How to Pull a Bad Interview out of the Fire

 If you sense a job or media interview is going up in flames, use this trick to refocus the conversation in your favor.

If you sense a job or media interview is going up in flames, use this trick to refocus the conversation in your favor.

Ever had a job interview, media interview or even a key meeting that seemed to go south before it started? Or perhaps strayed off topic mid-way and never got back on track?

Whether it’s a radio interview that dwells on what your new product CAN’T do, or a job interview that focuses too much on your shortcomings, you can still pull it out of the fire with one simple trick.

Just as things are about to wrap say, “If I may, I’d like to add one more thing…”

Then deliver a simple summary statement that succinctly states the point or points you need to make.

By being direct and concise, you’ll recapture the focus of the person on the other end of the phone or across the table. In fact, in most cases, he or she will even write down your key points and—even better—remember them.

This tactic is so effective, I recommend clients write out a summary statement in advance of their interview or meeting, just to be sure they take advantage of this strategy by the end of the conversation.

Here are some examples of how to put this simple trick to work.

To refocus a job interview:

“We’ve talked a lot about my work history, but if I may add one more thing, I’d like to summarize what I think makes me a strong candidate: I have more than two years experience selling ball point pens. I’ve also worked as a purchaser of office supplies. And my other work history, though varied, all shows I’m a fast learner.”

To save a sinking media interview:

“If I may take just one more moment, I‘d like to summarize why our Teeny Tiny Hearing Aid will be successful in today’s market: One, more people than ever are entering their senior years. Two, for today’s seniors, staying vital and connected is a priority. And three, today’s younger people see hearing aids as helpful technology, not something that will stigmatize them.”

And suddenly, you’re back on track.

By the way, this tactic doesn’t only work well for interviews gone BAD. For strong interviews too, a summary statement can be the bow around the package, tying up a great conversation and making it all the easier for your audience to understand your message and more importantly, repeat it.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Next Time, Try Skipping the Agenda

If you begin every presentation with an agenda, here is a quick and helpful hint to make your next presentation instantly better:

Stop doing that!

Sure, your high school speech teacher hammered home that foolproof formula: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; Tell ‘em; Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” But today’s audiences expect something different----or at the very least a modern riff on that familiar refrain.

When an executive stands to deliver a presentation, then pauses to “review the agenda,” he or she risks slamming on the brakes before things even get rolling. In many cases, the executive senses the audience’s boredom and starts adlibbing details about each agenda point, dragging out the painful opening and stealing the thunder of the actual presentation.

Yes, your audience wants and deserves some assurance that you’re going to cover the points they want to hear. But perhaps a better plan is to craft a great open that leaves no doubt your presentation will be both interesting and relevant. Consider scrapping the agenda altogether and diverting the extra time and effort to a compelling open, persuasive key points and a provocative close.

Of course, if you’re part of an organization that requires presentations begin with an agenda (and don’t assume that because everyone else does it, it’s a requirement), you may have to go along with the program. Still, there are a few ways to comply with company policy without sabotaging your show.

1. Let a paper agenda suffice: Distribute a printed agenda ahead of time so audience members can peruse it before you take the stage. They’ll know what to expect, but you won’t waste precious moments (or their attention span) going over rote details.

2. Give a quick verbal agenda, rather than a visual one. Skip the agenda slide and instead quickly run through your game plan verbally, before launching into your carefully planned open.

3. Outboard the agenda. If your organization absolutely insists that you begin with an agenda slide, treat it as its own entity. Keep it as short as possible. Then stop. Give your audience a signal that the REAL presentation is about to begin by taking a long pause, changing your floor position, flashing a blank slide, telling an interesting story --- or all of the above.

The best way to captivate audiences is to convince them early on they’re about to hear something they’ve never heard before. Do that, and they won’t be wondering about what you’re going to cover. They’ll just be looking forward to it.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog posts at “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

The One Question Every Presenter Should Ask

Clients often ask us to review major presentations at the eleventh hour, hoping we can make the tweaks that will take their material from good to great. In the best cases, our job is to put icing on the cake and who doesn't love to do that? 

But sometimes, the cake isn't ready for icing. In fact, in some cases, everyone is still scrambling around, trying to find the ingredients.

Often those frantic, final meetings are spent searching for photos, fretting over font sizes, adjusting bullets and reordering slides ad nauseum.

While we applaud efforts to continually edit and refine (there's always room for improvement), too often those last-minute efforts are misguided. In fact, the weeks of planning and preparation beforehand are often misguided too. That's because while the team was wrangling over minutia, they forgot to ask the most important question of all: "What's the goal?"

When we ask---and answer---that simple question at the outset, something magical happens: All the other details somehow just fall into place.

The introduction is suddenly obvious.

The slides all point to a singular argument.

Relevant stories, examples and analogies naturally work themselves into the script.

And the closing statement practically writes itself.

All because at the outset, someone asked---and answered---that critical question: "What's the goal?"

Try writing that on a sticky note and posting it to your computer screen. Or if you're working as a team, consider taping it to the conference room wall. You'll be surprised at how much perfunctory content you can suddenly scrap, making way for fresh ideas that are far more impactful.

For example, if the goal is to justify the purchase of new software to the Board, instead of beginning with the technical specs, perhaps you opt to start with the story of how outdated technology almost cost a key account.

If your goal is to attract new talent, rather than bullet-pointing the company's attributes, maybe you begin with a full-screen picture of your latest, cool company outing.

If your goal is to sign a new customer, instead of talking endlessly about your company history, perhaps you share three case studies, demonstrating how you've solved problems similar to theirs for customers in the past.

These are bold strategic moves that can dramatically improve a presentation and its impact. But to attempt them, or even conceive of them, presenters must first have laser sharp focus on their goal.

The next time you're tasked with creating a presentation, pause a few moments before launching into your normal drill. Don't rush to open a new PowerPoint file---or (gasp!) repurpose an old one. Instead, simply take a breath and ask the one question every presenter must ask "What's the goal?"

You---and your audience---will be happily surprised by the result.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

 

 

Really, No Questions?

 If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

You had them on the edge of their seats the whole talk. They nodded at your insights and laughed at your jokes. But suddenly, when you announce you’ll take questions...crickets.


What seemed to be a soaring success suddenly feels more like a flop. Though it’s hard not to feel the audience is using its silence to give you the hook, don’t dash off just yet. The final moments of your talk are a big part of the impression you’ll leave. Here are some tips for avoiding an awkward silence when no one asks a question:

Give them time to prepare. Often the switch from speech to Q and A is a bit abrupt. You may be such an engaging speaker that no one is even thinking about questions yet. Just before your conclusion, consider offering a remark such as “I’m going to take some questions in a moment, but first I want to tell you one more quick story.”

Have a plant in the audience who can kick things off.  Before you get started, ask a friend or even your host to jump in if no one else volunteers a question at the end of your talk. Often audience members just need someone else to break the ice and they’ll come around with their own questions.

Ask yourself a question. This tactic is especially useful for CEOs or other leaders speaking at town hall meetings where employees may be reluctant to stick their necks out. Simply fill the awkward silence with something like “One question some of you might be asking is ‘Will the company continue to match our 401k contributions?’” or “Something I usually get asked is ‘What kind of feedback have you had from customers?’” It might give someone else the courage to jump in. At the very least it helps you fill the emptiness.

Offer one final comment, then concede the stage. If you’ve tried the above and the audience STILL doesn't jump in, offer one final insight. This should be a brief comment you’ve saved just for the end to tie up your talk, show you’re not rattled, and leave on a positive note. Then do leave the stage. But later follow up with audience members or your host about the lack of questions. Perhaps an overheated room or the alluring scent of lunch arriving next door made the audience impatient. Or perhaps you weren’t as engaging as you thought. Regardless, that’s one question worth asking---and having answered.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

The Wingman: Your Secret Weapon for Speaking Success

 Just as one pilot supports another during a dangerous mission, your Wingman can protect you from distractions.

Just as one pilot supports another during a dangerous mission, your Wingman can protect you from distractions.

Strong speakers know an important element of a great speech or presentation is focus. Speakers who can block out distractions and zero in on the audience are more likely to be engaging, interesting and effective.

And yet, more often than not it seems there’s a concerted campaign underway to distract the speaker from the moment he or she arrives at the venue. The host wants to clarify something about the introduction. A guest is clamoring to point out a mutual acquaintance. The AV tech has questions about technical needs. On top of it all, there are legitimate business leads that deserve attention.

How can a speaker possibly concentrate and make final preparations when there are so many other demands for attention?

Enter the Wingman.

No matter the size, formality or venue of an event, if it’s a performance that matters, the Wingman is the answer.

A Wingman can be male or female. Your Wingman might be a colleague, might be an intern, or in some cases, might even be your boss. But in this role, the Wingman’s number one job is to manage logistics, shield you from distractions and do whatever it takes to make you look good.

Think you’re better off flying solo? Consider these ways the Wingman can help:

Before your talk: The Wingman can help you get to the location on time and looking your best, set up and run your technology, run interference with clingy members of the audience, and work the room for leads while you focus on your impending remarks.

During your talk: The Wingman can take photos of you speaking, solve unexpected technical problems (or enlist someone who can), quash distractions like a vacuum in the hallway, and if necessary get the ball rolling with Q and A.

After your talk: The Wingman can help you engage important leads, shield you from less important contacts, and pack up your materials while you’re basking in the glory of a great speech. Maybe most importantly, the Wingman can later can provide you with feedback so you can be even more effective next time.

How you use your Wingman is up to you. The only requirement of the job is that he or she can put you at ease and help you look great when it’s your turn to shine.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

How to Nail the “Morning After” Call

 A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

It’s always nice to follow up with a reporter after a story runs or airs, especially if you’ve established a rapport and want to keep it going. But those “morning after” calls can be tricky and if you’re not careful, unravel a lot of good will.

A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

In newsrooms where I’ve worked, reporters welcomed calls from sources saying thank you and offering feedback on the story. Often those calls helped fortify the reporter-source relationship. But once in a while they had the opposite effect, making the reporter think twice about trusting the caller as a future source or worse, prompting negative coverage the next time around.

Here are some tips to on how not to blow the morning after call.

Don’t complain about the tone of the story without specifics: If you do, you’ll annoy the reporter, gain nothing and be written off as a whiner.

Instead, bring up any actual errors or significant imbalance. Be clear about whether you think the issue needs correcting now or simply for future stories. And be sure it’s significant enough to even mention. As much as reporters pride themselves on accuracy, they don’t appreciate nitpicking.

Don’t thank them for making your side look great. Reporters strive for accuracy. If you caught a break and came off better than deserved, don’t gush. The last thing you want is for the reporter to second guess the charitable portrayal or worse, overcompensate by burying you the next time.

Instead, thank the reporter for a FAIR story. “Fair” may seem like lukewarm praise to you, but fairness is the Holy Grail to journalists.

Don’t forget that you are talking to a reporter. Just because one story ran, doesn’t mean another one isn’t already or couldn’t soon be in the works. Don’t use bad language, badmouth someone or confess to anything you’ll later regret.

Instead, be professional.  And know that everything you say is still on the record.

Don’t ask for anything. Most reporters are extremely busy. If you want to stay in their good graces, avoid asking for copies, reprints, raw tape, or anything else that requires administrative legwork that someone else can better provide.

Instead, give something. No, don’t send an actual gift. But you can offer something of value: their next story. Pony up a fresh and worthwhile story idea or provide a heads up on something coming down the pike and you’ll lay the foundation for a beautiful relationship going forward.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Why You didn't Get Quoted

 Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

A few months ago I met with an executive from a large bank who was frustrated that his boss’ repeated media interviews almost always had the same disappointing outcome.

“Is he wandering off message?” I asked. “Giving up company secrets?”

No, my pal responded. The problem was, he rarely made the story at all.

Ah. Unquotable Executive Syndrome.  It’s a widespread malady, usually afflicting higher level executives.

Unquotable Executive Syndrome is the result of a failure to articulate messages in a way that resonates with the reporter and in turn the reporter’s audience.  There are three specific mistakes executives make that almost guarantee they’ll be cut from the story. Here they are, along with some corrective measures to prevent Unquotable Executive Syndrome in the first place.

Mistake #1: Talking too much. Ironically, the more anxious an executive is about an interview, the more likely he or she is to blather on once it starts. Sometimes the reporter only gets in one question before the exec launches into a filibuster, running out the clock. By filling the silence, interview subjects might feel they’re in control. But if the reporter doesn’t get what he or she needs, everyone’s time is wasted.

Remember the interview is a conversation, not a monologue. Responses should be complete, but not exhaustive. Shoot for 30 seconds for a video response, 45 seconds for radio and 60 for print. Live audience answers should be about 60 to 90 seconds. And all responses should always include a message.

Mistake #2: Not answering questions. The premise of any interview is that one person asks questions and the other answers, or at least addresses them, even if they’re not pleasant.

While it’s acceptable (actually imperative) to bridge or transition from an answer to a message, it’s not OK to ignore the questions and spew message after message with disregard for the interviewer. Interview subjects who do will at best be cut from the story. At worst, they’ll find their entire evasive interview uploaded to YouTube for public ridicule.

Mistake #3: Being boring. By far this is the most pervasive cause of Unquotable Executive Syndrome. It’s typically observed in executives who are so afraid of straying from their messages that they come off like robots programmed only to recite industry jargon and clichés.

Reporters need sources who bring to life the key points of stories with interesting, memorable language. They don’t want forgettable rehashes of predictable positions. Of course, “getting real” on the fly is more than a little dangerous. The best course is to prepare ahead of time with three or four messages and a number of “message enhancers” for each. Message enhancers include colorful language, short stories, personal examples, quippy one-liners, meaningful stats, contemporary references or pithy analogies.

Executives who load their interviews with interesting message enhancers will almost certainly guarantee a spot in the story—and likely more stories in the future. Even better, they’ll be quoted on message and in ways that resonate with the reporter’s audience. And after all, isn’t that the whole reason for investing time and money in the interview in the first place?

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.