Pomp and Circumstance

Trending now is Graduation Speech Bingo for about-to-be graduates to play during the long, hot hours sitting in commencement caps and gowns with giddy parents watching their every move. The game is to see how many trite phrases are used: find your passion, it starts with us, today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Here are some examples and exceptions:

 

Photo Courtesy of: Entrepreneur.com

Will Ferrell, University of Southern California  2017

Comedian Will Ferrell humorously recounted his early failures in a light-hearted commencement speech at University of Southern California. Providing graduates with a sense of comfort and reassurance, he ended with a butchered imitation of the late Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love you.”

 

Photo Courtesy of: AJC.com

Hillary Clinton, Wellesly College 2017

Former Secretary of State and Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton explained that life doesn’t always go according to plan, but that’s not a valid reason to give up on your dreams. Secretary Clinton was on the same stage 48 years earlier as a student speaker conveying the same message; to stand up and fight for what you believe.

 

Photo Courtesy of: CNBC.com

Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard University 2017

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder and Harvard University dropout, poked fun at himself with…“If I get through this speech, it’ll be the first time I actually finish something at Harvard.”

 

Photo Courtesy of: GettyImages.com

President Donald Trump, Liberty University 2017

President Donald Trump lashed out at the media during the US Coast Guard Academy commencement with “no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly.” And again at Liberty Christian University, he reflected on his own persistence with “never ever give up”…without crediting Winston Churchill’s six words of success “never never never never give up.”

 

Photo Courtesy of: Notey.com

Dame Helen Mirren, Tulane University 2017

Dame Helen Mirren related to her college audience with “like a hangover, neither triumphs nor disasters last forever.”

 

 

 

In My Own Words

It’s said that justice is blind. But justices can be blindsided, too.

Courtesy of: Sebastian Kim, for Time Magazine

Courtesy of: Sebastian Kim, for Time Magazine

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg promoted her new book, My Own Words in an interview with Katie Couric. Seeming not to have availed herself of media training before her book tour, Justice Ginsburg found herself giving an opinion on a topic with which she was unfamiliar. Famous for her outspokenness on the Court, the justice was asked to comment on several athletes’ refusal to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of their games. She acknowledged their right to protest, but added that they would only exercise that freedom “if they want to be stupid.”

An opinion heard round the world, more for its source than for its sentiment. Justice Ginsburg was one of Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People of 2015,’

Ms. Couric did exactly what an investigative journalist is meant to do: elicit answers to provocative questions. Being Ready for an interview means preparing answers ahead of time (Why I wrote My Own Words) (Some of my more controversial decisions have been …) (How the world and the court have changed since I went on the bench in 23 years ago in 1993) to smoothly address to questions.

After learning more about the athletes’ reasoning and intentions from a different bench, Justice Ginsburg swiftly apologized for her “harsh” comments. Because, even a Supreme Court Justice can sound unjust in the court of public opinion.

Pro-testing!

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” became Paul Newman’s mantra in his 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke.

Recently, popular San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick failed to communicate his reason for taking a knee vs. standing to observe the national anthem. Protesting police brutality of blacks is a justifiable cause by the football star who finally was quoted as saying “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

colin-kneeling

Photo courtesy of: USA Today

But Mr. Kaepernick failed to announce his stand (or in this case, not standing) beforehand, perhaps in a press conference or media interview and, therefore, his protest was totally misunderstood.

Notably, during the 28th annual salute to the military hosted at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, retired Navy Seals parachuted into the stadium to present a giant American flag to a crowd filled with former and current military. But Mr. Kaepernick continued to not stand. An angry fan described the action as, “extremely disrespectful,” and even argued that the quarterback “shouldn’t be playing football if he can’t stand up for his country and support the men and women who put their lives on the line.” Additionally, Mr. Kaepernick’s retaliation against police brutality exists within city justice systems, and does not extend to the military on a national level.

Other athletes have used their position of fame and influence to speak out against these same issues. NBA superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul used presentation skills of poise, humility and persuasiveness to stand together at the opening of the 2016 ESPY Awards and verbally deliver a call to action.

“Kap” hasn’t had the media training that savvier pro-testers have … to know how to use the media as a communications tool. It’s all part of learning the media game and how to play it!

Out of the mouth of babes

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is the message,” which could not be more true in today’s modern age. The internet and social media have given voice to so many who would be otherwise unheard. Perhaps the most fascinating voices are those that have a better grasp of the new media than its predecessors — those under the age of 18. Watch this impassioned video of 16-year-old environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.

Video Courtesy Earth Guardians

Youth speaking out on societal issues is not a new phenomenon, Severn Cullis-Suzuki gave a similarly fervent speech at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. But only with the recent advent of social media have their shots been heard around the world.

Perhaps driven by an innocent naiveté, or perhaps by the honest, blunt nature of youth, but the youngest generation is not afraid to speak on controversial topics and to ask the questions many adults would not. Eleven-year-old Matthew Schricker did so recently when he questioned Mike Pence’s “softening” role in Donald Trump’s campaign:

Video Courtesy MiNews

When surrounded by media mistakes and poorly worded soundbites, it is comforting to hear such candidness, wit and substance from the future leaders of America.

In Other Words

There were a lot of firsts at the 2016 Republican National Convention, but Melania Trump’s speech was not one of them. Mrs. Trump’s apparent plagiarism of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech from the 2008 Democratic National Convention created quite a stir from the public, the media, and the Trump campaign. And the Republicans’ attempts to explain it away challenged the Party’s credibility. The question that remains is not who wrote the speech (though Mrs. Trump claimed in an NBC interview that she did, “with as little help as possible”), but who approved it?

Video Courtesy CNN

Former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski, fired in June, is calling for accountability. He says that if current Campaign Manager Paul Manafort approved the speech “he would do the right thing and resign.” Mr. Manafort and Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee Communications Chief, are primarily denying the speech as plagiarism by asserting her use of “common words and phrases,” even going so far as to draw similarities with quotes from singers John Legend and Akon and the children’s television show, My Little Pony.

But the camera doesn’t lie, nor does it blink. The fact remains that Mrs. Trump was caught using about 60 words in the same phrasing or syntax as the speech Mrs. Obama gave, suggesting that Mrs. Trump probably had more help than she admitted.

With over 30 years experience in helping clients create speeches with authenticity, we know how difficult it is to communicate universal values for those inexperienced in public speaking. That is why speech writing and plagiarism-checking in the White House are such meticulous processes. When in the public eye and without proper guidance, mistakes happen.

After two days of continual finger-pointing within the Republican party, a family friend and writer for the Trump Corporation, Meredith McIver, stepped forward and took responsibility for the mistake. This has created further problems for the campaign because only campaign employees can legally contribute goods and services. A speech was prepared by Republican speechwriters beforehand, but Mrs. Trump rejected this and sought help from Ms. McIver instead.

Our Los Angeles-based media training firm also coaches in crisis management. When a media disaster occurs, it is important for the organization to step back from the spotlight and formulate a credible, unified message. Many components to speech-giving apply: considering context, the audience and why its important to them. And perhaps referencing sources a bit more sophisticated than My Little Pony … but brownie points for originality!

Sloppy spokespeople

There’s a trend among the most recent spokespeople to simply copy, paste and post their sponsors’ social media directions.  In the past two months, Scott Disick of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, model Naomi Campbell, and Real Housewife Ramona Singer were all caught carelessly posting messages from their sponsors instead of their own endorsements. And all three have been victims of online ridicule from their own Instagram inattention.

Mr. Disick (see photo) who is no stranger to mockery as a consequence of the show that made him famous, was met with Tweets like “You know you failed at life when you can’t even copy x paste. @ScottDisick” from @AMstudiio and “Stop making stupid people famous! Scott Disick cut/pasted an email from a marketing team onto his Instagram caption from @loudspike.

scott disick

Photo Courtesy www.usmagazine.com

These sponsored posts typically earn the celebrity thousands of dollars, yet it seems that this is not enough to buy their effort and conscientiousness. At the end of the day, it is the celebrities themselves who lose credibility and are embarrassed by the public reaction, forcing them to correct the post–but not before it is screenshot and pasted all over Twitter.

Though it probably is no great loss to reputable companies like Adidas, they might think twice before continuing endorsement contracts with Ms. Campbell after she captioned her Instagram post,

“Naomi,

So nice to see you in good spirits!!! Could you put something like:

Thanks to my friend @gary.aspden and all at adidas – loving these adidas 350 SPZL from the adidas Spezial range. @adidasoriginals.”

Ms. Singer’s post for Rodan + Fields addressed her in the third person as she was advised:

“Here is the draft with some language for the post – if we could have Ramona add something personal in about why she feels confident going makeup free that would be great. Happy to make any changes you’d like. The link to R+F is linked to her personal page on their site and the Instagram is linked to her acct as well.’

In our Los Angeles media coaching, READY FOR MEDIA advises spokespeople to carefully review and prepare their messages for the most credible representation of themselves and their sponsors. The realm of social media is increasingly being utilized for endorsements to connect celebrities with a sponsors, products and their audiences. Because of the permanent nature of internet content (whether the original is deleted or not), these posts need to be prepared with as much diligence as live soundbites.

Only time will tell if these celebrities and their marketing teams will be asked to continue these sponsored endorsements, but hopefully it only takes once to learn this lesson. One would think that when the caption is already written word-for-word that the job of the poster is simple enough.

Gloria Steinem: Never Not Controversial

Know your Audience.

In a struggle to re-invent itself, Lands’ End featured an interview with feminist Gloria Steinem (notable for her work in abortion and reproductive rights) in its “Legends” catalog, before considering the audience. The company, popular for its khakis and primary-colored knit sweaters, contracts with many Catholic schools for uniforms and the catalog reached students’ homes. Generating much anti-abortion criticism and many cancelled contracts, the controversy received more attention than the clothes.

Photo Courtesy www.ethicsalarms.com

Photo Courtesy www.ethicsalarms.com

Although the interview with Ms. Steinem did not contain any references to abortion and focused more on equal rights, Lands’ End failed to consider the implications of their choice in interviewees. They removed the feature from their website and issued a public apology on their Facebook page:

“Some customers were troubled and concerned that we featured an interview with Gloria Steinem in a recent catalog. It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw the recent promotion that way, we heard them. We sincerely apologize for any offense.”

In this seemingly diplomatic response, Lands’ End alienated another group of customers:

What a terrible message to send to all the women and girls who wear your clothes,” Christina Burrows Refford wrote. “I’m sorry you see equal rights for women as a divisive issue. I see it as a human issue.

It is hard to tell which decision was more detrimental: inadvertently sending a political message or lacking the courage of its convictions amidst pressure from clients. Lands’ End, which has been under-performing since 2011, simply did not consider their audiences when seeking innovative ways to reinvent its brand.

In our Los Angeles-based media and speech coaching, READY FOR MEDIA advises researching your audiences beforehand. What unique perspective are they seeking from you?  This translates into all facets of presentation and media. For example, early morning TODAY Show viewers are looking for very different television content than the afternoon audience of ELLEN or the late-night audience of The TONIGHT Show.

Journalists all know that the lead of a print story needs the 5 w’s and an h: who, what, where, when, why and how. You should know as much about your audience: who they are, what they want, where, when, why and how to reach them.

Kanye can’t keep it concise

Rapper and entrepreneur Kanye West’s appearance on Ellen had an uncharacteristic start with short answers about his personal life, but he lived up to expectations once asked about his business ideas. Mr. West, who recently tweeted Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) to invest $ 1 billion dollars in his ideas, began a 6-minute rant after Ms. DeGeneres innocently asked, “Give me one example [of] the ideas because maybe someone watching will give you the money.”

Photo Courtesy www.flavorwire.com

Photo Courtesy www.flavorwire.com

Mr. West’s tirade covered everyone from Michael Jackson to Steve Jobs and everything from his parents’ academic backgrounds to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, leaving the audience bewildered and Ms. DeGeneres speechless, as she searched for an opening to cut to commercial. But despite his erratic train of thought, anecdotes and apologies …

“I’m sorry daytime television, I’m sorry for the realness.”

he seems to be passionate about creating a better world.

I feel that if I had more resources, I could help more people. I have ideas that can make the human race’s existence within our 100 years better. Period.

A television appearance–as well as any presentation–should be focused on conveying a clear message, the importance to your audience and a call to action. In our Los Angeles media coaching, we teach clients that audiences always  listen to station, WII-FM: What’s In It For Me.

Mr. West, who claims he never regrets what he tweets, also should consider what is appropriate for the context of a talk show, as he did in hindsight of his proposal to Mr. Zuckerberg: “I should have put it on Facebook,” he said. “Now I understand why he didn’t hit me back.”

 

Not what you say, but how you say it!

“It’s often not what you say, but how you say it.” Look for yourself. The words in this PSA were reflective and respectful, but Johnny Depp’s and actress wife, Amber Heard’s deadpan delivery was not. In it, they used the medium to show true disdain for Australians and their laws.

Video Courtesy The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

The  “apology” video is part of a plea bargain after charges for illegally importing their Yorkshire terriers into Australia in April 2015. In it, the couple are acting more like hostages or prisoners of war  than offering a genuine apology on the issue of  biosecurity. The script was thoughtful and well-written, but overshadowed by the stiff and insincere tone of the couple.

“Australia is a wonderful island, with a treasure trove of unique plants, animals and people. It has to be protected. Australia is free of many pests and diseases that are commonplace around the world. That is why Australia has to have such strong biosecurity laws.  Australians are just as unique, both warm and direct. When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly. I am truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared. Protecting Australia is important. Declare everything when you enter Australia.”

But at the Venice Film Festival last September, Mr. Depp quipped: “I killed my dogs and ate them under direct orders from some kind of, I don’t know, sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia,” presumably in reference to Australian Minister of Agriculture Barnaby Joyce. The following week on Jimmy Kimmel, he threatened an “assault” on Mr. Joyce  if the Australian government tried to jail his wife.

After threats of dog euthanasia and 10 years jail time, Ms. Heard, an up-and-coming actress with recent roles in Magic Mike XXL and The Danish Girl, was sentenced to a one-month good behavior bond and a fine of $767.

Mr. Joyce mocked the video, remarking that it should be remade with “a little gusto,” but he is happy with the viral status it has attained.

At the end of it, we’ve got a message that is going all around the world right now. It’s going off like a frog in a sock (which Wikipedia defines as being excellent) telling people that if you come into this nation and you don’t obey our laws, you’re in trouble. That’s what this is about.”

He believes, however, that Mr. Depp will “not get an Academy Award for his performance.

Diversity is not a dirty word

Repetition creates reputation. For Hilary Clinton, her repetition of awkward conversations about racial diversity has given her a less than positive reputation in the Black community. For a female presidential candidate, it is ironic how diversity is a troublesome topic for Mrs. Clinton.

Photo Courtesy www.racismreview.com

Photo Courtesy www.racismreview.com

In our Los Angeles media training, we teach clients to address a question as a topic (diversity) of conversation. And to have some planned-ahead messages for bridging.

During a 2016 campaign stop in Minnesota, a Black Lives Matter activist challenged Mrs. Clinton about the lack of racial diversity in the Democratic Party. In our mock media training, we might have crafted a response like:

“You’re right, help me bring more diversity to the White House with your vote for the first woman President in U.S. history.”

Instead, a not Ready for Prime Time Mrs. Clinton fired back by saying,

“You know what, Dear, we have different opinions … why don’t you go run for something, then?”

And

              “Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with this very real problem.”

In the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People (and isn’t that what someone who is running for office is trying to do?) Dale Carnegie writes,

“If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument— and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes.”

As a former First Lady, Secretary of State and current presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton should be wise to the ways of the media by now. It’s often said that the camera doesn’t lie, nor does it blink. And its memory chip lasts forever.