Jennifer Hoelzer

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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Vote!

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.


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:

INT. YOUR OFFICE - END OF WORK DAY

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 before...by 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.

FADE OUT

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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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Republicans Don't Hate Obamacare

hate_obamacare_than_love_US.jpgMSNBC’s Thomas Roberts recently asked GOP Representative Marsha Blackburn if she “hated Obamacare” more than she “loved her country.”  She dismissed the question as “incredibly inappropriate.”  Personally, I don’t think the question was inappropriate as much as it was dumb.

I’m not saying Thomas Roberts was dumb for asking the question.  Quite the opposite.  By cable news standards, it was a smart move, the perfect kind of pointed, gotcha question destined to be cut, posted and shared across the Internet by the droves of Obama-fans MSNBC counts on to cheer when points get scored for their team.  Every angry click earns ad revenue for the network, inching Mr. Roberts closer and closer to liberal cable star status.

No, it was a dumb question because Republicans don’t actually hate Obamacare. 

Seriously.  You can’t hate something if you don’t know what it does and I highly doubt most members of Congress (Republican or Democrat) could give you an accurate description of what the Affordable Care Act actually does.   

But – let’s be honest for a second – they don’t care what it does.  Because – with all due respect to my Republican friends – Republicans don't view the Affordable Care Act as a law that will make it easier for some Americans (myself included) to purchase health care.  Rather, Republicans see the Affordable Care Act as a highly successful campaign message they’re loathe to lose.  

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What Convinced Obama to Reverse His Position on NSA Surveillance?

8734868513_42f8f0e4dd_m.jpgSince details of the NSA’s surveillance programs started coming to light in early June – and President Obama’s been forced to publicly answer for its activities – the president has repeatedly reminded us that he came into office with a “healthy skepticism about these programs.”  But, after careful evaluation, he determined “that on, you know, net, it was worth doing.”

Some of these programs I had been critical of when I was in the Senate. When I looked through specifically what was being done, my determination was that the two programs in particular that had been at issue, 215 and 702, offered valuable intelligence that helps us protect the American people and they're worth preserving. (From his August 9th Press Conference.)

It’s a rhetorical strategy intended to win his critics’ trust by demonstrating that he understands our concerns because he used to share them.  The message he wants us to take away is: if we had been in his shoes and saw the evidence he saw when he got into office, we would have signed off on these programs too. 

Well, yesterday we got a glimpse of some of the evidence he saw when he assumed office – at least in connection to the NSA’s collection of U.S. phone call records -- and, it begs the question, what exactly changed his mind about the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs?  What did the President see that led him to the conclusion that everything he had previously said on the topic was wrong because allowing the NSA to collect everyone’s phone call records really is a constitutionally-supported, great idea?

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5 Things ODNI Officials Get Wrong in Just One Washington Post Story

saul-goodman.jpgOver the weekend, the Washington Post reported that back in 2011, the Obama Administration secretly convinced the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow them to peruse the NSA’s massive database of communications for information on American citizens. 

What’s the big deal?

Well, there is this thing called the Fourth Amendment that our founding fathers dreamed up to prevent the use of general warrants.  Few things ticked colonial Americans off more than the British claim that their special search warrants gave them unlimited authority to search for whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.  So, when it came time to list the rights that the U.S. would guarantee its citizens, requiring government officials to get warrants – not only supported by probable cause but “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” – was high on the list.   

How does this pertain to the NSA’s massive database of communications?  Well, if an American’s communication is in that database, odds are it was seized without a warrant. 

You see, back in 2006 (after the NSA was caught conducting a massive warrantless wiretapping program) the NSA argued that having to get a warrant every time it wanted to review a communication that involved an American citizen hurt its ability to track terrorists in real time.  Because it meant that every time a terrorist made a call or got an email, it had to stop and figure out who was on the other end and whether or not they were an American citizen before they could review it.  

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