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In the high profile spotlight, steer clear of memorable flub

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Being in the public eye is no easy task. Yes, no denying, fame comes with some great perks. But for me the choice was always easy. I wanted to be the behind scenes. I like being the muse. The coach. It comes with its own power, really. Getting the executive, the celebrity, the guest of honor to recite the words you’ve written. To follow the path you’ve laid.

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But then – they don’t. And sometimes it can be a frightening thing to watch. As if it’s all happening in slow motion, and you’re realizing that you no longer have any control. Just standing there thinking, “what happened to my perfectly executed plan?”

Occasionally, as we’ve come to see, even the most polished executives and public figures can stumble or go astray. We are all – despite the beliefs of some – human, after all. For example, recently Samsung hoped to capitalize on the introduction of its new curved 105-inch UHD TV at the multi-million dollar Consumer Electronics Show (CES). That was until Transformers movie director Michael Bay got foiled by a teleprompter snafu and walked off stage. That misstep, however, ended up getting Samsung a ton of coverage; so not a bad day at the end of it. And Samsung was just recently rated within the top 25 most well-regarded brands in 13 of the 15 countries surveyed, so clearly the company knows what it is doing.

Then on the other side of the spectrum – the crisis response. Gov. Chris Christie, in what still is to me a mind-boggling scenario – accused of being directly involved in the shutdown of multiple lanes of the George Washington Bridge, made some public speaking no-no’s in his apology speech. During the press conference he repeated the use of the word “bully,” and saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” 25 times. Not the strongest delivery, however a quick recovery when you compare the message in the Christie State of the State address delivered the following week.

It happens. Whether in a completely staged and rehearsed, positive environment, or responding to a negative crisis, our public figures sometimes flub a bit. So here are a few tips to help both the executive / public figure and the coach prep for the next high profile presentation:

  1. Be prepared. It works for the boy scouts, and is good for any public speaking event. The more you practice, anticipate and are comfortable in the environment, the better the results will be.
  2. Know the audience. Make sure you know exactly who is going to be in the audience, and what they may ask.
  3. Start big. The first thirty seconds have the most impact. Come out punching with an attention-grabbing statement.
  4. In a crisis, skip the bogey. Never repeat the negative. That’s all people will hear and remember. Always rephrase to a positive. Need we evoke the Nixon, “I am not a crook” quote.
  5. Limit (or better yet, omit) the humor. Definitely in a crisis, but even in a positive environment, unless you’re Carrot Top, skip the opening joke. It’s too risky, and if the delivery is off, it throws off the rest of the presentation, even if the rest is brilliant.
  6. Keep your messages simple. It really is the golden rule of communication, but so often gets overlooked. Stick to 3 key messages, supported with stories and examples, and drive them home.
  7. Don’t read. Know the material well so that it doesn’t look like it is being read. People want authenticity; not a script.
  8. End on a high. Just as the first 30 seconds are key, so is the closing. So determine what that one message is that you want to drive home and have everyone remember. And make it stick at the close.

So I wish you, and myself as well, good luck with your executive’s next public appearance. May the plan be executed as close to perfect as possible!


KNBeings are the team members behind KNB Communications. KNB Communications is a top 10 health tech marketing and PR agency specializing in healthcare, biotech, and life sciences.


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