, papers, whatever – I use an antique humidor that’s the perfect height for me – just be sure you’re looking slightly up, rather than down.
  • Look at your background. We don’t want to see pictures of your cat. Also, don’t sit in front of an open window – backlight will put your face in shadow. Better options for backgrounds are an office wall with artwork, a plain wall with some color, a bookshelf, or better still: your logo on the wall.
  • No one looks good in direct overhead lighting.  Bring a lamp to the rescue and illuminate your face straight-on. Experiment with a colleague before you go live.
  • Keep your hands away from your face.
  • Comb your hair.
In the last two days I’ve had 5 Skype conversations and each of them was visually terrible on the other end. Don’t underserve your audience or undermine your messages by looking less than your best on camera.
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Crisis Communications, Crisis Management, Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Media Training: Found In Translation

By Susan Tomai 
This week Oratorio traveled to the Middle East once again, conducting a spokesperson media training program for a Gulf region government client. We’ve run training sessions in that fascinating part of the world more than a dozen times over the past four years, but this time was different: for the first time, the entire five-day training program was simultaneously translated from English into Arabic.
This was a novel experience, to say the least.
In all of our previous training sessions in the region, the participants had been top-level managers who spoke English well. This time, only a handful of the 30-plus government officials did. So every word we spoke about message discipline, interviewing skills, media relations and everything else we cover in our sessions went into our microphones and directly to the ears of a translator sitting in a windowed booth a few feet away, who then repeated the words into Arabic for the participants – and then did the same in reverse when it was the participants’ time to speak. This requires a lot of patience on the part of both the trainers and the participants, but once everyone got into the rhythm of it, everything worked well.
The lesson here is that even though cultures are different and the news media operate differently around the world, there are universal truths about what works in a media interview: staying on message, storytelling, branding the name of the organization, starting and finishing on a strong note, and so on. Whether the client is a government agency spreading a message about the importance of wearing seat belts, or a pharma company educating citizens about diabetes, the tools and the goals are much the same – no matter what language is spoken.
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Crisis Communications, Crisis Management, Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Tell Me A Story


By Susan Tomai 

While standing 10 feet from Bill Clinton as he stumped for Hillary in Alexandria last week, I was once again impressed by his easy mastery of the art of storytelling.

“Yesterday,” he said, “I was shopping for a new pair of jeans. I asked the young saleswoman about college. She said sometimes she goes to college, and sometimes she can’t, because she can’t always afford it. She told me how high her student loan is, and how hard it is to pay down.”

“I believe that an investment in college is like an investment in your home,” continued the former president. “You can change your mortgage rate – why not have the ability to refinance your college loan? After all, it’s a 50 year investment, and a home loan is usually 30.”

I’d be shocked if that wasn’t the first time that week he told that same  “jeans” story to underscore a campaign message.

As a former TV producer, I learned the importance of storytelling early on. We all remember stories better than we remember facts and statistics – science has proven that the brain simply works that way. Of course your story needs to send a message, tell folks what to do, how to feel, how to vote, etc. – but the most important aspect of good storytelling is including descriptive details that capture the reader or listener. That’s what Clinton did at that appearance last week – he brought us into that jeans store with that young woman.

So the next time you deliver a presentation or sit for a media interview, deliver an anecdote (a true story, nothing made-up) to underscore your key messages. Describe the time, the place, the feeling. Your audience will be engaged, and will more effectively remember what you want them to.

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Crisis Communications, Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Hillary Made a Hash of It


By Susan Tomai 

Scott Pelley of CBS News interviewed Hillary Clinton Thursday and she made an absolute mess out of a question she should have seen coming straight down Broadway.

Pelley related that Jimmy Carter said back in ’76 that he would never lie to the American people – and Pelley asked Clinton if she could say the same.

Pelley: “Jimmy Carter said: ‘I will never lie to you.’”

Clinton: “Well, but you know you’re asking me to say ‘Have I ever?’ I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever will. I’m going to do the best I can to level with the American people.”

“I don’t believe I ever have?” “I don’t believe I ever will?” My goodness, what a terrible answer. Why couldn’t she just say, “I have always leveled with the American people and I always will. Period.” Perhaps she twisted herself into knots with that response out of concern that someone will dig up a smoking-gun answer from interview in the past that proves that she lied. But even if she has lied in the past and doesn’t want to lie again about having lied before, she still could have done a lot better than that mealy-mouthed comeback. Heck, even if she knew she had lied before, she didn’t have to go there – she could have just said, “I will always level with the American people.” Instead, she handed her opponents a gift that we’ll be seeing in attack ads very soon.

From a media training perspective, the lesson here is that preparation is essential. No, you can’t anticipate every conceivable question under the sun – but she and her team most definitely should have known that one might be coming, and they should have been ready for it. There are no “difficult questions” in a media interview. There is only lack of preparation.


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Crisis Communications, Crisis Management, Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Don’t Repeat. I Repeat: Don’t Repeat.



By Susan Tomai

Too many unflattering sound bites are the result of an interviewee repeating the questioner’s words. This is understandable – repeating is what we do in everyday conversation. We grow up being taught that repeating another’s words shows that we’re listening – and care enough to show it. But a media interview is not everyday conversation.

In an interview, the objective is to use your own words, not the reporter’s, to deliver key messages. Let’s say you’re trying to bring attention to an effort to help parents learn about social media. If the reporter says something like “Social media is bad for kids, isn’t it?”,  you don’t want to say “No, social media isn’t bad for kids.” The reason for this is that even though you’re shooting down an assertion that you don’t like, you’re still saying the words, and those words can become the chosen sound bite.

The better course is to simply go to one of your messages. You might say “With proper supervision by parents, social media can be a great way for kids to communicate.” Remember, you can’t control what the reporter says, but you can and must control what you choose to say.  It takes discipline not to repeat questions, or deny accusations, but it’s a necessary discipline for any spokesperson.


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Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Be Yourself


By Susan Tomai 

I find it interesting that many of our media and presentation training clients have a tendency to tamp down their natural enthusiasm as soon as the camera goes on. When they first walk into our studio, they seem so genuine and gregarious – yet when we conduct their first practice interviews they suppress their natural charisma and devolve into dull talking heads.

Spokespeople need to be focused and on-message, but they can also embrace their best communication qualities and personality traits and let them flourish in interviews. There is great passion and energy around many issues – why not channel that enthusiasm for the messages into a compelling spoken performance that engages the audience?

Tip for the day: the next time you go on-camera, be animated. Project your voice. Smile. Show your natural passion. Being on-message and true to oneself are not mutually exclusive.

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Media Training, Presentation Training, Public Speaking Tips

Well Played, Mr. Trump

By Susan Tomai 


Trump knows what he’s doing, and it works. He has led the discussion since the day he got in the race. Talk about word-of-mouth: he says something offensive, then sits back and watches while the pundits and his opponents use up all their oxygen branding him and giving him millions of dollars’ worth of free exposure.

Journalism is a business, and because The Donald draws the eyeballs and boosts the ratings, reporters cover him – we get that. But what about his opponents?  They can’t criticize him as much as they’d like (don’t want to offend that precious base) but they talk about him anyway, further helping him.

Here’s a suggestion to the rest of the GOP field: leave Mr. Trump out of it as you stake out your own territory. Because Trump has played all of you so skillfully so far, we all know where he stands on immigration, terrorism and trade. How about the rest of you? Would the average person-in-the-street know your positions on any of the above? Whether you like what he’s saying or not, Trump’s messages are much more clear and consistent than yours – and time is running out.

Well played, Mr. Trump.

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