managing issues

Spotting and Calling Out Big Piles of BS

Misinformation abounds and now there is a class and a Twitter feed aimed at combatting all-pervasive bullshit based on misleading statistics and data.

Misinformation abounds and now there is a class and a Twitter feed aimed at combatting all-pervasive bullshit based on misleading statistics and data.

Misinformation is everywhere. Wary citizens aren’t sure how to combat the misinformation surrounding them. Now there is a class for that.

University of Washington professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West have created a course titled “Calling Bullshit” that is designed to identify and call out misinformation “cloaked in data and figures.” For those unable to enroll in college, you can check out @Callin_bull account on Twitter, where you can find videos of course lectures and examples of revealed bullshit.

The core idea Bergstrom and West are pushing is critical thinking, which seems as rare at times as misinformation is abundant. They offer clues for non-mathematicians on how to detect fraudulent and misleading “information,” such as checking sources, looking for logical coherence and testing statistical relevance. The same techniques that require careful scrutiny apply to detecting fake videos.

Their college course has snagged the attention of at least 70 universities that have asked to borrow course materials. Bergstrom, who is a computational biologist, and West, a former graduate student of Bergstrom’s, are working on a public version of the course. “We wanted to show our students that you don’t need a master’s degree in statistics or computer science to call bullshit,” Bergstrom told The Washington Post.

Misinformation can tarnish reputations, slant arguments and influence public opinion. Public affairs professionals need to go to school to learn how to spot, call out and combat BS.

Misinformation can tarnish reputations, slant arguments and influence public opinion. Public affairs professionals need to go to school to learn how to spot, call out and combat BS.

Research indicates the group most likely to be fooled by and share fake news are older adults over 65 who align as political conservatives. 

Bergstrom and West honed their skills of spotting misinformation by reading professional papers and sniffing out statistical flaws and illogic. They realized misinformation – especially when propelled by social media echo chambers, created with artificial intelligence and carried on websites dedicated to conspiracy theories – is a far larger problem. Careless academic research is one thing; intentional efforts to mislead to sell products, push a political candidate or defame someone by deception is quite another.

They aren’t the first crusaders against bullshit, noted Post science writer Ben Guarino. “Journalist Darrell Huff wrote ‘How to Lie With Statistics in 1954. Astronomer Carl Sagan published “The Demon-Haunted World” in 1995, in which he offered to readers a ‘baloney detection kit.’”

In his story, Guarino includes a practical example of how an anti-BS examination works and the results it can produce. A Bates College student challenged claims that Lewiston, Maine’s second largest city with a high percentage of Somali refugees, was “dangerous.”

Using crime statistics provided by Lewiston police, the student generated graphs showing that Lewiston’s crime rate between 1985 and 2017 had actually declined. More than 20 other cities in Maine, she showed, had higher crime rates.

Her findings, which she printed on fliers that were distributed, surprised many in Lewiston, a town that saw its mayor resign after his racists text messages were leaked. Local police asked for a copy of the flier, recognizing a lower crime rate was an unacknowledged compliment for their work.

West called it a “thoughtful correction,” but also an instructive guide on how to combat misinformation, whether intentional, inadvertent, malicious or simply sloppy.

 

 

Advice for Conveying Good or Bad News to Employees

Organizational change can be disorienting and disruptive. Announcing change to employees is the job of the CEO who can put the change into context, align it with organizational vision, point to a constructive way forward and provide a human touch. The key is treating employees with respect as the greatest asset of the company.

Organizational change can be disorienting and disruptive. Announcing change to employees is the job of the CEO who can put the change into context, align it with organizational vision, point to a constructive way forward and provide a human touch. The key is treating employees with respect as the greatest asset of the company.

Announcing internal change, especially if it involves layoffs, can be a nerve-wracking communication challenge. It is so nerve-wracking, in fact, that many faint-hearted CEOs are conveniently absent, delegating the unpleasant chore to underlings.

As a general rule, bad news should be the business of the CEO. Only he or she can put the bad news into some understandable context, align it with the organization’s vision for the future and point to a constructive way forward. 

The constructive way forward isn’t just for the employees who will lose their jobs; it’s also for the employees who will remain. How well that pathway is laid out will influence the morale of the continuing workforce.

Layoffs aren’t the only internal communication challenge. Any kind of change – from a modified health insurance plan to a new owner – can create anxiety among employees. The change doesn’t have to be galactic – for example, removing soft drinks from the lunch room vending machine – to generate an employee reaction. 

Executives who carefully render financial, operational, sales and logistical plans too often treat internal communications in a slapdash fashion, with little forethought and haphazard execution. Sometimes “planning” boils down to assigning someone other than the CEO to be the hapless messenger. Flak jackets aren’t provided for the fall guys and gals. 

This is a huge oversight considering employees can be the most influential ambassadors for a company, nonprofit, public agency or brand. If you think of employees as strategic partners, which they are, you should conclude they deserve thoughtful, plainspoken and truthful communications, whether it is good news or bad news.

Elizabeth Baskin, an internal communications specialist writing for ragan.com, offers useful suggestions of how to think strategically about internal communications. That begins, she says, with giving employees more than a superficial whitewash of what’s occurring.

Baskin believes internal communications should pivot on organizational vision, starting with making sure employees know what the vision is. “That vision can help anchor employees in times of change and reassure them that the change is part of a larger strategic plan,” she says. 

Any kind of change can cause jitters, so relating changes – big or small, bad or good – to an organizational vision can be stabilizing. Employees can see the change in the context of a bigger picture. It may not make a pink slip any easier to swallow, but it can give an employee a sense of why the pink slip was necessary. For employees who will bear a heavier workload, it can be reassuring. 

When the news is bad, internal communications needs an empathetic tone and personal. Think of it as talking to members of the business family. “Don’t sugarcoat it nor spin it nor put off communicating the news,” Baskin advises. “National research indicates that employees want to know as soon as possible – especially if it’s bad news.”

It is naïve to expect bad news can be contained. Expect the opposite – that the details of the bad news will be shared on email and social media even as you are sharing it with employees. Don’t get outraged; be prepared to answer media inquiries.

Communicating change to organizations with far-flung operations and multiple offices is especially challenging. Teleconferencing provides an avenue for the CEO to deliver the news to everyone at the same time. It’s worth solving whatever logistical challenges may exist to pull this off successfully.

Baskin’s final piece of advice is to humanize your messages, whether good or bad. “Communicating the nuts and bolts of the change is important, but we must also link it to human outcomes.”

Change is disorienting. CEOs usually have to approve it. They also should be the ones who share the news of it to employees. If they believe employees are their organization’s greatest assets, they should treat them like great assets.

 

The Chemistry of Turning Failure into Success

Failure isn’t the opposite of success. Failure is often the guiding light to success, including in public affairs. There rarely is a straight path from A to B. There are often ditches, detours and dead-ends. It takes self-confidence to weather failure and reach success.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success. Failure is often the guiding light to success, including in public affairs. There rarely is a straight path from A to B. There are often ditches, detours and dead-ends. It takes self-confidence to weather failure and reach success.

Failure doesn’t make someone a loser, but history shows failure can lead to success. Exactly what is the chemistry that converts an ounce of failure into a pound of success?

The scientific method regards failed experiments as useful because they eliminate one path and invite pursuit of alternatives. Failure is less a roadblock than a detour sign. Thomas Edison summed it up, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Some failures produce unexpected success, such as the discovery of an unintended use of a substance or process. Some of the most gainful inventions were actually accidental successes. Google Post-It notes for a good example.

The attitude of people toward failure can be a huge factor. Some see failure as the end. Others view failure as the beginning. Or, as Winston Churchill noted, “success is stumbling from failure to failure.”

Stumbling from failure to failure isn’t exactly an inviting prospect, especially in a field such as public affairs. Clients expect public affairs professionals to “fix” their public issues, not fumble them. 

A large part of the chemistry to turn failure into success is mental attitude, including the self-confidence to accept failure as merely a detour on the road to success.

A large part of the chemistry to turn failure into success is mental attitude, including the self-confidence to accept failure as merely a detour on the road to success.

Failing to fix a client’s problem can be humiliating and demoralizing for public affairs professionals, who pitch clients on the prospect of victory, not consolation prizes. Good public affairs professionals win more than they lose, but everyone loses sometimes.

The image of a public affairs professional as a “fixer” isn’t useful – or usually accurate. Yes, public affairs professionals, if they are worth their fee, have relevant experience, good contacts and a huge dose of savvy. If they really know what they are doing, they will focus their attention on what they don’t know before spinning out a strategy.

In this sense, the discipline of public affairs is a lot like a scientific experiment. You need to test your hypothesis and let the results guide your actions. Testing the waters might take the form of talking with trusted sources, closely reading media coverage, consulting with legal experts or conducting research, often via one-on-one interviews. 

A client may have a clear understanding of his or her public problem. The public affairs professional’s responsibility is to develop a clear direction to address that problem. The solutions to most public affairs challenges aren’t as simple as stepping from A to B. The chance for strategic missteps or detours is high. Failure at one turn can’t be construed as total disaster. Sometimes a failure is the light post to the pathway to success.

That suggests the chemistry for converting failure to success depends a lot on mental attitude – curiosity instead of bravado, flexibility instead of rigidity, honesty instead of spin, self-confidence instead of over-confidence. The right chemistry also requires an underlying optimism that success is achievable and the resiliency to keep searching for the road to success amid failure. Albert Einstein’s well-known words are apt, “You never fail until you stop trying.”

Success for a public affairs professional is seldom a hero’s walk. More often, success involves deep questioning, a realistic objective, a strategic plan and thoughtful execution of that plan – with eyes wide open for ditches, dead-ends and detours that require a modified route. Patience is a virtue. 

The chemistry of success boils down to self-confidence in finding a way that works, regardless of how many twists and turns it might take.  Getting to success doesn’t have to be smooth, simple or pretty. You just have to keep trying to get there.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Choose Your Idioms Carefully to Avoid Audience Confusion

Idioms can be great verbal short-cuts, communicating a lot with a few words. They also can confuse or distract an audience unfamiliar with pithy phrases that originated in the past when telephones had hooks, cars had cranks and only opium users had pipe dreams.

Idioms can be great verbal short-cuts, communicating a lot with a few words. They also can confuse or distract an audience unfamiliar with pithy phrases that originated in the past when telephones had hooks, cars had cranks and only opium users had pipe dreams.

Idioms can be an effective way to communicate a thought in a few pithy words. They also can be puzzlers that baffle some members of your audience, especially younger people.

Many colorful idioms remain familiar in our everyday lexicon, even though their origins have been forgotten or blurred. Most contemporary Americans understand the meaning of idiomatic phrases such as “easy as a piece of cake,” “it’s not rocket science” and “shoot the breeze.” Only a few would know – or could guess – how the phrases came about.

“Piece of cake” as something sublime and easy can be traced to an Ogden Nash poem; “rocket science” gained credence as the United States put a turbo-charge into its space program; and “shoot the breeze” dates back to the 19thCentury when “breeze” was slang for rumor. Shooting the breeze these days means casual conversation.

The source of idioms may not matter as long as the current meaning isn’t too far astray of the original meaning. We talk about “twisting someone’s arm,” but really don’t mean actually twisting their arm, even though that’s likely how the phrase arose. What we mean to convey is a gentler form of persuasion. 

Stabbing someone in the back” strikes a strong note of betrayal, not a death stroke.

“Raining cats and dogs” is on its face a meaningless phrase, which we can have come to associate with a drenching rainfall. The phrase may actually be a perversion of the Old English word “catadupe,” which meant waterfall. The Old English word may have been a knock-off of the Greek expression “cata doxa,” which translates as something hard to believe.

“Pipe dream” to modern ears translates as an improbable aspiration, not like the original mean of the hallucinations of people in opium dens.

Technology has wrecked a lot of expressions, though some of them hang on in common use. Back in the day, we literally “hung up” phones and “dialed” phone numbers. With smart phones, we can hang up and dial with our voices. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of idioms and colloquialisms, which are matched by a seemingly equal number of books about different kinds of idioms. Google “idioms” and see for yourself.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of idioms and colloquialisms, which are matched by a seemingly equal number of books about different kinds of idioms. Google “idioms” and see for yourself.

When someone is sick, we often say they are “under the weather.” We’ve lost track of the phrase’s seafaring origin when the number of sick crewmen exceed the number of sick bays, forcing some ailing sailors to suffer out in the cold, rain or sun. We still refer to “rolling down” the windows in a car even though we push a button instead of turn a crank.

“My neck of the woods” can be another puzzling idiom, in part because we think of necks as something to hold up our heads, not a small stretch of wood or marshy areas. “Thick as thieves” conveys to contemporary ears something vaguely collaborative, not the 18th Century meaning of “thick” that meant aligned in a conspiracy with criminals. 

The word “sucker” is part of a number of idiomatic phrases. The notion of gullibility fits with “a sucker born every minute,” but is slightly off key with the phrase “sucker punch” that is delivered to someone who isn’t looking or deserving of a blow.

That should be enough examples to make speakers wary of relying too heavily on idioms. They should be even more leery of using colloquialisms that hail from discrete regions.  Such as “table tapper” (amateur preacher, North Carolina); “slicky slide” (playground slide, West Virginia); “sewing needle” (dragonfly, Michigan); “spiedie” (marinated meat sandwich, New York); and “dope” (dessert topping, Ohio).

In CFM’s media training, we encourage speakers and presenters to paint vivid and familiar word pictures to connect and resonate with audiences. Visual storytelling in the form of familiarity is a tried-and-true way to imprint your message on your audience. Idioms can play a role, but make sure it is positive role that builds understanding, not confusion.

The English language is a marvelous treasure trove of words and phrases. However, many people aren’t students of language and range from befuddlement to anger when confronted with language they don’t understand or perceive as elitist. Your language, especially swollen in idiomatic expression, can infuriate audiences and make you seem out of touch or unempathetic. That doesn’t advance the object of your speech or presentation. 

The best advice you can get is to choose your words advisedly and wisely. Idioms can be a powerful ally as well as a puckish companion. If you want to use an idiom, study it carefully and understand the facets of meaning it can convey. Weigh the risks versus the rewards. Know your audience and put yourself in their seats. The goal of a speech or presentation should be too important to sacrifice at the altar of clumsily selected words and phrases. Indifferently employing an idiom isn’t worth alienating the rapport with your audience.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The Deep Web, Social Media and Malicious Misinformation

We only see a fraction of the internet. Hidden in the Deep Web are provocateurs and misery merchants that can disrupt a campaign with false information or punish a brand with weaponized memes.

We only see a fraction of the internet. Hidden in the Deep Web are provocateurs and misery merchants that can disrupt a campaign with false information or punish a brand with weaponized memes.

The underbelly of the internet is a puzzling and poisonous place, where illicit drugs are sold and malicious misinformation is peddled. Fake news and incendiary memes launched from the deep web can bedevil consumer brands as easily as political campaigns.

Traditional communication responses to social media laced with lies is a lot bringing a fingernail clipper to a knife fight. New techniques are needed to fight back.

Richard Edelman, CEO of his eponymous PR firm, wrote a recent blog titled, “Understanding the Deep Web.” In it he advised, “In the battle for truth, a company must make its voice heard as quickly as it can. It’s a necessity to get out in front of a situation rather than play from behind.”

However, even a quick response may not be an adequate defense. In his blog, Edelman shares observations about fake news from Sharb Farjami, CEO of Storyful, which bills itself as a “social media intelligence agency.”

Storyful’s website offers an apocalyptic vision of contemporary social media: 

“Social media is not what it was eight years ago. The landscape is more complex and volatile, the stakes are higher, and the needs of business and media increasingly diverse. The weaponization of bots and misinformation, the impact of disinformation on elections and businesses, the threat eyewitnesses face when they capture and share current events –these are only a few of the features of the modern social landscape.”

We can argue over how things got this bad, but it is more productive to consider how to cope in this treacherous environment. Here are some of Farjami’s suggestions, as shared by Edelman:

  • Fake news often reaches traditional media via “feeders” lurking in the Deep Web, including on “fringe networks such as Gab, 4Chan and 8Chan.” Farjami quotes Wired as noting there may be “480,000 alt-right provocateurs [just] on the Gab site.”

  • Online provocateurs like to newsjack high-profile events to use as conduits for misinformation or an excuse to bash a brand. Within 48 hours after Nike launched its campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, “racially charged memes” appeared on 4Chan and later gravitated to Facebook.

  • A favorite technique of Deep Web denizens is to make up controversies, such as falsely linking the 5G network to cancer and vaccines to birth defects.

Edelman says active brands aren’t able to avoid controversy involving political, social or cultural issues. They don’t need to step out into the conversation; the conversation can find them through the Deep Web.

While this may seem like a problem affecting only big brands, it isn’t. Much misinformation is transmitted in words, but the ability to show out-of-context or doctored video is quickly evolving. What people see in picture or video can quickly transmogrify into mischievous misinformation. With virtually everyone possessing a smartphone, the threat extends well beyond the Nikes and Starbucks of the world.

A new dimension of social media engagement may be social media intelligence gathering so you know when a tsunami from the Deep Web is headed your way and you still have some time to react.

 

Upstart Candidate Wins Upset Through Smart Branding

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored an upset victory in a New York congressional primary through effective personal branding that included a 2-minute video, retro posters and savvy social media.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored an upset victory in a New York congressional primary through effective personal branding that included a 2-minute video, retro posters and savvy social media.

Political campaigns can reveal emerging marketing trends as well as political issues. The lopsided upset victory by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over an entrenched Democratic incumbent in a New York congressional primary is a case in point.

The charismatic 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez used a 2-minute video, well-design retro posters and social media savvy to defeat an incumbent with more money, a political machine and presumably greater name familiarity.

The New York Times said Congressman Joe Crowley “fawned over his district’s diversity and pitched himself as an ally.” Ocasio-Cortez “pitched herself as a member of the community itself.”

A Crowley campaign staff member told the Times, “We had people running this like a 1998 City Council race, not a 2018 congressional primary.”

The upset of an incumbent from either political party sets off alarm bells. Some pointed to Ocasio-Cortez’s Puerto Rican background matching with a diverse district consisting of Queens and the Bronx. Others pointed to her progressive agenda (Ocasio-Cortez was an organizer in the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders). She rightfully dismissed both claims. She said she won, including in non-Hispanic parts of the district, because she ran a better campaign. Evidence supports her claim.

It would be fair to say Ocasio-Cortez positioned herself as a better fit with the district’s constituency. A self-described socialist, her progressive agenda included abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Medicare for All and federal job guarantees. The abolition of ICE resonated with a constituency that consists of 50 percent immigrants. The Medicare for All and federal job guarantees respond to growing political support for economic security measures. Whatever the specifics, what Ocasio-Cortez accomplished was fairly traditional in marketing terms – she created a sense of brand loyalty and convinced voters to buy what she was selling.

Ocasio-Cortez’ techniques are instructive in their simplicity. Her introductory video showed her as part of the community, with scenes of her riding the subway. Crowley posted a 3-minute video showing him driving a car. Her video received more than 500,000 views, compared to 90,000 for Crowley’s.

Strong personal branding in the form of a compelling photograph of the candidate with a key message added a political point of view to what are often superfluous campaign buttons.

Strong personal branding in the form of a compelling photograph of the candidate with a key message added a political point of view to what are often superfluous campaign buttons.

Crowley bombarded constituent mailboxes with printed mailers. Ocasio-Cortez communicated via social media.

Ocasio-Cortez called on voters to have the “courage to change.” Crowley asked to get re-elected.

The Washington Post devoted an entire story to Ocasio-Cortez’ campaign materials. The defining element of the posters and campaign buttons was a portrait of the candidate. Instead of awkwardly smiling and looking at the viewer, Ocasio-Cortez is shown looking sideways and slightly upward in a heroic pose.

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign used strategic design to create a strong, distinctive brand for the candidate, which drew on an earlier iconic poster that conveyed multiple messages about potential campaign success and affinity for working-class Americans.

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign used strategic design to create a strong, distinctive brand for the candidate, which drew on an earlier iconic poster that conveyed multiple messages about potential campaign success and affinity for working-class Americans.

“Like Rosie the Riveter in the iconic ‘We Can Do It’ poster, Ocasio-Cortez is dressed plainly but depicted heroically,” writes Nolen Strafs and Bruce Willen of Post Typography. This impression of an ordinary person being treated as a hero sends its own message and echoes the messages of the Ocasio-Cortez campaign.”

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign also employed a rare color and choice of typography in its political advertising. The yellow posters were a stark contrast to the usual combination of red, white and blue – and also subtly mirrored the yellow background in the Rosie the Riveter ad. Her posters featured a tilted italic typeface that Strafs and Willen said provided a “dynamic upward thrust” to her campaign materials.

Strafs and Willen pointed out Ocasio-Cortez’s use of a Spanish exclamation mark around her name made bilingual materials seem natural, not forced.

“The branding has personality and point of view, something absent from most political designs (and many politicians). It feels populist, pop and polished all at once,” the designers said. “Ocasio-Cortez is treated like the star on a movie poster, like she’s a character ready for action.”

In a surprising way, Ocasio-Cortez emulated the broad strokes of Donald Trump’s successful campaign techniques in the 2016 presidential campaign by creating a distinct and distinctive brand. Just as Trump dusted off a dozen GOP campaign competitors by being very different, she dislodged what many viewed as a Democratic political fixture in Washington, DC with the same pitch.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

How Instruction Manuals Can be Instructive

Instruction manuals have evolved into online documents, videos and infomercials, but the evolutionary process has underscored some basic communications principles, such as Kodak’s Brownie camera instructions on how to load the film – and to shoot great pictures

Instruction manuals have evolved into online documents, videos and infomercials, but the evolutionary process has underscored some basic communications principles, such as Kodak’s Brownie camera instructions on how to load the film – and to shoot great pictures

Instruction manuals are supposed to explain how something works or how to assemble something. The thought of an instruction manual induces dread in many people, but their evolution offers useful clues for today’s challenge of showing people what you mean.

Inventor James Watt paved the way for modern instruction manuals – and communications – by gluing simple, sequential instructions on his ingenious document copier. Simple, clear and accessible remains as byways to effective communications.

Inventor James Watt paved the way for modern instruction manuals – and communications – by gluing simple, sequential instructions on his ingenious document copier. Simple, clear and accessible remains as byways to effective communications.

According to Helene Schumacher, writing for the BBC, the first instruction manual was created by inventor James Watt, who advanced steam engine technology in the 1800s. Watt’s instruction “manual” was for his early, but effective document copier. His instructions were simple steps – take a sheet of paper with damp ink, put it on top of a blank sheet of paper, wrap it in a blanket and push it through the rollers. Watt glued the instructions to his copier.

Simple and easy to find – characteristics that still hold true for visual communications today.

Instruction manuals have proliferated in direct proportion to the number of new machines for industry and gadgets for households. Some are very technical and some are meant to make technical information easy to understand by non-technical people. Eventually, we evolved to instruction manuals explaining all the technology on our cars and how to assemble Swedish-made furniture.

People with some gray in their hair remember when instruction manuals were mostly all text. Often gobs and pages of text. Over time, instructions come as a set of sequential illustrations and, more recently, as videos. Even when there is text, it is written to be understood and not like a test question for an engineering student.

Printed instruction manuals have given way to online versions. Many instructions now follow Watt’s example of being integrated into a product so you can see them as you work.

Instead of being technical or procedural, instructions are often combined with recommendations for how to use a product. In her article, Schumacher cites the instructions that accompanied Kodak’s Brownie camera. It explained how to load film in the camera as well as hared tips on how to take a great picture.

You could view Kodak’s instruction as a form of branding. For years, Apple’s advertising for its Mac computers, iPhones and iPads have featured what you can do with their devices more than showcase their features. Interestingly, Apple doesn’t provide instruction manuals because it doesn’t want you fooling around with what it makes.

More complicated devices have led to more complicated instructions. However, product developers have taken steps to reduce the complications through design, which requires less complicated instructions.

Making instructions more user friendly is not just related to customer satisfaction; it also has become part of the consumer journey to buy products. People go online to check out a product before they purchase it.

Technology advances are influencing instruction manuals. Artificial intelligence and augmented reality are coming into use in ways that meld instruction with initial experience of a product. QR codes are being integrated with instruction manuals so you can quickly find the information you need without thumbing through pages or scrolling online.

Just about every instruction manual innovation mirrors communications best practices – simplified design, relevant information, visual explanations, online versatility, technologically savvy, customer friendly.

Who would have thought instruction manuals could reveal the qualities of effective communications.

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

Disciplined Repetition and Relentless Consistency

If you want to get your point across and remembered, don’t talk louder, apply disciplined repetition and relentless consistency to what you say in a media interview, speech or briefing.

If you want to get your point across and remembered, don’t talk louder, apply disciplined repetition and relentless consistency to what you say in a media interview, speech or briefing.

Getting your point across in an interview or controversy takes more than talking louder. It requires disciplined repetition and relentless consistency.

As an issue manager or a crisis spokesperson, you cannot expect people to be sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to hear your key message. Disciplined repetition increases the odds that your key message will actually be heard and remembered.

Relentless consistency helps to guard against message migration, which is what can happen when a message is shared from person to person like in the game called Telephone.

My former boss, Ron Wyden, insisted on repeating his key message at least three times in a press interview, speech or question-and-session session. He contended, with some empirical evidence to back him up, that if you make your point once, only some people will get it. When you mention it a second time, the point gets wider notice because it sounds familiar. On the third mention, most people will have absorbed the point – and many will have stored it away. Alert reporters will get the clear signal this is what the speaker wants to get across.

This is not a reflection on the collective intelligence of audiences or reporters. It is a fact that we retain less of what we hear than what we see. Disciplined repetition recognizes this human fact.

The discipline to repeat key messages involves overcoming the natural sense that you are belaboring your point. You are belaboring your point on purpose so it stands out and sticks.

Disciplined repetition also involves practicing how to say the same thing more than once without seeming to have a script. This is where sound bites play an important role in forming the core of a message that can wrapped up in various ways. Here’s an example:

The Federal Communication Commission’s decision to eliminate net neutrality will mean telecommunication companies can put big guys in the fast lane and shove little guys into the slow lane.

Regardless what the FCC or telecommunications companies say, ending net neutrality may result in different users forced onto different and sometimes slower lanes of the internet.

If net neutrality hadn’t existed, a startup like YouTube may never have been able to compete financially with Google for access to the fast lane of the internet.

Relentless consistency reinforces key messages and avoids confusing audiences. Too much information can bog down audience comprehension, burying a key message under a heap of facts and extraneous material. The desire to share “all the facts” or provide “useful context” only succeeds in overloading your audience and blurring what you really want them to remember.

Sticking to your message over multiple interviews or briefings keeps your message prominent and is a cue of what you view as most important to know. It also reduces the chance that a reporter or stakeholder will leave the room thinking one of your side points was your main point.

The best example of this was my client who, with the best of intentions, refused to stick with a key message, choosing instead to follow the lead – and sometimes take the bait – of reporters. The result were muddy interviews that often didn’t even wind up in the final stories, especially for TV news.

One of the best aids for relentless consistency is a great visual image – an illustration, map or chart. Visual images have more impact than words alone because people see them as you are talking. If the images are well conceived and well designed to reinforce your key message, your chances of making a clear impression are amplified.

You can count the number of times in this blog I used disciplined repetition and relentless consistency to see preaching in practice.

 

Name-Calling: The Worst-Case Scenario

Name-calling may be seen by some as telling like it is, but insults don’t constitute a strategy, build a brand, unify a divided crowd, show maturity or create options. Name-calling may be close to the worst-case scenario.

Name-calling may be seen by some as telling like it is, but insults don’t constitute a strategy, build a brand, unify a divided crowd, show maturity or create options. Name-calling may be close to the worst-case scenario.

The escalating invective between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un serves as a fresh reminder of why name-calling isn’t such a great idea – and certainly not a strategy.

Name-calling is at best a boomerang sport. You call someone a name and they respond by insulting you back – rocket man on a suicide ride fetches mentally deranged dotard. Apart from a fleeting reference to Elton John and a word requiring a dictionary dive, not much is accomplished. And the space to find middle ground is reduced.

At worst, name-calling can exacerbate an already explosive situation. When two nations with nuclear capabilities engage in name-calling, the explosions could be huge. Kim said Trump’s insults amount to a declaration of war, as US warplanes flew closer to the North Korea and Kim threatened to shoot them down. Chances sharply increased for an accidental stumble into actual war.

Trump and Kim aren’t the first to resort to name-calling, but they are egregious examples of the technique taken to an extreme. Professional wrestlers hurl insults to whip up the crowd, but they have scripts. Trump and Kim appear to be trading shots totally off script.

Jimmy Kimmel has generated a lot of buzz by calling Senator Bill Cassidy, co-author of the latest GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, a “liar.” The comedian said Cassidy promised only to support a health care bill that would pass the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” which meant preserving a requirement in current law that no one can be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Kimmel says the Cassidy-Graham bill fails to pass the test the Louisiana senator promised.

Did Kimmel’s three-night monologue accusing Cassidy of lying turn the tide on the Cassidy-Graham bill? Unlikely. Arizona Senator John McCain, who has declared his opposition, seemed more impressed by the array of health care organizations opposing the bill, the lack of hearings and the failure of the Senate to pursue a bipartisan solution.

Trump reflects another problem with personal invective. He calls people “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted” or “Little Marco,” but is offended when a journalist calls him a “white supremacist.” You get what you give in the name-calling game. Name-calling has the effect of turning a disagreement into a street fight.

That hasn’t stopped Trump who over the weekend went on a Twitter tirade against NFL players who kneel during the national anthem before games. He dared NFL owners to fire kneeling players, calling them SOBs, but instead more players and some entire teams did the opposite. Another reality of name-calling – it ticks off the people you call names and increases the odds they will defy you. And, name-calling appears to be habit-forming.

Maybe name-calling is just a regressive form of argumentation. It is what young kids do in schoolyards when they are frustrated and don’t know how else to vent. Or what bullies do to their victims to make themselves feel bigger than they really are. But bullies sometimes are upstaged by those they bully – see Teresa Kaepernick’s response.

There certainly is a time for emotional expression. Tragedies. Natural disasters. Shootings. Even then, strong words usually aren’t framed as insults.

Calling people names is viewed by some as a form of branding. Don Rickles insulted people to their face after they bought tickets to see him. But Rickles was a comic and name-calling was his shtick. He made fun of how people looked or dressed, but he didn’t threaten to burn down anyone’s house.

For those tempted to name-call, the unfiltered immediacy of Twitter is a perfect bedside companion. Unlike Rickles who risked getting a drink splashed in his face, a name-caller on Twitter can verbally assault someone in relative isolation, then go brush his teeth. Hurling insults online is a lot like throwing rocks from a glass house – without any glass to shatter when someone throws a rock back at you. But it also can generate a lot more rock throwers.

Calling out people may be a sophisticated, if misplaced tactic to divert and district attention such as a looming major legislative failure or the tightening screws of investigations. Even if the insults manage to distract, they also detract from what else you say or want to say, such as assurances to thousands of people who lost their homes, possessions and livelihoods in two huge hurricanes. Because name-calling is all-consuming, it doesn’t leave much air on the room for anything else.

For anyone who thinks about it, name-calling is a not strategy, brand-builder or effective communications technique. You don’t control the back and forth flow of insults; they control you. Your priorities are buried under the debris of angry, hateful words. Your options shrink. Your goodwill, even among supporters, evaporates.

If someone calls you a name, stop before responding in kind. If your ire is up and you are tempted to name-call, take a breather. You can assuredly come up with a better approach because name-calling is pretty close to the worst-case scenario.

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Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

How You Begin a Speech Determines When It Ends

Without a powerful beginning, a speech or presentation may end – at least for the audience – sooner than when a speaker stops talking.

Without a powerful beginning, a speech or presentation may end – at least for the audience – sooner than when a speaker stops talking.

How a speaker begins determines when his or her speech ends for the audience. A weak or wobbly opening can send your audience to their smartphones in a nanosecond.

First impressions matter – a lot, but strong beginnings to a speech or presentation doesn’t just happen. They must be imagined and created. And, if you really want to make a strong impression, tested and practiced.

Brad Phillips, who specializes in communications training, has written a book titled 101 Ways to Open a Speech that offers suggestions of how to “grab your audience from the start.” He shared five of the 101 ways in his blog.

While some openings will work well, others may not suit your speaking style or fit the occasion. But the real lesson is in finding a strong opening that connects you and the audience and gives them a reason to keep listening.

Tommy Thompson, while serving as Secretary of Health and Human Services for President George W. Bush, visited Portland and spoke at the City Club. He began by stepping forward from the podium and recognizing people in the audience who had met with him or led him on tours during his Portland visit. The simple gesture of friendliness created instant rapport. People, including me, noticeably inched forward on their seats to pay attention to what he said in his speech.

Making an instant connection with an audience may be the simplest way for speakers to make a positive, inviting first impression.

Phillips suggests a similar idea that is often tried, but can fall flat or backfire – asking the audience a question and a show of hands response. Some questions seem canned; others come off as patronizing. But compelling questions, Phillips says, arouse interest. His example: “If given a choice, would you rather be blind for the rest of your life or obese?”  That’s probably not a question most people have faced, but the choices are familiar enough to get their minds engaged. The speaker has created a platform to dive into his subject (research showing seven out of 10 women would prefer blindness to obesity, suggesting vanity trumps practicality.)

Disarming an audience can be an effective way to launch a speech. Phillips says that could involve turning good advice on its head, such as don’t overload your speech with too many statistics, an admonition I preach in my media training sessions. He notes Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s opening that stacked five statistics on top of one another for a desired effect.

"The numbers tell the story quite clearly. A hundred ninety heads of states, nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C-level jobs, board seats, tops out at 15, 16 percent. The numbers have not moved since 2002, and they're going in the wrong direction. Even in the nonprofit world, a world we sometimes think of as being led by more women, women at the top, 20 percent. We also have another problem, which is that women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfillment. A recent study in the U.S. showed that of married senior managers, two-thirds of the married men had children and only one-third of the married women had children."

Perhaps the best idea Phillips shares is also the hardest for most speakers and presenters to achieve – the sound bite. He cites the 1980 presidential campaign pitting President Jimmy Carter against GOP challenger Ronald Reagan, who knew how to stir up a crowd. With the candidates deadlocked at 39 percent each, Reagan began to separate himself from Carter when he offered this definition of the dire economic conditions facing Americans at the time:

"[Carter's] answer to all this misery, he tries to tell us that we are only in a recession, not a depression. As if definitions, words relieve our suffering…If it's a definition he wants, I'll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

You know who won the election.

There is a lot more to a great speech than the beginning, but without a powerful start, the rest may not matter.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Political Polling, News Coverage and Accurate Results

If you want to know how the 2016 presidential election is shaping up, be wary of polling results reported by the media. They may not be wrong, but they may be newsier more than they are right.

If you want to know how the 2016 presidential election is shaping up, be wary of polling results reported by the media. They may not be wrong, but they may be newsier more than they are right.

Politicians may tout polls that cast their candidacy in its brightest light. TV stations have a tendency to report on polls they view as newsy, even if they aren’t necessarily accurate.

The Washington Post compared polling and reporting results from the 2008 presidential campaign and found TV newscasts tended to report polls that showed a tight race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, even though the average results of all polls reflected Obama was clearly ahead.

“On average,” according to the Post story, “viewers likely heard more about polls that portrayed the race as close than polls that more accurately showed Obama in the lead.”

TV news gave more air time to jumps in poll results, which gave the race that worn on for months spark of “breaking news," even if the actual poll changes were mere aberrations.

The researchers who prepared the Post report conducted an exhaustive search of all the polls that TV reporters could have cited. They found time after time polls showing Obama gaining or holding the lead were bypassed in favor of polls that showed the race as very tight.

Polling can be slippery enough in revealing the actual mindset of the electorate without any help from people trying to put their finger on the scale. Pollsters use different samples and apply different techniques. The timing of when a poll is conducted can be before or after a significant event in a campaign. How questions are framed can shade the results, too. With all that built-in variation, selecting what you might call outlier polls makes the reporting even more suspect.

As Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, has said, looking at the averages of all credible polls provides a more reliable picture of where a race stands and what voters are thinking. Even the average of all the polls can be wrong, Silver admits, so the takeaway is don’t take polls too seriously, especially when they are still weeks to go before the election.

Looking at the 2016 presidential election, polls have played a large part in both the campaigns and the reporting of the race. GOP nominee Donald Trump routinely bragged about his lead in the polls during the primary season and has complained that poll results showing him trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton are media fictions. Trump’s campaign manager, who is a pollster, says Trump is actually ahead, but his secret supporters are unwilling to tell pollsters they plan to vote for him.

The media, especially TV news, gave a lot of coverage to the post-convention polling bumps that both Trump and Clinton received. And, there has been nonstop media discussion about GOP fears that a slumping Trump presidential campaign will have negative effects on down-ballot Republican candidates, especially in a handful of tight Senate races that could decide which party is in control in the next Congress. And TV networks have begun reporting on what CBS News calls a “poll of polls” to avoid cherrypicking results.

Coverage of the 2016 race has drilled down into the demographics of the race. The simplest narrative is that Trump appeals to white, older, non-college-educated men while Clinton appeals strongly to women, minorities and people with college degrees. This narrative fits neatly into the tight time frames for TV news coverage and may be this campaign season’s newsy fixation, even if it is over-simplified and nearly stereotypical.

Skepticism of political polling remains a smart move, as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney learned when he headed into election day thinking, based on polls, he was about to be elected president. Believing in polls is a little bit like believing your own press releases. Believe at your own risk.

Familiar Phrases as Mental Cues

Familiar phrases such as “take the bull by the horns” can say a lot in a few words, helping pack a punch in your sound-bite explanation, answer or comeback.

Familiar phrases such as “take the bull by the horns” can say a lot in a few words, helping pack a punch in your sound-bite explanation, answer or comeback.

Garrison Keillor has a comedy bit in which he uses a string of familiar phrases matched with sound effects by his wingman, Fred Newman. The bit works because the phrases trigger familiar images in our minds.

Familiar phrases can be persuasive mental cues that convey complex information in a few words.

Phrases such as “the buck stops here,” “take the bull by the horns,” “don’t put all your eggs in one basket" and “throw caution to the wind” are freighted in meaning that extends beyond the definition of the words they contain. They tell a mini-story. They paint a clear picture. They quickly and deftly draw on what we already know in order to tell us something we don’t know.

Some phrases suffer from over-use and have become tired clichés. Other phrases derive from idioms, which have become like a foreign language in the ears of younger generations. But that doesn’t diminish the value of a freshly framed familiar phrase to explain an issue, answer a question or score a point.

•  The CEO of a large pharmaceutical company said, “Innovation needs to be the goal of U.S. health care reform – not its victim.”

•  The owner of an upscale grocery store, faced with allegations of selling contaminated products, snapped, “The only thing spoiled here is our customers.”

•  Maryon Pearson, the wife of a British prime minister, quipped, “Behind every successful man is a surprised woman."

Rick Steves, the famed travel writer, interviewed Miles Unger about his book tracing the life of Michelangelo. Unger peppered his replies with phrases of familiarity. Noting the famous artist never married, Unger said, “Michelangelo’s art was his wife and his works were his children.” He described Michelangelo’s struggle for regard as an artist as opposed to a craftsman for hire by saying, “He refused to paint Madonnas by the square foot.” Unger said Michelangelo’s masterpieces, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, were “art with an agenda” that brimmed with the humanism of the Renaissance.

Unger employed word plays that struck a familiar chord with listeners. Art as a wife and artworks as children is not a unique expression, but it is an effective one to underscore Michelangelo’s single-minded dedication to his artistry. He conjoined two familiar images with his reference to painting fine art by the square foot. His quip about art with an agenda was a crisp, economical way to say there was deeper purpose to what Michelangelo created.

We live in a time when we are constantly bombarded by information, which has had the perverse effect of shrinking our attention spans – or at least our patience. Sound bites have become necessary to pique interest, hold attention and convey meaning. Familiar phrases can be a sound bite savior by stretching the impact of just a handful of words.

Sound bites, like good melodies, keep echoing in your ear and are hard to get out of your mind. They are clever enough to repeat. Most importantly, they give listeners a verbal cue card of what you think is really significant. Think of them as verbal underlining.

The experienced speaker or speechwriter learns the tricks of using or twisting familiar phrases to “cut to the chase” of connecting with an audience. What you say may be new, but it will stick better if it is fastened to what your audience already knows.

If you need a familiar-phrase tutor, consult Will Rogers: “A fool and his money are soon elected.” “Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.” “An economist’s guess is liable to be as good as anyone else’s.”  

Heed George Bernard Shaw’s advice to avoid confusion over the “power of conversation” and the “power of speech.” Most conversations are forgettable. A great line can live on for a long time.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Entertaining Your Audience

Public speaking no longer is considered entertainment, but public speakers should know how to be entertaining — or brief.

The people who bring us TED Talks offer some valuable advice on how speakers can attract and keep an audience's attention. Here is some of that advice: 

Effective speakers weave their message into a story that helps listeners understand context and why they should care. 

Timing is everything. TED Talks speakers get 18 minutes to speak, but audiences make up their mind in far less time whether to listen. TED Talks advisers say the sweet spot for a talk is 12 minutes, but don't be fooled, people will tune out in a jiffy unless you are "funny, profound or ingenious." You better say something, and say it in a way that beats the competition of content on a smartphone.

Too many speakers turn into spectators when they use PowerPoint slides. Presentation materials are props and sidekicks, not tele-prompters or speech notes. If you have to read your slides, listeners may wonder whether you know what you're talking about. For all they know, your assistant prepared the slides that you are reading. 

In the excitement of speaking, some people talk in one long run-on sentence. A sentence never ends. There are no pauses. There is no cadence to give verbal cues to listeners about important points. Your speech is an oral blur. Stop. Take a breath. Think about your words. Give your speech some inflection.

TED Talks data indicates that you need to look the part you’re are speaking. You are, in effect, a performer. Playing Hamlet in blue jeans may not work for your audience. Dress appropriately for your talk so your audience doesn't see a buffoon not worth listening to.

Make Your Apology Faultless

People make mistakes, sometimes really big ones. Owning your mistakes is one path to redemption. Compounding your mistakes is the road to perdition. 

GM is a perfect case in point. After failing to notify GM car owners of faulty ignition switches for nearly a decade, which resulted in numerous deaths, GM compounded the problem by sending belated recall notices to the survivors of victims. Its careless follow-through generated more ire, louder congressional hearings and car buyer doubts.

In the newspaper world, there was a standing order for staff to pay special attention to any correction going into print. You would be surprised how often corrections are muffed, enraging people who already were miffed. Correcting a correction is the work of fools. 

Nothing undermines an apology more than an apology followed by another faux pas. The second flub tells people your apology wasn't sincere, or at least sincere enough to bother to double-check your words. What you intended as remorse comes across as indifference or insensitivity.

Charting a Communication Course

Blending a chart with the design qualities of an infographic can result in a clear picture of what you want to say. Two examples in the Sunday edition of The New York Times prove the point.

The first appeared on the newspaper's prestigious op-ed page and was called an "Op-Chart." Running in a vertical column, the Op-Chart consisted of a series of squares that showed the relative value of a $1 in purchasing square footage in a number of American cities.

The least space per $1 was in several New York City neighborhoods such as the Flatiron District, Greenwich Village and Chelsea. You could get the most square footage for your $1 in the Berclair-Highland Heights section of Memphis.

In addition to the raw information, the Op-Chart conveyed the context of "space," which was the factor being compared. You could see, without any computation, that $1 would get you twice the square footage in Brooklyn as in the Upper East Side of Manhattan and four times the space in Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles.

The chart did its job with one paragraph of text and a blurb indicating the source of the information. It was efficient and effective.

The second chart showed up, again somewhat improbably, on the front page of the sports page. It showed the hole-by-hole results of the final round of the Masters Golf Tournament between the winner, Bubba Watson, and his 20-year-old challenger, Jordan Spieth. It quickly told the story of how Watson won.

You could read the accompanying story to find out the turning point in the match, but the chart told you all you needed to know. Spieth lost in the middle of the round on Holes 8-11, after leading after the 7th Hole. The chart contained two explanatory notes documenting what you could easily see

Jumping into Hot Water

World Vision joins the cadre of organizations to plunge into the pool of social issues and discover it holds hot, unforgiving water.

The $1 billion charity, which is affiliated with evangelical Christianity and provides humanitarian aid, decided to standardize its policies by allowing celibate gay singles and legally married gay couples to work for the organization.

World Vision President Richard Stearns said the decision was consistent with its practice on other socially divisive issues such as divorce, remarriage, baptism and female priests. It wasn't intended, Stearns said, to endorse homosexuality or gay marriage.

"Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues," he told Christianity Today. "It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage."

News of the policy change prompted a not-unexpected uproar in evangelical religious circles. Critics charged that World Vision had betrayed its Christian principles. More significantly, many donors said they would stop giving money to the charity.

The backlash caused Stearns to reverse course within 48 hours and issue an apology in which he asked for forgiveness. 

Make Your Words Ring

Public affairs issues can be complex, which puts the burden on you to make your points clearly, crisply and persuasively.Communicating about a complex public issue is difficult enough without complicating the challenge with a welter of words. Crisp thinking, lean language and engaging tools are better suited to this public affairs job.

The key is to put yourself into the shoes of your target audience and frame what you say so it anticipates and answers their questions and explains why they should care.

It is tempting to write everything you know rather than zero in on significant benefits to your audience and the larger community. Your audience most likely is uninterested in a college lecture on your subject. Give them your research-tested key messages, while offering easy ways to access deeper information for those who want to know more.

Look the Part, Act the Role

Whether press conference or presentation, people watch better than they listen. You need to look the part and act your role, paying as much attention to your body language as your words.

From the first time we open our eyes as babies, people learn by seeing. We take cues, form judgments and sense emotions by watching the movements of people.

Studies show body language conveys even more emotional information than facial expressions. Together, they speak volumes. 

If you fidget at a podium or garble your words, your audience will sense a lack of confidence and may discount what you say, regardless how persuasive or profound your point.

So, in addition to carefully crafting your words, the effective speaker and presenter meticulously practices his or her delivery — exactly like an actor.

In fact, you should think of a media interview, press conference or presentation in the same way as a stage play. You have a role to play and you need to look the part and act the role.

Here are a few tips:

Avoid weak postures

You tip off your audience that you are nervous or unsure of yourself by slumping, sticking your hands in your pockets or clasping your hands behind your back. These are seen as weak as opposed to power postures. Leaning forward at a podium or a table signals confidence and a desire to connect with your audience.

If you answer questions following a speech or press conference, don't cross your arms, which is a sign of defensiveness.

The key is to be mindful of your movements, especially your hands. They can underscore your meaning or confound and distract an audience if out of sync with your message.

Start Strong

Great speakers don't begin with apologies or lame jokes. They lean into their topic and form bonds with their audiences.

Start with a strong first line — an intriguing question, a startling admission or a thought-provoking statement. 

Symbol of Support or Alienation

The red equal sign signifying support for gay marriage exploded onto social media just as the U.S. Supreme Court heard two major cases challenging a federal law and a California initiative banning same-sex unions. 

While the symbol, launched by the Human Rights Campaign, has been hailed as a brilliant tactic to rally supporters, sympathizers and politicians, questions have arisen about whether it was a smart PR move for many brands that also embraced the red equal sign.

The question seems pertinent because of the hub-bub over Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's foray into the same issue, which polarized its customer base.

Matt Wilson, writing for ragan.com, says there has been widespread support for same-sex marriage from brands ranging from Bud Light to Kimpton Hotels and Martha Stewart Living. The difference, Wilson suggests, is that these and other brands assessed their core customer constituencies and concluded it made sense to take a public stand.

That was an easy call for brands that overtly cater to gay customers. But for others, it had the character of jumping on the bandwagon of rapidly shifting views on an issue that not that long ago was discussed in the context of moral and spiritual terms.

Even Chick-fil-A seemed to follow the trend, according to Wilson, as its California outlets offered free meal coupons to gay marriage supporters.

While same-sex marriage appears to be rushing toward broad acceptance in the United States, certainly by younger generations, there is still the possibility that brands will alienate a chunk of customers for their support or opposition of the issue.

Wilson explored that in his blog, quoting Starbucks Chairman Howard Shultz reply to a shareholder who complained about its early support of gay marriage. Shultz reportedly told the shareholder if he could find another company generating a 38 percent return, he should invest his money elsewhere. Not every brand has such an unassailable financial perch to defend its action.

Plant Tours: Seeing is Believing

When facing a contentious neighborhood dispute, don't overlook the persuasive power of the plant tour.

In an age when social media, YouTube videos and infographics have more sex appeal, the plant tour offers the irreplaceable virtue of letting people see for themselves what you are doing. That's often all it takes to turn critics into advocates.

Plant tours have the distinctive quality of being something that virtually any business or organization can organize. There are always restraints – sensitive operations, tight quarters or personal privacy issues. But there are almost always work-arounds that allow your neighbors or skeptics to get a first-hand view of your factory, educational facility or medical clinic.

Nothing is more authentic than opening the doors of your facility and letting people talk with your employees and see where they work. It can change people's minds because it erases their fears of the unknown.