As published in: Training Magazine Communication Skills Vital Business Intelligence

When Leaders Get It Wrong

Nobody–least of all those in positions of power–like to admit they’ve goofed. So, you may be surprised to learn that more than 1,400 leaders, managers and executives opened up on the subject to Escondido, Calif.-based training and development consultancy The Ken Blanchard Companies. The findings of the study, released last month, reveal these leaders’ views on their most-needed skills and biggest mistakes.

An ability to crunch the numbers and meet the bottom line may have played a huge role in securing them that coveted corner office, but survey participants have a strong appreciation for the more subtle art of interpersonal relations–an area that also causes them some trouble. Forty-three percent, for instance, identified communications skills as the most critical skill set to possess, while 41 percent said that inappropriate use of communication or listening is the number one mistake leaders make.

Many agreed that a much too heavy-handed approach was sometimes used. Twenty-seven percent cited under- or over-supervising, giving directions or delegating as a problem when working with others. Fifteen percent said that empathy and emotional intelligence are critical to leadership success.

Interestingly, when asked to identify the five things that leaders most often fail to do when working with others, high percentages of respondents targeted the same handful of issues. Eighty-two percent, for example, cited failing to provide appropriate feedback, praise or redirection as a personal shortcoming; 81 percent weren’t satisfied with their ability to listen or involve others; 76 percent said they fail to use a leadership style that is appropriate to the person, task and situation, which then leads to over- or under-supervision; 76 percent cited failure to set clear goals and objectives as a problem; and 59 percent said people in their position too often fail to train and develop their people.

Aileen Pincus is a former reporter,U.S. Senate executive staffer, and public relations executive, who now provides crisis and media training, as well as presentation and speech training, as president of her own communications firm in Maryland.

One Disastrous Performance Public Speaking and the Lessons of Bobby Jindal

A once little-known senator from Illinois became living proof of the power of one great speech to launch a national political career. We’ve now had a painful reminder of just the opposite: a disastrous speech that may dim the national spotlight for an un-tested speech-maker.

Governor Bobby Jindal had his national debut February, delivering his party’s response to the President’s first speech to the joint Congress. It wasn’t just that Jindal suffered by comparison to the accomplished communicator-in- chief (he did), but that he failed by any measure.

The popular Louisiana Governor, touted as the “rising star” of his party, not only fell miserably short of communicating his message. Both stylistically and substantively, Jindall proved, in just one amateurish, jarring performance, he was not ready for the national stage.

Jindall’s mistakes were numerous and they were devastating. Chief among them:

  • Tone-deafness: In an apparent effort to overcome his ’first geek’ image, the Governor tried on a new, folksy demeanor. Not only did the result appear staged and uncomfortable, it had the unfortunate effect of branding him un-statesmanlike. Call this the Al Gore lesson: Seek to show you are comfortable in your own skin. Don’t confuse public speaking performance with acting.
  • Message-deafness: Jindal’s speech seemed oddly disconnected from all that preceded it. A lengthy introduction juxtaposing the president’s immigrant roots with Jindal’s own seemed out of place given the urgency of the crisis he was there to address. His on-going criticism of big government, coming as it did from the governor of a state receiving billions of federal dollars in Katrina aide, coupled with finger-wagging lessons on clean government from a state not known for it, only further strained his credibility. Lesson learned: Get the right messages. Warning: Proximity to the speechmaker may cause blurred vision. Seek an objective critique outside the inner circle.
  • Image-deafness: For all the hype surrounding President Obama’s “natural” talents as a communicator, his is a learned skill, honed most recently over a grueling, two-year campaign. Jindal’s attempts at imitation were painfully unsuccessful. His hallway walk to the camera was awkward, the standing delivery painful to watch, the disconcerting hand motions, sing-song delivery, and tentative voice at best amateurish. Lesson learned: Play to your strengths. Imitation is not flattering for the one doing the imitating. Find your leadership communication style, work on it, own it.

Whether Jindal will recover from his stunningly poor performance is yet to be determined. What is certain is the continued and dominant role powerful public speaking will play, even in this digital age.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and senior Senate Staff, now a leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.
www.thepincusgroup.com

Media Tips for the Novice A media training guide for those new to the media spotlight

Media interviews can be difficult even for those used to public and media attention -but they can be downright terrifying for those who’ve never been in the media spotlight before.

For many who’ve never interacted with the media, fear of the media usually stems from a feeling of lack of control in the process, and concern over the reporter’s motives in doing the interview. Will I be able to answer the reporter’s questions? How will I know the reporter won’t make me look bad?

Reporters, of course, understand many of their interview subjects will react this way, and good ones will do what they can to put their interviewees at ease. Reporters though have a tendency to believe people’s fears about the media are, for the most part, groundless. As a media trainer and former reporter, I know it’s not that simple. Facts often don’t speak for themselves and interview subjects can indeed look foolish, inept or worse, even if that wasn’t the reporter’s aim.

The goal of media training is to teach you how to serve both reporters’ goals and your own, truthfully, factually, and with confidence. Media training is designed first and foremost to allow interview subjects to understand how to exercise the control they often don’t even know they have over the process.

The first thing for the novice interviewee to understand is that he or she is in far greater danger from a reporter who doesn’t get it, than from a reporter who is out to get you. The vast majority of reporters want to get the story right. If they work for a mainstream news organization, there are standards they must meet and higher ups to hold them accountable to those standards. That’s not to say reporters don’t sometimes get it wrong. It means if they’re a professional, they have a stake in getting it right and value their reputations. That means you need to concentrate on telling them what they need to know to get it right. I firmly believe that it’s always in people’s best interests to engage the media rather than shun them. Here are some basic rules for media interviews for you to keep in mind:

  • No Spin: Don’t lie to a reporter. Ever. It doesn’t mean you have to tell all, explain all and reveal all. It means you need to maintain your credibility at all times by making sure the veracity of what you say can be counted on. It also has the advantage of reducing the need to correct statements later.
  • Preparation is key:  Reporters are looking to tell a story others can relate to or at least find a connection with. Think beforehand about the main points you want to make with a reporter and how you want to get those points across. This is called messaging and it’s a vital part of any interaction with a reporter.
  • Think about why you’re being interviewed: You are probably not speaking with a reporter just to provide them with raw data. More likely, you’re there to provide some kind of perspective. Concentrate then on the bigger picture regarding the issue or the event — as an expert, an observer or a participant.
  • Less is more: Speaking to reporters requires getting to the bottom line as quickly, and as quotably, as you can. Deliver the supportive data, facts and backup information after you’re sure you’ve delivered your message. Try to make your message as accessible as you can to the greatest number of people (no jargon, slang, or “inside language”) and if you tell a story, make sure it’s a succinct one that makes the point you really want to make.
  • Practice, practice, and practice: It takes a while to get comfortable with developing messages, reducing them to a few well-spoken statements, and staying on message through questions. The more you do it, the better you will get. No matter which reporters you speak to — trade, local, regional or national, print or broadcast — follow the same process of knowing who you are speaking to, for what reason, and determining what you want to say.

Media interviews should be a process of mutual gain. The media gets information, perspective, an interesting story or point of view, and you in turn get to reach the audience watching and listening to that segment of media. So give reporters what they’re looking for-access, good quotes and reliable information-and you’ll be rewarded with access to their audiences. Don’t let your lack of experience stop you from engaging with the media and with the public you want to reach.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter, Senior Hill Staffer and leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.
www.thepincusgroup.com

Media Training What It Is and Why It Just Might Save You

Let’s start with what Media Training is not.

It’s not spin.

Media Training isn’t designed to teach those in the public eye how not to deal with the obvious, avoid blame or dance around difficult truths.

What media training DOES do is help level the playing field for those facing the media, either for themselves or on behalf of others. To those outside the process, media training may seem like a way to “manage” the media. In fact, those inside the process know better than to think the media can be managed. The goal of media training is to teach management of your message to the public through the media. Managing the message is not the reporters’ job-It’s the job of the subject being interviewed.

In truth, saying what you want to say in the way you want to say it to a reporter is not an easy thing to do. No matter how substantial your title, how great a record of success or your level of confidence, it’s not easy to face a reporter’s questions. Every reporter has a war chest of stories of supposedly “slick” interview subjects coming unglued over the idea of the public learning what they just said, rather than what they meant to say.

As the subject of the media interview, you don’t control the context, the questions asked, or what others might say about you, and for those used to being in control, that’s not a pleasant prospect. That’s why there are so many examples of executives, managers and even very public figures who simply avoid speaking to the media directly. Others who can’t avoid it sometimes try to manage their communications by selecting only those reporters, subjects and situations deemed “friendly.” At best, that approach works only for a limited time (until the public catches on or the media catches the interviewee off-guard). It means missed opportunities to reach a broader audience. Attempts to avoid the media may even become the story.

So what do those in the public eye learn through media training? There are three basics any good media training should provide:

1. How to deliver a message:
If you’re going to be effective with the media, you have to learn about developing and delivering messages. Most reporters aren’t interested in making their subjects look good-they’re interested in getting a story whether it makes the subject look good or not. Messaging shows you how to meet both your needs and the needs of the reporter while doing no harm to your reputation.

2. How to get the attention you want and deal with the attention you don’t:
On the other side of the coin from those who avoid the media at all costs are those who can’t find their way into the public eye. The media regularly conduct interviews that never see the light of day. Often, it’s because the subject being interviewed didn’t have anything of interest to say. Media Training shows you how to become a quotable source for reporters, helping to increase the scope and the quality of your coverage. You learn how to deal with difficult situations as well, without circling the wagons.

3. How to help different reporters tell your story effectively:
The media, be they print or broadcast, work in definable and predictable ways. Understanding the rules increases your effectiveness and your control over what gets covered and how it gets covered.

Any effective media training teaches these skills by putting trainees through repeated practice. That takes specific scenarios and realistic mock interviews of all kind: television; radio; print and on-line mediums. Trade and industry reporters may be interested in different things than wire service reporters or television reporters and all reporters use a variety of techniques. A good media trainer understands those differences and prepares trainees for the kinds of media they’re most likely to be dealing with.

Finally, Media Training trains executives and spokespeople for the art of communicating the public statement. It gives companies, organizations and individuals the confidence of knowing how to tell their stories most effectively to their audiences. A confident public figure is one, first and foremost, willing to engage in communication. It not only can help make reputations and save them; it makes common sense as well. After all, who so ever seeks the public’s ear would be wise to know what to do when they have it.

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, a media training firm in Washington DC. A former local and national television reporter, Senior Hill Staffer and communications executive, Aileen and her staff train corporate, government and non-profit executives and public figures in the art of communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com.

Media Training – Why Those in the Public Eye Need It

Media Training is simply a way of giving those in the public eye the vital tools they need to tell their story effectively to the public. Companies, organizations and public figures already know the importance of their public reputations. Many hire public relations companies to supplement their own staff’s efforts at driving more media interest in their products, services or capabilities. Media Training insures that when reporters do call, executives and spokespeople they speak with are fully prepared to deliver.

So why can’t spokespeople, CEO’s, researchers, elected and appointed officials and others simply tell their stories and let the chips fall where they may? The results of that approach are exactly why so many in the public arena are afraid to get within 50 yards of a reporter. Misquotes, misunderstandings and worse are the price of a lack of knowledge about the media and how it operates.

So what is learned in media training? There are three basics any good media training should provide:

1. How to deliver a message:
If you’re going to be effective with the media, you have to learn about developing and delivering messages. Reporters aren’t interested in making their subjects look good-they’re interested in getting a story. Messaging shows you how to meet both your needs and the needs of the reporter.

2. How to get quoted:
The media regularly conduct interviews that never see the light of day because the subject wasn’t quotable. Media Training shows you how to become a quotable source for reporters, thereby increasing the scope and the quality of your coverage.

3. What different reporters need to tell your story effectively:
The media, be they print or broadcast, work in definable ways. Understanding the rules increases your effectiveness and your control over what gets covered and how it gets covered.

Any effective media training teaches these skills by putting trainees through a variety of paces. That takes realistic scenarios and mock interviews of all kinds: television; radio; print and on-line mediums. Trade and industry reporters may be interested in different things than wire service reporters or television reporters. A good media trainer understands those differences and prepares trainees for the kinds of media they’re most likely to be dealing with.

Finally, Media Training trains executives and spokespeople for the art of the public statement. It gives companies, organizations and individuals the confidence to know how to tell their stories most effectively to the world. And what organization couldn’t use that kind of enhanced communication skill when the media knocks on their door?

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group, a media training firm near Washington DC. A former local and national television reporter, Senior Hill Staffer and communications executive, Aileen and her staff train corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com.