Saturday, June 23, 2012

Two Quick Tips to Better Presentations

Reading columns by former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan is a special joy. Her way with words is understated, focused and powerful. I'd give my left arm to write like that, and not just because I'm right handed. Her most recent column offered two great nuggets that people who give speeches and presentations should take to heart. The first one seems so simple.
"People like to listen if you're saying something interesting."
Being interesting means losing buzzwords, telling stories and conveying passion for the topic. If you're not excited about the topic, why should your audience be? A PowerPoint slide is not nearly as interesting as a well told, relevant story.

Gary Vaynerchuk tells the story of how he came to believe in the power of social media, and he's worth listening to because it's interesting to hear. He uses no slides. It's captivating and worth your time even if some of the language is NSFW.

The speech takes a while but, as Ms. Noonan says, it takes some time to build a story that supports a great idea. I listened because Vaynerchuk's talk conveyed a great idea.

The second great tip in Peggy Noonan's column is about focus.
"A speech about everything is a speech about nothing."
What that means for most corporate types who use PowerPoint is no back-up slides. If you have to use back-up slides, you don't know your audience and you don't have a clear point for your presentation. If you can do your presentation with no slides, please do.

Focus is everything. It's what grabs people's attention, it's what captures their imagination and it's what moves them to action. Tell your audience exactly what you want them to know, believe and do. Don't just hope they get it.  If you can't pinpoint that for your audience, you leave it to them to decide what's important and what they can ignore. It's likely a good percentage of them will ignore what you think is most important.

Two simple, but powerful tips: Be interesting. Be focused.

It's the only way you'll ever be memorable.

Bill Salvin

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Three Questions Communicators Want to Ask Attorneys

Attorneys have been part of my career ever since I became a journalist. I’ve interviewed lots of them in nearly every kind of situation. I’ve also dealt with them on the PR side of things in every crisis to which I’ve responded.

I’ve worked with spectacular attorneys, who had just the right advice at the perfect time and probably saved the response. I’ve also worked with attorneys I wouldn’t enjoy being handcuffed to if we made a cross-country buddy movie.

Crisis communications is a team sport, and communicators are going to have to work with attorneys. Both have important roles to play. With that as a background, I thought I’d highlight the three common questions communicators ask about attorneys. 

1. Why are attorneys so slow when it comes to approving statements in a crisis?

Most communicators I have worked with in a crisis can get an initial statement written in less than five minutes. Then they cool their heels waiting for legal approval while the media beg for information and others post about the crisis on social media. Communicators know attorneys have to get comfortable with the statement. We wish it didn't take them longer to approve a statement than it takes us to write it. 

Solution? Make sure the attorney understands what is going to be in your initial statement before the crisis strikes. Get the attorney comfortable with the template you'll use, then stick to it when you deploy it. You will shave precious minutes off your response time. 

2. Why do attorneys wordsmith instead of providing legal review?

We take a statement for legal review and it seems everyone wants to be a writer.

Attorneys don’t like adjectives and they do not like words that convey emotion. At least, that’s what Cecilia Showalter wrote in a 2010 post on communications and credibility. It’s a worth a read for the common ground we share.

Since all crises are human events, all crises have an emotional component. Communicators are taught to be empathetic with those impacted by a crisis. If you remove all words that contain emotion, you come across cold and unfeeling. How will that help anyone when the lawsuits get filed?

Solution? Work with your attorney to spell out how your company will express regret for an incident. Attorneys don't like when you say "I'm sorry" because it is considered an admission against interest. Really good lawyers will help you craft a statement that is both empathetic and legally sound.  

3. Why do attorneys seem to lack a sense of urgency in a crisis?

Communicators have told me they feel attorneys focus attention on small, unimportant things in a crisis. This perception may come from the different focus attorneys and communicators have in those early hours. There is a balance between short and long-term priorities that can be the heart of the attorney-communicator challenge. 
I've seen attorneys worry about approving a Tweet taken from an approved news release. To a communicator, this wastes time and energy for no tangible gain. We worry the attorney is more concerned about the deposition in two years than the crisis right now. Worrying about a Tweet helps no one, and can cripple a response with a culture of perfection. You don’t have to be perfect in a crisis. You just have to be good.

Solution? The best advice is always the simplest. Don't meet your new in-laws at the wedding and don't meet your attorney after the fire starts.

Crisis communications is a team sport. A communicator has to worry about a hundred things to succeed in a crisis. Worrying about your relationship with your attorney shouldn't be one of them. 

Bill Salvin