How to Be a Great Public Speaker: Lesson One - Get Over Yourself

Stop picturing your audience in their underwear. 

Seriously.  Stop.  I don’t know where that advice originated or why it persists as the “thing-to-say” to nervous public speakers, but it needs to go away.  Like now. Really. Because, it’s really bad advice.  

In fact, it’s such awful advice that I think you should hold it personally responsible for every terrible speech you’ve ever had to suffer through or will one day be forced to politely applaud.

Why is it such terrible advice?  

Think about all of those terrible speakers you’ve had to endure: the boring speakers who lost you at hello…the lecturers who spoke in jargon and/or never looked up from their notes…the self promoters who saw every sentence as an opportunity to tell you how awesome or clever they are…the condescenders who seemed to resent you for lending them your ears…and – of course – the nervous Nellies whose fear of being seen as terrible public speakers actually makes them terrible public speakers. (No one enjoys watching someone who doesn’t want to be on stage.)

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Good Morning. Go Vote. I'm serious.

Ever wonder why certain special interest groups -- like the NRA -- have so much influence over elected officials? I'll give you a hint: it's because their membership can be counted on to vote.

I know. I know. They also give a lot of money, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret that even my politico friends have to acknowledge.... Money has no direct power in politics. Yes, I know that sounds naive, but bear with me... Politicians aren't using campaign contributions to buy boats or trips to Rio. (Although - let's be honest - politicians who rail against money in politics don't mind if you think that's what their opponents are doing.) Instead, all that money is going to buy ads, mailings and get out the vote operations (or - in some cases - suppress the vote operations).

In other words, campaign cash has power because it buys a candidate/elected official the "theoretical ability to influence votes." And, do you know what has more power than the theoretical ability to influence voting? Actually voting.

Now, if you really want to push back on money in politics, then you should cast an educated ballot. In other words, don't let your vote be influenced by all of those campaign ads and slogans (Hint: the more you see an ad aired and the better its messaging, the more money that campaign likely has.) Take an hour or two to research all of the candidates and ballot measures in your district and take the cheat sheet into the voting booth with you (It's not a test, you're allowed.) And voila - if all those campaign ads stop influencing elections, then they no longer have power...Yeah, I know it's not that simple, but it's a start.

Beyond that, if you really want to make your vote count, take a picture of yourself and your "I voted" today sticker and let people know what influenced your vote (e.g. write your elected officials, blog, tweet, etc.) Let elected officials know what influences your vote...get enough like minded people to do the same and guess what? You've got yourself an influential special interest group. ; )

OK. Sorry for the rant, but every time I get an email from a candidate railing about the power of money in politics, I get ticked...and I get a lot of them so, now I'm really, rather ticked. I'm not just ticked because talking about the power of money in politics is largely a ploy to get me to give money, (seriously, what better way to get people to give money than to convince them money has power?) but because it leaves average, non-monied, voters with the impression that the system is stacked against them and there's no point getting involved...or even voting. Which is the exact opposite message we should be sending, because the single best way to push back on money in politics is to vote. So, please, go vote. I'm serious, it matters.

OK. Rant ended. Thanks for reading.

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Why I'm Forgiving Lebron (Even Though I Told You I'd Never Forgive Him)

This morning a friend emailed me to ask what I thought of Lebron's announcement in Sports Illustrated.  (He and I worked together when Lebron announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach" and I swore I'd never forgive him.)  I don't claim to speak for everyone from Cleveland (I'm actually from a suburb of Akron) but this is what I wrote in response.  


A few days ago my sister and I spent about 30 seconds talking about Lebron.  To be honest, I hadn't really been following "the Decision 2.0."  I'd read a story or two, but wasn't obsessed like I'd been four years ago.  My sister said the same thing.  We agreed that it just wasn't the same.  Sure, we said, it would be great if he returned to Cleveland, but we didn't think we'd ever love him the way we used to.  Some break-ups are just too painful.
I know it sounds silly to say I "loved" an athlete I've never met, but I think part of what made us all love Lebron was the fact that he gave Clevelanders (and those of us from Akron) something to be proud of.  

I mean, it sucks to grow up in a town that the rest of the world views as a punchline.  As long as I can remember, every time a sitcom needed an easy laugh, they'd have a character say he had to go to Cleveland (like that's the worst, imaginable fate.)  National sports broadcasters fill airtime with jokes about burning rivers.  You hear the phrase "mistake on the lake" so many times you start to think it yourself.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may be in Cleveland, but the induction ceremonies are in NYC.  Even our football team wanted to play somewhere else.  We loved Lebron because he gave us something to be proud, there's a lot to be proud of in Cleveland...he gave us something the rest of the world envied.  Other towns may have world class hospitals and universities, but they didn't have Lebron.  We did.

So, when he left, after a dramatic "will-he-or-won't-he" build-up -- in which every prognosticator (including all of my non-Ohio friends) basically said: "Why would anyone want to live in Cleveland?" -- it felt like a betrayal.  Not only was he telling all the haters they were right -- that no one with options would ever willingly stay in the cliche that is our home town -- he did it in an hour-long, nationally televised special.  It sucked and I didn't think I'd ever forgive him for it  That is, until I read his sports illustrated explanation (as told to Lee Jenkins).

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Just Putting Out a Press Release Doesn’t Get Press

If you’ve ever worked in PR or communications, raise your hand if this scene sounds familiar:


YOUR BOSS/CLIENT/COWORKER enters. He reveals that he’s spent the last X number of weeks, months, maybe even years on an exciting project that is finally done.

BOSS/CLIENT/COWORKER: "I am here to discuss the rollout strategy for this very exciting project that I expect to get lots of press attention."

YOU: "Wow. I had no idea you were working on this project. It does sound very exciting. I can’t make any promises, but we will certainly do our best to get reporters to cover it."

BOSS/CLIENT/COWORKER: "Great. We need it to go out tomorrow."

Your jaw hits the floor. It’s almost five, you still have a dozen calls and emails to return and NOW you have to figure out how to deliver “lots of press” on an issue you’ve never seen tomorrow???

YOU: "If you want to get press on this, I’m going to need more time."

BOSS/CLIENT/COWORKER: That’s impossible. Tomorrow’s the deadline that we’ve been working round-the-clock for days/weeks/months to meet.

YOU: "Why didn’t you involve me sooner? I could have worked with you to make sure the project was camera-ready for roll out."

Your boss/client/coworker looks at you like you’re talking a foreign language. Why would they have included you before now? They already know how the public is going to respond: They’re going to love it. And getting press will be easy (They know this because they believe that anyone who has ever read a newspaper is qualified to do your job.)

BOSS/CLIENT/COWORKER: "What’s the big deal? We just need you to put out a press release."

You resist the urge to throw a stapler at your boss/client/coworker's head.


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Let's Blame Jenny McCarthy

For the record, I agree with everything Frank Bruni wrote in his recent take down of Jenny McCarthy’s role as an anti-vaccine advocate.  I hope everyone who helped give credence to the former Playmate’s medical opinions feels ashamed of themselves.  I really do. 

I, however, disagree with Bruni’s inference that the McCarthy episode is somehow unique and that our nation’s debates aren’t regularly skewed by non-expert opinions masquerading as facts.  I’d actually argue that the only thing unique about the anti-vaccinators is the current backlash against them.     

Bruni asks: “When did it become O.K. to present gut feelings like hers as something in legitimate competition with real science?”

Good question, but I’m pretty sure it’s been going on for awhile.

Right or wrong, “Gut feelings” dominate our nation’s policy debates, because they’re powerful.  

Want to energize voters?  Appeal to their gut feelings.  Validate their fears. Simplify complex policies until they make basic, gut level sense and then dare your opponent to disagree.  Trust me, they won’t, because there’s nothing harder to argue against than a gut feeling.

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Why Don't More Senators Take Pride in Being Senators?

Ben_Franklin.jpgU.S. Senator Martin Henrich’s (D-NM) strongly-worded statement this week cautioning the CIA that “The Senate Intelligence Committee oversees the CIA, not the other way around” is – in my mind – remarkable for the sheer fact that it’s remarkable.  

One of the things I have most struggled to understand about elected officials is how few of them seem to revel in the role of being an elected official.  Maybe it’s just me, but if I ever put myself through the hell necessary to become a U.S. Senator, I’d take a lot of pride in being a U.S. Senator.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d wake up every day trying to figure out how to be the best U.S. senator ever.

Think about it.  If you were a member of Congress wouldn’t you want that to mean something?  If – for example - you got to serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wouldn’t you want the Senate Intelligence Committee to be a really important and powerful committee?  If your job was to conduct oversight, wouldn’t you get ticked at the suggestion that oversight isn’t valuable or that your contributions would be anything other than worthwhile?   Wouldn’t you want your constituents to look at your work and say: “I’m proud that MY senator is the one asking tough questions.”  “I feel safer knowing that MY senator is ensuring that the intelligence community really is doing its best to keep me safe.”  Call me crazy, but I’d be furious if I found out that the NSA or CIA was hiding stuff from me, if only because it implies that they think they care more about my constituents’ safety than I do.

Again, maybe it’s just me, but if I spent my work days surrounded by statues and paintings of the courageous leaders who came before me, I’d say to myself, “Self, how can I be more like THEM?” 

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