The Power of Words – 108 Seconds Changes Everything

This video clip delivers more power, emotion and education in less than two minutes than the majority of programming can deliver in two hours:

This video isn’t even a video, it’s an advertisement, and the most effective advertisement I have seen in years.   I was not familiar with Purple Feather until I saw this video, but I certainly am now! What a powerful example of the power of  words and the power of messaging.  There are a number of other devices and techniques used here, in less than 2 minutes, which can be used to improve any speech, presentation, announcement, etc.  Here a few: 

1) Re-Framing – The message is terrific, the way it was framed was even better; while entitled The Power of Words, this video could easily be entitled The Power of Properly Framing an Issue.

2) Imagery – The words painted a picture, the message was clear, and it can be visualized – “It’s a beautiful day, and I can’t see it” 

3)  Word choice – not only in terms of context; in terms of ease of understanding. The power of words indeed!

 4) Story – Most people envision a story taking time, having numerous characters, etc. – this video illustrates how quickly an entire story can be told:

Victim – blind man, Antagonist – apathy, Hero - woman who re-writes sign, Action - changing wording on the sign, Transformation - donations start pouring in

 5) Call to Action/Emotional Appeal – the emotional appeal, and call to action, while understated verbally, is very clear

 6) Senses – The picture painted utilizes sight, touch, sound  (all of which could be used with no visuals but descriptive language instead in a presentation)

On a final note, I like the use of “and” rather than “but” “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.”  The conjunction “but” is often used in a contrast like this, but I find that “and” amplifies the power of the contrast significantly – strictly my opinion. 

Kudos to Andrea Gardner and the Feather team and a big thank you to my mother for bringing this amazing content to my attention!

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Crisis Communication and Messaging

When communicating in a crisis where fatalities are involved, an organization can count on every decision, every statement, and every message to be intensely scrutinized.  Every action taken sends a message, so an organization can either a) proactively engage in message development to have some say over messaging or b) allow others to it for them (and “they” will – media, regulators, competitors, etc.)

Massey Mining recently announced the abrupt retirement of CEO Don Blankenship, nearly eight months after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

Blankenship has been widely criticized in the media for his handling of the worst mining disaster in 40 years, and subsequent actions.  He was visibly uncomfortable in an interview with Diane Sawyer,  presided over company during a number of safety related stories and significant safety issues,  and gave a virtual tutorial of what not to do when ambushed by a reporter here, and above. (“If you start taking picture of me, you’re liable to get shot.”

Most recently, Blankenship was the subject of a must-read profile by Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell, entitled “Don Blankenship: The Dark Lord of Coal Country.” Roughly a week after the magazine hit the newsstands, Blankenship’s retirement was announced.

A few days after news of Blankenship’s retirement was released,  so were details of the retirement package.  The retirement package offered to Blankenship included, among other things, $2.7 million upon retirement, millions more in deferred compensation, a free house for life and a salary continuation retirement benefit.  A Google news search a few days later found over 200 articles referencing the retirement package with many articles critical of its size and the message it sent.

The reality was that the Board was in a no-win situation and it was not due to the details of package, but instead  due to months of media scrutiny long before the package was announced.   What this underscores is a fundamental rule in crisis communication – define yourself first, before others handle the task for you.

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Eastern Europe and the Message of Democracy

Ukraine has been independent for less than two decades.  MTV is ten years older than Ukraine’s independence.  If you are of drinking age, you were born before Ukraine was independent.

The violence that took place on the floor in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine sends a terrible message to the world.    There are 450 members of the Rada, and six were hospitalized. It was the second act of public violence during a session of the Ukrainian governing body this year.

For the past six years, the world has witnessed the democratic process at work in Ukraine, beginning with the Orange Revolution.   It can be argued that of the former Soviet republics, Ukraine has been one of the most successful at implementing a democratic system.  That is why it is crucial that the message of democracy and discourse win out over the message of physical violence, and members of the Rada must deliver that message immediately.

This week has seen another former republic “re-elect” a dictator.   Alexander Lukashenko managed to get 79% of the vote, but that does not seem to be satisfactory.  Even with such a clear-cut, “fair” victory, post-election opposition imprisonment in Belarus has been front page news. 

Who was one of the first to call and congratulate Mr. Lukashenko on his victory? None other than “Rose Revolution” product President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia; Georgia is often considered a success story for democracy in the region, and news of this call certainly came as a surprise (at least to me) and seems to send a mixed message.  The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern over the post-election violence, and seems to be taking a cautious angle with regard to the results.   

I have deep roots in Ukraine as it is the home of my great grandparents.   I have had the opportunity to work with a number of members of the Rada in the past and have spent a fair amount of time in the capital city of Kyiv, a number of rural oblasts, and Odessa. There are hundreds of stories out in the last few days having to do with violence in the Rada, the elections in Belarus, and the recent rise in number of ultra-right organizations.  There is one storyline I have not yet read, and that is one of a fledgling democracy.

The following may be the understatement of the year – the initial development of a democracy is not easy, and often is not pretty.  We are seeing that unfold right now as the world watches Ivory Coast, with a democratically elected President unable to take office because the man he beat won’t let him.  Or in Zimbabwe, where a democratically elected Prime Minister is forced to share power with the dictator he defeated.

 We have had our own brushes with violence between individual political leaders early in the development of this Democracy.  Sitting Vice President Aaron Burr mortally wounding Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.  Congressman Preston Brooks beating Senator Charles Sumner with a cane on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856.  South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman punching South Carolina Senator John McLaurin on the floor of the United State Senate in 1902 (well past the “early” stages of democracy).

Violence in the governing body of Ukraine must end; at the same time, Eastern European nations that have embraced democracy, such as Ukraine and Georgia, must send very clear signals as to the importance of democracy in the region, regardless of party or loyalties.  Fistfights and lockouts send very different messages.

There are very able, very capable communicators within the Rada, and now is the time for the message of civil debate over debilitating violence to be delivered.  While the world is getting mixed signals on the future of democracy in another former Republic this week, Ukrainian elected officials from all parties must make it very clear that civil, democratic debate and elections will stand.

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The Camera is Never Off – Media Training/Presentation Skills Training

This video illustrates a core principle of media training and presentation skills training – the camera is never off. 

The clip was captured less than a week ago, and to date has been viewed 850,000+ times.  The camera should have been off, but it wasn’t. 

The segment has been cut, the stress has ended, and everyone is in a jovial mood.  The camera is never off.

The tour of your facility has ended, there were no hiccups, and now you and your “guests” are engaging in friendly banter in the parking lot.  The camera (or recorder) is never off.

This media training principle does not only apply to a situation when you, or your staff, are before the media. 

You are the CEO of a multinational conducting a video conference with thousands of employees.  The conference has ended, but you are still in the room where the video conference took place.  The camera is never off.

You are a VP addressing 80 employees via teleconference – the phone is never off. 

 This mindset is not easy  – the natural inclination, once the stress has subsided, situation has turned friendly, casual conversation begins and one is no longer “on” – is to engage in conversation with those around us, and for that conversation to be less guarded.  It happens to most of us (and I readily include myself). 

 The vast majority of the time, the camera or recorder will be off, and the phone may very well be hung up.  Unless it isn’t. 

Whether meeting with the media, or addressing an entire company, if you adopt the mindset that the camera is still rolling not only during the event, but before and after it, you will prevent gaffes,  damaging comments, and other headaches from occurring.

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Politicians Beware… Appearances Matter!

Breaking News: In politics, appearances matter, and a study led by three pretty impressive individuals confirms this yet again. 

In Looking Like  A Winner: Candidate Appearance and Electoral Success in New Democracies, the team of M.I.T. Associate Professors Chappell Lawson and Gabriel Lenz, along with University of Colorado Associate Professor Andy Baker, led a study where subjects living in the United States and India were presented with black and white pictures of candidates for elected office (in 122 elections) in Mexico and Brazil, asking which candidates would be better elected officials. 

No background information. No synopsis. Just black and white pictures, and guess what?  From the abstract:

Despite cultural, ethnic and racial differences, Americans and Indians agree about which candidates are superficially appealing. Moreover, these superficial judgments appear to have a profound influence on Mexican and Brazilian voters, as the American and Indian judgments predict actual election returns with surprising accuracy.” 

The lesson for anyone running for office?

Unless you are by yourself in the comfort of your living room, someone is taking note of your appearance.  If your shirt is soiled, suit is stained, shoes are dirty or heavily worn, clothing is heavily wrinkled, food is stuck in your teeth…a camera might be rolling, or shooting. Plan accordingly.

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