Archive for August, 2008

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

It’s no secret that gov. Sarah Palin is a controversial pick as a Vice Presidential running mate for Senator John McCain. A Google on her name will lead you to pages of conflicting analysis.

What we’re interested in here is the communications strategy the sides deploy. And Ms. Palin’s pre-nomination throws into relief the failure of the democrat’s charge of “inexperience” against her at least in the context of on-air debates.

The reason the inexperience charge fails is that it invites rebuttal and the rebuttal is too easy and too obvious. Larry King Live last night, for example, hosted James Carville, CNN Political Contributor and Obama support and Nancy Pfotenhauer, advisor to the McCain campaign. Here’s an excerpt of the debate

James Carville

James Carville, CNN Commentator, Obama Supporter

CARVILLE: “I am completely floored by this choice.”

Nancy Pfotenhauer, McCain Strategist

Nancy Pfotenhauer, McCain Strategist

KING: “Honestly put, Nancy — and it’s a fair question — of all the Republicans, is she the most qualified to be next commander-in- chief?”

PFOTENHAUER: “Well, I think that she is eminently qualified to be vice president.

In fact, Senator McCain’s picking Governor Palin, she has more experienced as the V.P. nominee than Senator Obama has as a presidential nominee.”

My issue is not whether Sarah Palin has the experience to be Vice President. It’s that James Carville is a communications strategist and he lost a point on national television that he should have anticipated he would. And, in fact, I saw him and Paul Begala, another democratic strategist lose this point again and again all night. And I’ve been watching democratic strategists lose this point again this morning in the same way. Read the rest of this entry

Communication Skills – How Accountable Are You?

Keith Rosen

Keith Rosen

Keith Rosen recently wrote a nice article listing 10 questions you can ask yourself to improve your communications skills.  Here are a few excerpts from his list.

Am I taking full responsibility for the message being heard by the other person?
Did I acknowledge them?
Did I make my request clear?
Am I checking to see if the conversation was successful?

The thing I want to underscore is his emphasis on being personally accountable for the accuracy of your communications.

This is something I find many people, especially people who are accustomed to dominant roles, reticent to take on completely. Their reluctance shows up in small turns of phrases.

I was working with a woman who believed she put off other women in discussions with them. I sat in a discussion with her and noticed a pattern of dominance showing up in her speech. She would say, “You understand?” instead of “Am I being clear?” And again, ‘You’re just like me” but never “I’m just like you.” In fact, when I pointed out that last comment she said she wouldn’t feel comfortable saying it the other way around, even though the phrases have very similar meanings; it was giving away too much to the other person.  No wonder she had trouble connecting at times.

Tim’s Takeaway:

I’m not arguing for becoming submissive in your communications. Rather, I’m cheering Keith for reminding us that accountability is leadership. If you’re going to lead conversations, that means accepting responsibility for making sure the other person hears what you mean.

Death by Powerpoint is a lively issues these days. In fact, Business Communications Headline News gives us two presentations in as many days with the aim of helping us make better presentations.  Unfortunately, both miss the mark. We’ll look at each from a strategic standpoint to help you understand how they go astray and what you can learn to make your presentations more effective.

Sleepy Audience from Kapterev's Website

Sleepy Audience from Kapterev

You have to hand it to Alexei Kapterev for taking on bad powerpoint presentations and investing the time and effort to give you a solution (you can see his pdf presentation in it’s entirety here). It’s a good start. But his advice is a bit wide of the mark and his execution falls a bit short in particular ways. And understanding those missteps will help you make stronger choices.

Let’s consider Alexei’s central argument. Presentations, he says, are successful when they have Significance, Structure, Simplicity, and Rehearsal. Significance is the core, he tells us. In fact, it’s so much more important than structure that you can use any structure as long as it’s comprehensible and scalable. Alexei also gives us a definition of significance – you have significance if you’re communicating meaning that you’re passionate about.

This conception is backward and Read the rest of this entry

Michael Phelps Interview

Michael Phelps Interview

These August evenings, the 8th through the 24th, my family turns our television to a fierce competition. Not only among nations, but among stations as well.

My wife, Lisa, is an avid Olympic fan. She wants the maximum amount of action for her viewing time.  In our market, the Olympics are carried by three stations–King 5, the local NBC affiliate; the USA network; and CBC, our Canadian channel. Lisa will spend the evening with one hand on the remote switching between stations whenever she thinks the coverage wanes on the channel she’s watching.

Airtime in primetime hours on NBC during the Olympics is worth (according to MediaDailyNews) $750,000 a minute–yes, a minute. Not the $1.7m a minute the SuperBowl commands, but still a big pile of coin.

That’s why NBC put together a team of knowledgeable, experienced, charismatic correspondents to explain, comment on, and add color to the 2008 Olympics–to make Lisa tune our set to our local NBC affiliate and keep it there throughout the 17 nights of competition and especially the commercials that fill out this summer’s Olympic telecast and generate the revenue for NBC.

And Monday night, they dropped the ball.

It was one of the clearest examples I’ve seen of not understanding how emotions work and not being able to take advantage of that knowledge to create connection and communications.

There was Michael Phelps having just won his firt gold medal in swimming. Andrea Kremer intercepted him as he came out of the pool area. He was nearly shivering, his voice just a little shaky. We all, especially my wife Lisa, wanted to know what it was like to start his hunt for a record 8 gold medals in a single Olympics.

“What are the emotions running through your mind?” Andrea asked. “Happy and excitement,” Michael replied.

You won’t a picture from the interview or quotes posted on the internet. It fell flat–didn’t deliver. It may be a small thing. Michael has been interviewed lots of times during these Olympics, a press conference virtually every day in addition to the comments he’s had for color reporters following events.

But that interview didn’t hold my family over to the next commercial break. And if other rabid fans reacted like my wife did, lots of people switched away. And that means loss of revenue for NBC and future networks who carry the Olympics. And not a trivial loss.

There are questions you could ask that would predictably draw a more engaging response. Asking how he’s reacting, for example, will generally get you more. “Wow, Michael, there’s number one, what’s your reaction to your first big win?” People like to talk about their reactions and the question isn’t as narrow as emotions. They’ll tell you about their physical reaction, their emotional reactions, and their thoughts. And you’ll get a sense from their answer of which of these they’re attending to most.

Another way to encourage people to reveal themselves is to note the reactions you can see and ask what’s behind it. “Michael, I notice your voice is a little shaky, your eyes are watering up a bit. Where’s that coming from?”

Not every discussion merits a word-by-word examination. Else, we’d never be able to walk through a social event at ease. Some discussions do, though. When your boss says, “you know, I picked you myself and I have to say I’m really disappointed.” When your patient says, “I’m gonna sue you and this hospital.” When you have a one-on-one interview with the greatest athlete in Olympic history and your time is worth $750,000 a minute.

Tim’s Takeaway:

Especially if you work in an area where the stakes are high, it’s worth your time to craft communications that serve your needs. Communications is a skill like any other. There are frameworks for communicating that can reliably produce the kind of outcomes you want.

As much as the Chinese hope to win many medals in these Olympics, they also hope to use the

Olympics as a kind of coming out event, to let the world know that they are back. And the opening ceremonies were an auspicious start–a tutorial in nonverbal communications.

You likely saw the opening ceremonies. And I won’t add to the commentaris which are readily available on the internet. Our particular interest is communications, so we’ll focus on the messages that China was able to send subtextually through their staging of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

1. While the US and Europe may be in a recession, we have the wherewithal and will to construct a magnificent Olympic Village including a stadium outfitted especially for one night’s celebration.

2. We also have the resources to invest as much in one four-hour production as American spends on a big budget summer blockbuster.

3. We are many.  China is large enough to field a production with

2008 Chinese Drummers

2008 Chinese Drummers

15,000 performers including, expert drummers, Tai Chi performers, lighted dancers, and artists of many stripes.

4. Don’t think we are backward. We have remarkable expertise to bring to bear, even in technology. China showcased the largest LCD screen ever displayted.

Chinese Print Block Artists

Chinese Print Block Artists

5. We can be remarkably disciplined when we want to be. The Chinese memorialized their historic rise as well as their development of technologies such as paper and print block.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the swift and intricate choreography of the blocks–now a set a waves, now drops in a pond, now a chinese character, now the great wall–was in fact, not the work of a computer but a highly trained troupe of human performers.

Tim’s Takeaway:

There’s a saying in screenwriting–show, don’t tell.  In other words, don’t tell me your protagonist is compassionate; show me your protagonist passing up a raise to help a co-worker. Whatever message you’re trying to send in a screenplay comes across much more powerfully in action than in words. The Olympic opening ceremonies were a terrific example of that maxim at work, the messages that China was sending to the world came across much more powerfully enacted than they would have in any written statement or flowery speech. 

 
 Page 1 of 2  1  2 »