Literally Speaking: The Art of Talking About Your Book

Congratulations! You’re an author! If you’re generating some “buzz” about your book (or even if you hope to), you’ll need to know how to talk about what you’ve written in a compelling way. Every writer knows that good writing is re-writing. That’s the way it is with public speaking as well. It’ll take you some time to hone your style and discover what works for different audiences and different formats. There are some basic best practices though to help you get started.

Have a message  

This is author Lauren Weisberger on her book “The Devil Wears Prada” speaking to “Readers Read”:

“Hopefully readers everywhere can relate to the other things in Andrea’s life. The repercussions of her job on her personal life, the problems that arise with her best friend and boyfriend and family, and the way it feels to live in the big city for the first time, are common experiences for so many young women. At the end of the day, I’d be thrilled to hear that readers related to Andrea and this year in her life, and that they had a few laughs while they read. This is clearly not War & Peace, so I’d love to hear that people just enjoyed themselves while reading the book. That would be perfect.”

Ms. Weisberger’s messages sum up that her book is about a relatable young woman, living life in a big city, coupled with the author’s hope the book brings enjoyment and laughter to readers. While there are any number of things she could say about the book (based on a real-life internship she had for a noted designer in the fashion industry), her core messages simply revolved around her central character’s test of strength and ambition that anyone can relate to.

Messaging isn’t about the details of the book, but rather opening a window into its bigger ideas and themes. Think about what you’d like people to remember and take away from what you’ve written and build your talk from there.

Tailor your pitch

Always speak about your book with your audience in mind. Knowing what you know about them, what would they be most interested in hearing? Is there an excerpt or anecdote that you can summarize that you know your audience would especially want to hear? For instance, in an interview with NBC’s Dateline, Author JK Rowling spoke about how her life has changed since becoming one of the world’s best known authors.

“…Everyone wanted my emotions to be very simple. They wanted me to say, ‘I was poor and I was unhappy, and now I’ve got money and I’m really happy.’ And it’s what we all want to see when the quiz winner wins the big prize, you know. You want to see some jumping up and down, for everything to be very uncomplicated. The fact is, I was living a very pure life. There was no press involvement, there was no pressure. Life was very pure and it became more complicated.”

Instead of details of her well-known characters and speculation about where the story might go next, Rawlings surely knew that the very broad and mostly adult audience she was speaking to would focus more easily on what her personal success has meant. She might have expected far different questions from a different media outlet, based on the interest of their viewers.

Understand as much as you can before doing any interview or appearing before any audience about the audience itself. Be prepared to understand their perspective and speak to what about their particular interests intersects with your subject.

Leave them wanting more

Of course you want to turn listeners or viewers into readers. You want to give your audience just enough information to fascinate them, but not so much detail that there is no point in reading your book! This will take some work and practice. Learn to speak about your subject in broad terms, adding color or anecdotes to spark more interest. Think of speaking orally about your book as the equivalent of the “book jacket,” with more color and one or two anecdotes added in.

When people hear or see you in person, they also want something that’s NOT in the book. A backstory, a funny or interesting anecdote, something about the way your book came to be is always interesting to a broad audience.   Here’s how Anthony Bourdain described his route from chef to well-known author to Powell’s Books:

“I was getting frustrated, so I mentioned it casually to my mother, and like a good mother she said, ‘Oh, you should send it to The New Yorker. It’s good enough.’ Yeah, right. That’s gonna happen. An unsolicited submission to The New Yorker? Never. I was absolutely floored when they called up a month later and said they were going to run it. They explained to me that the odds are something like one in ten thousand, if not more. They use me as a case study now when they do seminars at colleges. Very shortly after it appeared, a publisher called up and said, “Want to write a book?”

Remember, oral communication is very different than written communication. Most people listening and watching won’t be taking notes. You have to be understood the first time. Be brief, be engaging, and know that no one is more qualified to speak on your book than you are.

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Media Training: Why Your Company Needs It

If you speak on behalf of your company or organization, you need media training.

Media training is about learning to present your messages effectively to reporters, and through them to your target audience. It’s about making sure every spokesperson or key executive for your organization speaks consistently and effectively through all of your interactions with the media.

Even when you’re able to speak to your “value proposition” and know a great deal about your substance, handling media interviews can be tricky. Don’t believe what you may have heard about “media messaging.” True messaging isn’t about giving rote answers regardless of the question asked, and steer clear of any training that encourages you to try and “fool” reporters with such tactics. Reporters aren’t passive listeners and they’re not paid to help you in your self-promotion.

Your goal shouldn’t be to just survive your media interactions. That’s a very low bar. You want to enhance your credibility and build your brand by engaging with the media with each and every opportunity.

Of course, we encourage you to give us a call for consultation, but wherever you get your media training, do insist on gaining clear guidelines about preparation, delivery and follow up. Here are some basics any good media training should cover:

Messaging

You’ll know beforehand why you’re being interviewed and what you’re contributing to the story. Your task is to figure out how to meet both your needs and the needs of the reporter at the same time. That’s where messaging comes in and it’s a key part of any training. Media training will help you figure out how to establish strong messages before each interview, knowing what you do know about likely questions. That’s your opportunity to respond in the clearest, most effective way as the interviewee.

Delivery

Media training helps you understand how to answer reporter questions and deliver your messages in ways reporters will respond to. For instance, all media (print, broadcast and online) need you to be brief. How to respond clearly and succinctly on even the most complicated topics is a core value of any good media training. This is why it’s often those who know the most about topics who find the process of dealing with the media so difficult and who would most benefit by media training.

Practice

If dealing with the media were easy, we wouldn’t see the kinds of high profile mistakes made on an almost daily basis by people in the public eye who should know better. Any effective media training teaches these skills by putting trainees through repeated and rigorous practice. This isn’t an academic exercise. You need to put your skills to the test in training before facing reporters.

Media training trains executives and spokespeople for the art of communicating in public. If you’ve got a story you want people to know about, get started and get media training for your executives today.

 

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.