Bouncing Back from a Bleep – Joe Biden

Biden and ObamaVice President Joe Biden has put his foot in his mouth. Again.

By now we’re accustomed to his colorful language and speech, and his stand-up comedy bits. But, will America ever be accustomed to hearing words like “b_tch” fly from the mouths of our highest officials?

First, the context. Thursday night, Biden spoke at a Harvard University Institute of Politics function where he talked about such deadly-serious topics as ISIS and tensions in Ukraine. When the floor was opened up for questions, things got a little less serious. But still, hot on the heels of some of the toughest international political issues our country faces today, when the student body’s vice president introduced himself, Biden cut him off with a quip, “isn’t that a b_tch?”

The room erupted in laughter and clearly the joke was well received. Biden quickly backtracked to explain he was referring to the office of vice presidency, but that it was the best decision he’d ever made. He may not have made any enemies with the remark in the room last night, and Biden’s supporters will chalk it up to his zany sense of humor and bold personality. Read the rest of this entry »

Bad Boys of the NFL – and the NFL’s Bad Behavior

Last week was a busy one for the NFL and multiple teams within it, who found themselves faced with tremendous controversies. It was also a busy week for me, as I had the to speak with a multitude of radio and TV hosts around the U.S. about these tricky times for the NFL and how careful communication is critical to pulling out of the tailspin of (perhaps deservedly) negative publicity. If you’d like to hear my input, there are several podcasts and recordings available online:

Quotable Highlights:

“I’m always coaching people to try to get ahead of the crisis, be proactive, have good messaging in place, have key spokespeople in place so it’s very clear who’s going to speak when anything happens for an organization. And we’ve seen a few blunders both from the Ravens as well as the Vikings, and of course from the NFL in the last few weeks when it comes to their people.” Read the rest of this entry »

Color Says More Than You Think

You may think black and white are classic, but do they make the best statement?

You’ve probably heard of Pantone, a company widely considered to be the authority on consumer trends in color. According to Pantone, 2014′s hot color is radiant orchid. If you think about a paler hue of royal purple, then you’re thinking of radiant orchid. Pantone says the color is a “captivating, magical and enigmatic purple.”

What does this mean and why should it matter?

Regardless of the industry you’re in, color says more than you think. It can be your personal brand’s best friend or worst enemy. Frequently, I engage my executive clients in an exercise that turns out to be eye-opening. I ask them which colors dominate their wardrobe. Most say black. Then I point out that black isn’t technically a color. How are they missing out by keeping their wardrobe predominately grayscale? Matching the right color to your message will make sure you’re heard.

For ages, color has been a defining characteristic. In politics, a “red state” and a “blue state” have clear meanings. Green is associated with either money or the environment. Pantone’s “it” color for 2013 was emerald, which the company felt represented renewal, prosperity and growth. By comparison, red is a passionate color that’s all about power. Yellow is a friendly color. Blue makes people feel calm. Are you starting to see how adding color to your wardrobe can influence how you’re perceived and what you say? Both men and women have unique ways to harness the power of color to enrich their message.

Color and your personal image Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing Others and Talks of Honor

Giving talks of honor in any setting requires careful strategy to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention.

Honoring others at special occasions and networking opportunities puts your own brand in the spotlight as well. I regularly see individuals at events reading intros from a sheet of paper they printed from an organization’s site. This can seem unprofessional at best. At worst, it can make your audiences cringe.

Talks of honor come in different shapes and sizes. Presenting others at events is one way you might find yourself introducing someone. This might be at an intimate setting or small group gathering where making an introduction is easy.  Or you might be emceeing an event where you are responsible for introducing multiple program components, or introducing the event’s keynote speaker. Regardless of the type or size of event, you can utilize the IAP™ Formula to achieve your objectives and showcase your own brand in the process. IAP stands for:

I = Intent

A = Audience analysis

P = Powerful performance

Your ultimate objective with all talks of honor is to ensure that the individual who is the centerpiece of the event feels special. A second yet critical objective is to showcase your own brand in a positive light. I usually tell people to concentrate on one purpose at a time. However this is the one situation where both honoring and showcasing are vital objectives. Here’s why: if you look shabby or falter when you speak, you can harm your own brand. And you certainly won’t honor the individual you are presenting.

Your approach and goals may be different based on the type of introduction that’s needed. Here are my tips for a few of the more common talks of honor you may be asked to perform:

Introducing featured speakers

Just like any speaking opportunity, introducing people is a craft. You can polish these mini-presentations into true gems by learning to practice with intent and by researching details about your honoree. Don’t use the event program to do your research!  Find unknown yet fascinating facts that your audience may not have uncovered on their own. You can start by connecting with mutual acquaintances, reviewing the speaker’s website or doing some simple online searches. The point is to deliver something unique – and something your audience will respond to.

In many ways, you’re like the warm-up band for the headlining act. It’s your job to get the audience excited about the upcoming presentation. Including tidbits that are interesting, and even a bit odd, will help both the featured speaker AND his or her audience. As an example, let’s say you were going to introduce 3M’s Post-it notes’ creator and you occasionally use Post-it notes as a substitute for your business card. Or maybe you found out something your speaker did as a young child that helped determine their current life direction. Both are great anecdotes to include.

Making a Toast
Making toasts

Toasts, whether they take place before a meal or in any other circumstance, are intended as a celebration. You have freedom to use festive wording and intriguing anecdotes. It’s important to remember that the main purpose is to honor your subject. But don’t forget that while you’re making the toast, you also will be in the spotlight and it’s important to bring everything you have to the occasion. Take a moment when preparing to think about your audience and understand the common theme that has brought everyone together.

Last autumn, I gave a wedding toast for my brother and new sister-in-law at our local country club. It was a difficult task! Knowing I would be speaking in front of family, friends and business contacts, my audience was definitely eclectic.  But everyone had something major in common; his or her love for this fantastic couple. If I focused on this common element, my toast would be successful.

For this specific toast, I knew my emotions might get the best of me so I relied on my sense of humor to counterbalance emotion. I also practiced before the big event. Much of my toast was improvised and even included some spontaneous observations about the wedding, and my final speech was unscripted. But I did rehearse with a script multiple times before the reception. It’s 100% okay to use a small cards with bullets  for your toast at the event if public speaking is really not your thing.

Any sort of toast is an opportunity to really get to know you as a communicator. If you’re humorous, draw upon your wit. If you’re not usually humorous, now is not the time to  try a stand-up routine. Toasts must be genuine, or they will fall flat.

Listen to yourself deliver the talk of honor that day. Rehearsing like this can help you prepare for a powerful performance. Practicing in front of a mirror or in a room alone, you’ve released some of the emotion that could accompany your words. You’ll also be able to tell when something sounds unclear or “off” in some way. Take care not to over-rehearse, but know that nobody has ever sounded bad because of practice.

Award ceremonies

Numerous organizations and associations distribute annual awards. Often, the rewards are given out at special events like galas or receptions. If you’re asked to introduce the recipient of an award, you must know how to say the recipient’s name and the title of the award correctly. All of the previous advice to rehearse, understand your audience, and build upon a common theme is very important. But in a business occasion like this one, it is imperative that you represent yourself well with your physical appearance as well.

I remember an evening gala where the speaker’s knees mesmerized me, mainly because she wore a minidress. For the setting and the role she had to play, I would have advised this speaker to dress more conservatively. At a minimum, had she asked me, I would have told her to wear a dress that was better suited for her age and covered her knees. At best she should have worn an evening gown or dressy suit as she introduced the award recipient.

In a nutshell, classy and event-appropriate clothing let you honor the award recipient while simultaneously achieving your secondary goal of highlighting yourself.

Here’s to you

Don’t be like my publicist, who tells the story of the first time she had to introduce someone when she was a fresh young salesperson right out of college. Thinking it would be a snap, she didn’t practice or even think about it until the moment came to introduce her speaker. You can guess what happened; she froze and was unable to speak a single word! This might be a drastic example, but preparation, practice and a strong physical presentation will help you avoid those embarrassing situations.

Personalization and imagination are vital when presenting someone, regardless of the forum. Spend time preparing a delightful, concise and informative introduction, and you could be on the featured speaker dais next time around. Wishing you good intent and powerful performance as you undertake the task of honoring others!

Powerful Presence at the U.S. Open

Photo Courtesy of AP

I was fortunate to attend two days of the 2014 U.S. Open during the first week of play.  I find it impossible to take my communication coach hat off completely. So just for fun, I thought I would share some of my observations about the players.

First up in my viewing, Serena Williams continues to be in a league of her own, easily winning the match I attended. Talk about presence! Serena owns her WOW! on and off the court. I wasn’t so keen on her outfit, however, a leopard print dress by Nike. (She wore the fuchsia version the day I saw her.) USA Today said the outfit “sizzled” and apparently the dress is part of a fall line from Nike.

All I could think was “Really Nike – is that all you got?” I found the dress pattern boring and tired and the style unimaginative. I’m used to seeing Serena “bring it” from a style standpoint, but that wasn’t happening in this game. Boring clothes notwithstanding, nothing can really take much away from Serena Williams. That gal’s got game and WOW! in spades.

As for the guys, I got to see  top-seeded and #1 in the world Novak Djokovic play Paul-Henri Mathieu. Mathieu, ranked 81st in the world, rocked a baseball cap on backwards and slightly disheveled look. I’m a sucker for a bad boy, and I wondered if this casual “I don’t care” look was part of his strategy. Unfortunately, Novak dropped him easily so Mathieu may want to re-think that strategy next year.


Roger Federer, my photo from the stands

My last night at the U.S. Open was spent watching the incredible Roger Federer seem mostly effortless against his opponent, Sam Groth of Australia. I was struck by Federer’s personal presence, which I would categorize as an easy intensity. Federer dressed in all black for the match. Normally, I’m not a fan of black but in the pristine world of tennis, it tends to make a pretty strong statement. By wearing all black, Federer was saying “I’m a badass and you better watch out!”

A lot has changed in terms of tennis style since white was considered de rigueur for players, and I’m glad they have the opportunity  to use their appearance as part of their strategy. Most people credit the Williams sisters for being style change agents of the sport, but as I close this blog post I think back to tennis pro Anne White, once the fifth-seed in the world. Although I was just a young girl at the time, I remember Anne’s appearance at the U.S. Open in 1985. Wearing a white Lycra unitard, shocking at the time, Anne was one of the first to break the style code. Anne White owned her WOW! – 80′s style – in her one piece and leg warmers!

Anne White, 1985