Use Revolutionary War Airports to Fly Out of Speaking Stumbles

President Trump caused quite the Twitter kerfuffle on Independence Day when he talked about Revolutionary War troops wresting control of the airports from the British. The flub apparently arose from a TelePrompTer malfunction caused by rain in the nation’s capitol.

Aside from the prominence of the error (and the comedic aspect, which trended on Twitter as #RevolutionaryWarAirportStories on the 4th of July, if you care to see more), it’s relatively small picture in terms of the impact. Still, no matter the cause nor your political perspective, there is a valuable public-speaking take away.

Remarks by President Trump on Independence Day, 2019. Read the full speech.

Most of us will never speak to an audience as large as the one assembled on the National Mall. We may, however, appear in a situation in which the stakes are even higher, at least on a personal level. Consider presentations you’ve made to civic groups, elected councils and boards, or even a hiring committee.

The outcome certainly holds potential to be life altering. Likewise, the possibility of getting lost in your words or tripped up by technology is a realistic one.

If it can happen to the President of the United States — with every resource of the federal government available — it most certainly can happen to me and you. It definitely has happened to me.

So, what to do?

The answer is in proper preparation. Specifically, you must know your brand story, know your presentation message, know your audience.

Know your brand story

Your brand story ties together those things that are fundamental, core to your (or your organization’s) being. The three things I articulate about my institution are: 1) we are invested in our students’ success; 2) we are a premier institution of higher education; and 3) as a California Community College, we are the best value. In any situation, I can default to these — and, since they’re core to our identity, I should be able to pivot there easily if I get lost in my presentation and need a guidepost to lean on. This works on a personal level as well. If you look at my online presences, I articulate that I am: 1) a recovering journalist; 2) a storyteller; and 3) spokesman at Cypress College. The point here is to know both yourself and your organization well enough that it’s second nature to articulate these core story elements.

Know your message

Your key message or messages are the specific takeaways you want your audience to have at any given presentation. Of course, any well-crafted presentation will tie back to your brand story as discussed above. However, speaking opportunities typically have specific sub-messages that must be communicated. For instance, the city council might want to hear about the status of construction projects on campus. Clearly, I’m going to articulate that we’re constructing new buildings because we’re invested in our students’ success and because we are premier. I’m going to articulate that new buildings help make us a great value. But, I will also need to articulate why we selected these projects, who they will serve, and what our remaining financial needs are.

Know your audience

Who is attending your presentation and what is their shared belief or purpose? While it goes without saying that this is critical information, it may be less obvious about to use the information to get back on track. One example is to bridge with something like this: “I’m mindful that we all share a passion for education and the opportunity it brings to students to change their lives. This common belief is what brought us together today.”

At this point you can drop in a quick anecdote related to one of your key take away points.

There are a number of student stories that I can tell by heart — and I can tell them either in depth or with brevity. If the projector bulb has died, I’m likely in a situation where I’ll have to conclude without getting my multimedia presentation back at all. This will necessitate a longer ad lib. If I’ve lost my place, sharing a short anecdote from memory should give me enough time to overcome my senior moment.

So, if I’m talking to a service group who shares an interest in helping those in need, I might share Selina’s story like this:

“This seems like the perfect time for me to tell you about Selina Jaimes Davila, who has experienced booth food and housing insecurity during her studies.” The amount of detail I share would depend on if I am changing course or simply getting back onto my original path.

A variant of this is telling the story of someone in the audience or simply pausing to acknowledge or thank them. Like this:

“While I’m thinking about how invaluable community support is to the success of our students, I really want to pause and thank Walter. I don’t know if everyone here knows that he’s an alumnus of the college, but I’m certain we’re all aware of his generosity. Walt, for your decades of service on our Foundation board: thank you!”

Exiting a story is a graceful time for a reset and, in most cases, this is audiences will be forgiving if you need to shuffle notecards or turn pages at that juncture of a presentation.

The next time you’re asked to present, try adding your ad lib anecdote into your preparation routine. It’s easy to tell these types of stories as an aside while PowerPoint restarts or even an escape route that provides a strong finish if you’re never quite able to recover your words.

Don’t Want to Thank People; Thank Them

My wife took a pretty bad spill the other day while walking the dog. Thankfully, her doctors, nurses, and surgeon were better than Humpty Dumpty’s and she’s on the mend. But this blog isn’t about her, her broken wrist, or life with a partner who’s out of commission. It’s about wanting to thank our neighbor who helped her out after she had fallen and couldn’t get up.

More specifically, it’s about actually thanking our neighbor.

Dan (that’s our neighbor) called the paramedics, called me, and — I’m pretty sure — was late for work as a result of tending to my fallen spouse. I suspect that presented with the same circumstances he’d do the same again. But, it’s nice to know that people still go out of their way to help others.

As I finished the dog’s walk that morning before leaving to meet my wife at the hospital, I passed Dan’s house and I began mentally composing a thank you card.

“Dan,
Karen and I want to thank you …”

I stopped this line of thought and scolded myself: “Don’t want to thank Dan; thank Dan.”

Wanting to thank Dan is the type of passive writing that weakens our ability to communicate with each other. I tend to do it most frequently when I’m rushing and on autopilot. Frankly, it happens more than I care to admit (and I’m certain more than I notice) in casual work correspondence.

The real problem is that it introduces an unintended air of insincerity to what is meant as genuine gratitude.

While sitting at at the hospital with my wife, I re-composed the thank you card to Dan.

Dan,
Karen and I deeply appreciate your help and expertise this morning …

The change in language made my sentiments heartfelt and the expression of appreciation concrete. By using active language, I communicated to Dan precisely what I was thankful for:

  1. His assistance;
  2. His expertise; and
  3. The sacrifice he made by arriving to work later than intended.

Even if most readers can’t identify the difference between the passive card and the active one, they will experience the difference in the way they feel about the sincere expression you’ve shared with them.

To quote the great writer Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Spin Zone: Join Me in JOUR 140 — Public Relations at Cypress College

I am scheduled to teach JOUR 140 — Public Relations at Cypress College this fall. A few more students will put us over the top, so now is a GREAT time to enroll.

Since it’s an evening class, it should be ideal for a small-business owner. We will conduct project-based assignments, so they’ll be directly applicable.

Here is some detail about the course and what we’ll cover:

JOUR 140 C – Public Relations
Cypress College – Fall 2018
CRN: 14174

Wednesday, 7-10:05 p.m.

Students will study and practice the techniques and responsibilities of industrial, governmental, and civic public relations, with special attention to publicity writing and public relations campaign development.

Date Lecture/In-Class
Week 1

Aug. 22, 2018

 

Brand Image — The big picture of Public Relations (the umbrella of integrated communication management)
Week 2

Aug. 29, 2018

 

Communication Management — Roles and Functions
Week 3

Sept. 5, 2018

Media: Thinking Like a Reporter (5Ws & the H; deadlines; news cycle; news outlets)
Week 4

Sept. 12, 2018

Public Opinion and Damage Control
Week 5

Sept. 19, 2018

History, Theory, Persuasion
Week 6

Sept. 26, 2018

Publics I: Stakeholders; Internal vs. External Communication; Employee Communication
Week 7

Oct. 3, 2018

Publics II: Community Relations and Public Affairs
Week 8

Oct. 10, 2018

Publics III: Consumers & Marketing
Week 9

Oct. 17, 2018

Midterm
Week 10

Oct. 24, 2018

RACE: Research; Action Planning; Communication; Evaluation
Week 11

Oct. 31, 2018

Storytelling
Week 12

Nov. 7, 2018

Earned Media and Own Media
 

Week 13

Nov. 14, 2018

 

Social and New Media

Week 14

Nov. 21, 2018

Law and Ethics
Week 15

Nov. 28, 2018

Putting it All Together: Integrated Communications; Clients; Career Opportunities
Week 16

Dec. 5, 2018

Final exam

 

Don’t Shoot or Stab or Bludgeon the Messenger

I will not die in this spot.

I’m sitting at my desk at a Southern California community college. It’s the best in the nation, at least from my biased perspective. But it could be any college. Or a church. Or a movie theater. Or a high school. Or an elementary school. Or a supermarket parking lot. It could be the university where I’m enrolled or a similar campus across the country.

Published: Dec 8, 2016 | Buy the Way… Insights on Integrated Marketing Communication From the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

In the wake of deadly events at Ohio State and USC, which book-ended the week of November 28, 2016, I decided to edit and share this piece I wrote about a year earlier. It was authored primarily as my work observed a national moment of silence for the shooting victims at Umpqua Community College.

Continue reading “Don’t Shoot or Stab or Bludgeon the Messenger”

Commencement take away: ‘The knowledge that we could do it’

I’m honored to have been selected to give the undergraduate student commencement address last weekend and excited that my alma mater included it on their news site.

May 28, 2015 | 1 Comment

Marc S. Posner offered the following address at the Southern Commencement held Sunday, May 24. Potential student commencement speakers were nominated by academic advisors, faculty members and campus directors and chosen after submitting speeches to a selection committee.

Here is the text:

Thank you, Chancellor Brahm — I’m excited to share my gratitude to the Brandman faculty and staff in person.

Guests: we are here today on the shoulders of the support you’ve provided throughout our journey.

And, fellow classmates: can you believe this moment has finally arrived? Continue reading “Commencement take away: ‘The knowledge that we could do it’”

Finally! Reflecting on Graduation and its Significance

What an amazing weekend. Thank you to everyone who encouraged me along the way. When I enrolled at Brandman, I experienced what a lot of my students go through: doubt. I wasn’t sure I could earn a bachelor’s degree.

It took a lot of work, and an even-greater amount of discipline.

Thank you to my family and friends who were there at commencement, including my sister who flew in and surprised me. Thank you to those who posted congratulations and added likes on Facebook. And, of course, thank you to the wonderful faculty and staff at Brandman University. Continue reading “Finally! Reflecting on Graduation and its Significance”

What an Amazing Surprise Award

I’m deeply touched to be recognized by the Chancellor, my President, and Chancellor’s Staff with the NOCCCD “Above and Beyond” award for volunteer work on the Measure J campaign. This was a complete surprise and was made more special because behind the scenes people conspired to get my family to the board meeting where the presentation took place.

Thank you to Interim Chancellor Fred Williams, Dr. Bob Simpson, Kai Stearns Moore, Greg Schulz, and the rest of Chancellor’s Staff for creating this award and for making me a recipient. I also appreciate everyone else who helped pull off the surprise (Raul Alvarez, Phil, Tracy, etc.). Continue reading “What an Amazing Surprise Award”