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

Walk This Way

When delivering a presentation, you don’t want to move too little or too much. Standing frozen in one spot or shifting from one foot to another when you’re addressing a crowd looks tentative and unpolished. It’s much better to use the stage like an actor and fill the space.

Start by standing tall, with your weight distributed equally across both feet. Don’t shift or rock back and forth and don’t favor one foot over the other. Then, move forward deliberately, as though you’re going somewhere. Take a few steps to the right, stop, and deliver a point. Then do the same, to the left. Move closer to the audience when you are making a particularly important point. Then, to get back to where you started, don’t back up or turn your back to the audience; instead, walk from side to side on a barely perceptible angle backward. If you do this, you’ll look “bigger,” more commanding, and even more trustworthy.

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

Rand Paul: Know Your Audience


Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul paid a visit this week to what is probably America’s best-known historically black college, Howard University in Washington, D.C. – and it didn’t go so well.

Along with the rest of the Republican Party, Paul is trying to win more African-American votes.  So he gave a speech at Howard arguing that smaller government and other Republican values should appeal to the black community. But he got himself in trouble when he clumsily tried to bluff his way through making a point without realizing that the audience knew more than he did.

He said Republicans had always supported civil rights, and to prove it, he pointed out that one of the first African-American U.S. Senators was a Republican. Too bad he couldn’t remember the Senator’s name.

“Uh, I’m blanking on his name,” he said, “from Massachusetts.”

A number of students in the audience quickly said “Edward Brooke!” and proceed to laugh when Paul then “repeated” the name, misstating it as “Edwin Brooks.”

It got worse when Paul then asked the audience if they realized that the founders of the NAACP were all Republicans.  Several people said “yes,” and one woman said “of course.” To which Paul said “I don’t know what you know.”

But he should have known, and that’s the point. Know your audience: it’s one of the cardinal rules of media training. As a high-profile U.S. Senator, Paul certainly has the resources to do some basic research on the knowledge level of his audience. Did he really think that a roomful of African-American college kids wouldn’t know that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans? Come on.

Not knowing that made him look clueless and condescending at the same time. And I’m guessing he didn’t score a lot of points for his team.

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