Jokes, Quotes, a Good Night’s Sleep, and More

Today’s reflections serve up a buffet of communications thoughts, whether you are delivering a presentation, participating in a media interview, or pleading your case on Capitol Hill.

Carefully Cultivated Quotable Quotes

The quotes you feed reporters must be carefully planned. Otherwise, they could ultimately divert attention from your intended message.

One of the doctors in a media training workshop I led proved that point by telling a story of one of his interviews. He made an impolite, offhand remark during an interview that dealt with death, working Donald Trump (this was in his pre-presidential campaign days) into one of his examples. Many reporters realize that including the New York real estate baron in a story raises their odds of prime placement in their publications.

Sure enough, the Trump quote was published—in the headline, no less. This stirred up a potential hornet’s nest since the publication was targeted to New York city readers. The doctor wrote a letter of apology to Trump, but the damage was done. This episode provides a lesson in what happens when you speak off-the-cuff.

Breaking news

Should I Open with a Joke?

The question came up once again at a networking event. Someone asked me if they should begin their presentation with a joke.

Witness this classic bit of digital proof as to why this is a bad idea for most of us (stand up comedians excepted). When Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito faced confirmation hearings, he thought it would be a good idea to launch his formal remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee with a funny story. Problem was the story wasn’t all that funny and Alito’s timing and delivery were horrible. As a result, his opening fell flat.

There are many other ways to start your presentation. Don’t rely on humor if it’s not your strength.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sometimes speakers try too hard. I see it on occasion when leading presentation skills workshops. The anxious presenter thinks cramming the night before a big speech is a good idea. Think again.

The National Sleep Foundation is one of the leading authorities in this area. Their Sleep-Smart Tips for Teens emphasizes the importance of a well-rested individual: Say no to all-nighters. Staying up late can cause chaos to your sleep patterns and your ability to be alert the next day—and beyond. Remember, the best thing you can do to prepare for a test is to get plenty of sleep. All-nighters or late-night study sessions might seem to give you more time to cram for your presentation, but they are also likely to drain your brainpower.

My prescription for a good talk: Practice diligently in the days leading up to your speech, then call it quits early the day before and get a good night’s rest.

Frame Your Message with a Headline

Take a lesson from the headlines in publications that hire great headline writers. The Wall Street Journal and Variety seem to lead the pack when it comes to creative and droll headers.

Scan their pages or web sites and incorporate the techniques they use into 1) your presentations and 2) the quotable quotes you feed the media. Remember, you want to borrow the technique, not wantonly plagiarize the actual headlines.

Use an Evaluation Form, But . . .

An evaluation form can provide valuable information as you work to assess feedback after delivering a presentation. But a piece of paper cannot tell you everything you need to know.

How else can you measure your performance? Notice whether you are generating enough interest to spur questions from the crowd. Also, talk to audience members afterward to gauge how you came across. Record yourself on video or audio and review the recording soon thereafter. In a few days, get in touch with those who invited you and solicit their opinions.



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