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Did you see them coming — the big twists at the end of those talked about thrillers, Bodyguard and Press?  I enjoyed both dramas hugely, but couldn’t help noticing how much the producers kept showing us shots of text messages on the characters’ mobile phones to keep the plot moving along. 

Contrast this with House of Cards — no, not the White House version, but the Westminster based original from 1990.  It tracks the career of intrepid reporter Maddie and her infatuation with her secret source, the cunning Frances Urquhart, as he slithers his way up the greasy poll to Downing Street. 

I stumbled across it on Iplayer a few weeks ago.  It’s a masterclass for would be journalists on journalism in its purest form.  And it struck me that it’s also a reminder of how business works at its best.  Not by email or text.  But by conversations.

All Maddie had was a notebook and a pair of very wide eyes.  That worked for her, because c1990, journalists got their stories with conversation and eye contact.  In 2018, judging by Press and Bodyguard, most of the manoeuvring is done by text and email.  As a BBC reporter myself, I’m pleased to say that journalists haven’t entirely stopped speaking to the subjects of their stories, and to each other, but the digital age has certainly cut down the amount of time vocal cords are required to get things done. 

Personally, it makes me a little uneasy.  I reckon it’s only when you speak to someone that you can truly judge their tone, their passion, their hopes and fears.   But text and email?  I’m not convinced our emoji culture really cuts it. 

How often do you email a colleague rather than speak to them?  It’s something we work on in my newsroom themed workshops.  Of course email’s great to pin down and record details, but does it ever help build workplace relationships?   My suggestion to any TV producer planning the next Sunday night thriller?   Ban the screenshots from the small screen.  That should really get people talking. 

If you’d like to give your business a boost by encouraging your staff to talk to each other a bit more, my Newsroom Bootcamp might fit the bill — you’ll see them debating and holding their own without a keyboard in sight. 

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you will soon be making a speech to your staff, or at a conference.  The date may already be in the diary.  You’re up for it, but you’re a bit nervous.  Or maybe — let’s be honest — you’re simply dreading it.  If so, you’re in good company.  Few people enjoy public speaking.  

I’ve just watched 11 people who, I assume, do enjoy public speaking.  I make this assumption* because they’ve just given a talk at the TEDx Conference in Brighton.  The queue from the Dome to St James Street confirmed to me that TEDx Conferences are a crowd-pleasing international phenomenon.  Their rules are crystal clear.  You don’t have to be a celebrity (though you might be.)  But you do have to have an idea worth spreading.  And — on a stage bathed simply in black and red — convey that idea in 18 minutes or less. 

What I saw got me thinking about how the principles for delivering an 18 minute talk are really very similar to compiling a two minute news report.  Here are three.

  1. Set the Scene.  And set it straight away.  A counter-intuitive golden rule I picked up recently at a meeting of the Professional Speaking Association (yes, it does exist) is that the speakers who really know their stuff don’t even thank the person who introduces them.  They just convey their thanks with a smile, then stand stock still, look the audience in the eye, and set the scene.  “Picture this — I’m at my desk, looking out at the rain — it’s 8.45am on a November Thursday and my coffee is kicking in — my phone rings and it’s the Head of Sales … we’ve got a problem …” 
  1. Tell a Story.   It could be a customer’s experience of your product.  Or a member of staff’s success/failure/challenge.   Or — What Happened After The Head of Sales Called.  But the trick here is not to mention it and then move on to the dreary slides.  The trick is to weave that story into every point you make in (if you must) those dreary slides.  When you make your final point, make it through the eyes of whoever was at the heart of that story.  Complete the circle. 
  1. Keep to Time.   When broadcasting live on BBC News, there’s little choice — the voice of the News Transmission Assistant is in our earpiece telling us when our thirty seconds (or forty seconds, if we’re lucky) is up.  If we over-run by ten seconds we hear the word ‘TEN OVER’, firmly spoken, in our ear.   You probably won’t have anyone that persistent monitoring your performance.  But it’s a great rule to stick to, because it keeps your messages focussed, while showing courtesy to the audience, and whoever’s trying to ensure the event goes according to plan.   

It struck me yesterday that of the 11 speakers I saw, the two that bombed (for me) were the two who didn’t stick to these principles.  And guess what?  They were the celebrity names I’d actually heard of!  Yet they rambled a bit, or rushed, and used cluttered slides that confused me.   Perhaps their elevated status had encouraged them to forget the rules, and they didn’t get a tiny bit nervous any more.  So isn’t that encouraging?  The speakers who get their messages across are the ones who stick to the rules, because they are a tiny bit nervous. 

*PS:  one of the loveliest moments was when a super-successful business-woman on stage ended by admitting that ‘giving a TEDx’ had been something she had been scared of, but was determined to do.  A little humility, and it won a lot of applause. 

If you’d like to book a Public Speaker who’ll stick to time and tell a story with a business takeaway or two (as well as video clips, because that’s always much more fun) give me a call on 07850 188620.  I may suggest myself, or if I’m not quite right for your event, I may be able to recommend a contact from the Professional Speaking Association who is!

You’re busy, I’m busy, so I keep these secrets to six snappy paragraphs.  If you find them useful, do spread the word! 

I’ve just tapped ‘how to impress at a job interview’ into google, and plenty of advice immediately popped up.  There was the blindingly obvious — be on time, dress appropriately — and the less obvious — if you have dental issues, be sure to floss the night before.

But nowhere could I see any suggestion that reflected how journalists often get their jobs and promotions.   Put at its simplest, the most successful candidates arrive bearing a gift.  They court their potential employer with something that will thrill them.  If you want to work in a newsroom, that means you bring in a really decent news story that is ripe for you to report. 

There are two reasons why this often leads to success. First, it means that the interviewer is flattered: this candidate knows what makes me and my business tick.  And second, it provides a few minutes of comfortable terrain for the candidate, who can now talk confidently about a subject they may have been researching for weeks. 

Here’s some proof.  This story about a local ambulance service using second hand ambulances was suggested at an interview by a keen young reporter who’d done his homework on what his employers’ needs might be.  He got his story, and he got his job at the BBC.

If you’re an employer, do you always encourage your candidates to do a bit of work before they walk through the door?  If you’re looking for a new job, do you inquire about what your interviewers’ immediate needs might be, and then work on some solutions? 

Whisper it, but job interviews aren’t just about what you’ve done.  They’re often about what you might do in your first week.  That might require a bit of oomph.  But it’s the oomph — not the gleaming teeth — that could get you the job. 

If you’re looking for a way of testing candidates for a job, my Newsroom Bootcamp is a great way for you to observe their resilience, decision-making and communication skills.  And it’s fun, too. 

 

So there they were, Louise Minchin and Dan Walker, chatting to their guest on the bright red Breakfast News sofa at 6.45am.  I’m watching it out of the corner of my eye as I sit on BBC South East’s bright red sofa, up next to read our three minute bulletin to our regional audience.  And I’m thinking: what a powerful interview this is, and what a powerful message for anyone trying to communicate with clients and customers, or set a culture to their staff. 

Dan and Louise were interviewing a Kidney Specialist.  The reason he was in the news?  Because more than ten years ago he decided he was going to do something revolutionary.  Instead of writing to fellow consultants about their patients, copying in the patients, he was going to write direct to the patients themselves, copying in the consultants.  

What’s more, he was going to strip out the jargon.   A ‘chronic’ condition would be described as a condition that’s ‘been going on quite a while.’  ‘Acute’ as something that had ‘come on quickly.’  It caused a right rumpus at first.  The medical profession just didn’t DO that sort of thing.  But then patients started writing to him, thanking him for speaking to them in their language.  Word spread.  The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges got wind of it.  So did the Royal College of GPs.  Opposition fell away.  Today’s news was that it’s now been built into new guidelines. 

As a BBC TV journalist, I take great delight in hacking out the jargon in complex stories, writing in words that our audiences actually use.  You won’t catch me referring to a council’s multi-agency approach or a government report that’s been redacted.  So it was heartening to see that when it communicates with its patients, the medical profession is cutting out this sort of nonsense, too.

Do you use a lot of jargon in your workplace?  Are there some phrases and cultures in your business that just get repeated because nobody puts their hands up and asks what they actually mean?  Of course, technical language is entirely appropriate for an audience that understands the technical terms — consultant to consultant, for example.  But if it’s a different type of audience — an audience gulping some coffee while shooing the kids off to school, perhaps — then it’s surely in everyone’s interests to speak … everyone’s language.  

If you’d like your staff to communicate more confidently, my Newsroom Bootcamp might make a refreshing addition to your business skills training — high energy, in your office, with instant takeaways they can implement the next day.  Call for a chat — 07850 188620.  I promise there’ll be no jargon. 

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