Too Little, Too Late, Too Lame

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Critical incident response advice inspired by Covid-19.

Crises come in many shapes and sometimes they come fast. You know how it is – one hungry shopper in Hubei tucks into a wild and endangered specie and all of a sudden there’s free childcare in Western Sydney.

When crises unfold communicatons professionals need to deliver clear, concise messaging. Sometimes you’ll need to save lives and economies, other times you just need to protect your reputation and business.

Even if your organisation pays no attention to communications, invest time and energy considering how you will cope with negative attention.

Negative publicity can quickly undo years of good work. Critical incident response (CIR) planning is as close to reputation insurance as you can get. Some damage control advice:

crisis managment consultants melbourne
What does the future hold? We predict disaster.

See it coming. When I ask clients to imagine a crisis most of the suggestions are bolts from the blue – fires, injuries, takeovers, viruses, resignations. Unexpected, unwelcome, unavoidable and undeserved situations.

Unexpected crises do happen but most of the crises with which I have dealt are not at all surprising to those in the know. Expectable crises occur when disgruntled staff, volunteers or clients are ignored; dodgy financial transactions are undisclosed and poor work practices are tolerated. These are slow burning crises awaiting a puff of wind to ignite.

Slow burning crises are confronting to consider as they are not blameless.

I once asked a group of 30 leaders – most of which head organisations that work with volunteers, children, public funding, dangerous activities – whether they could see the embers of a crisis glowing. None did. Perhaps they were being discreet but I did remark to them that it was highly unlikely that such a collection of organisations did not have something damaging en route to their front door. What’s that saying about stitches in time?

Hurry up! Australians were left in a vacuum thanks to a glacial communications response to the Covid-19 crisis. It was weeks before a gentle, animated, impotent TVC was released. Unforgiveable. In that time people were being infected, behaviours unchanged and the concerned population were feeling that they were on their own. (A huge campaigning error.)

We didn’t need to be calmed. We needed to be slapped to attention. Weeks were lost.

Read the room. A crisis warrants a swift, serious response. Do not make the errors our insipid political leaders made during the first weeks of COVID-19 and downplay the crisis. There are times to agitate people into action and a business-as-usual approach threatens to placate the very people who need to act. Leaders who fail to match the mood of the moment lose the respect of potential supporters.

Too little, too lame, too late.

Evolve your messaging. Whether you are updating people on a situation or providing advice you must update and evolve your messages. Some crises – epidemics, droughts, unemployment – unfold over months. Two months into the COVID-19 debacle began in earnest we are still being told to wash our hands and sneeze politely. The time for these messages was mid-January.

Use your imagination. Do “lesser animals” such as pangolins have imaginations? I don’t know. But I can confirm that out leaders and their well-paid advisors lack even the most basic level of foresight. Only a agrarian socialist could not have predicted the utterly logical panic buying in light of an economic shutdown. Note – if you love pangolins sign this.

It’s only natural – and occured around the globe.

By the time leaders were shaming people into lightening up on the toilet paper it was too late. This was an obvious outcome and could have been lessened by education along the lines of: “Australia is a meat, seafood, fruit and vegetable exporter. We also make our own loo paper. If you buy normally, they’ll supply normally.” Restrictions from supermarkets wouldn’t have hurt either.

A far deadlier lack of imagination was the convenient belief that hundreds of thousands of daily arrivals to Australia would voluntarily self-isolate. Ignoring the failure of policy and Border Force, the lack of communications to arrivals was key to spreading the virus.

crisis management advice
From the track to the dock.

The origin of your crisis may have nothing to do with you. Crises may be inspired by a media investigation, community group or academic study. For example the greyhound industry – not a favourite of Hootville’s – was shaken to its foundations with the release of undercover reporting by Animals Australia which then worked with ABC-TV’s 4 Corners to create a national furore. Overnight the industry went from being the recipient of millions of taxpayer dollars to a national disgrace.

Animals create passion – if you are exposed to animal welfare issues – you may find yourself in the midst of a crisis. This applies equally to pony clubs and hamburger franchises. No animal cruelty to be concerned about? What else have you got to fear?

Gender and sexuality: we have never been more aware of these issues. How well would your organisation stand up to scrutiny of your gender diversity at participant, employee or board level? What would happen if one of your franchises, clubs or schools had to deal with a female customer / participant / student who wishes to change gender? What if a woman wants to join your female-only support group?

social media crisis
Late night racist ramblings anybody?

Social media: it is now fair game to hold entire organisations accountable to the social media rants of one staff member about issues that do not pertain to the mission of your organisation. Even if that rant was made in private time.

Related-party transactions: Many boards have directors with business dealings with the organisation that they serve. In many instances that’s entirely justified on many occasions it could cause you pain.

Child protection / physical abuse: the cone of silence has lifted and people rightfully have long memories. Are your policies and practices ready to stand scrutiny.

Faith-based and tax-free: religious nonprofits need to be able to justify their tax -free status. Particularly when they compete for business alongside private enterprises.

IR: paying staff half the mandated rate? Expect twice the crisis.

In short, crises are many and varied and given enough time, inevitable. They may be warranted, they may be not – that hardly matters.

Officially declare a crisis. When you identify a crisis it needs to be declared as such and all your VIPs alerted to the fact that the crisis plan is now in effect. Have a specific crisis plan and stick to it. Many aspects of your plan are covered in this blog post.

Correct the mistake ASAP. If you have made a mistake – admit it. Don’t lie, half apologise, stay silent or grumble. If media or a third party is in error correct it swiftly and without room for misinterpretation. See how to make an apology.

Have a single point of contact for media. Media and other enquiries might be made through any variety of channels. The dastardly media may well approach your staff or volunteers in the most unlikely of situations hoping to get a comment. Tell all staff and stakeholders to refer media inquiries to the anointed media person.

media trainer Brett de Hoedt
You need someone comfortable in the spotlight.

Have a single, trained spokesperson. This may not be the boss. It should be someone across the issues, with real authority who can communicate to the media effectively. Note that in Australia it is less common for organisations to have a designated media spokesperson and it will be counted against you if your spokesperson isn’t your leader.

We’ve seen the disarray that occurs when a gaggle of Chief Medical Officers and their deputies take to the the lectern. Disunity is death. Equally deadly is having a weak spokesperson.

Address just the key issues with specific, refined messages when speaking to stakeholders or media. This is not the time to address broader criticisms of your organisation. Do NOT do as Trump does and hog the stage for long, rambling daily briefings.

Use press conferences and door-stop interviews as ways to communicate your message. They give you maximum control. (That’s why they are used by corrupt cricketers and punch-happy footballers.) Press releases and written statements look defensive though it is likely you will use them in a crisis. Despite your natural reluctance to go public in any crisis it’s important to create the impression that you are happy to communicate.

If you are holding regular press conferences, give them a structure such as:

1: briefest of welcomes – cut to the chase;

2: update on developments since last press conference;

3: a theme or issue you wish to highlight today, perhaps backed up with a visual;

4: introduce any additional speakers;

5: a brief personal story / experience / reflection or expression of gratitude

6: Q&A. Always announce that you’re closing questions a few questions ahead of time to appear reasonable.

Have a remedy. It is vital for leaders and CEOs to demonstrate specific actions they are taking to make the crisis better.

damage control advice
Pro-tip: don’t cross this man.

Fundamentally unethical franchise 7-Eleven attempted to demonstrate their willingness to take action by appointing Prof Alan Fels to an independent committee to redress their systematic and long-term underpayment of workers.

It was the beginning of their remedy to deal with the crisis that was years in the making and entirely their own fault. Prof Fels is one of our most trusted citizens and his appointment showed that 7-Eleven was taking the matter seriously. This of course ended with the termination of his engagement.

A private Australian fundraising consultancy once contacted us on a Saturday afternoon to discuss a crisis that had been brewing for a long time. You guessed it – the underpayment of their employees.

Brett advised the CEO that it was vital to calculate the underpayments that would belatedly be made to staff. This, I instructed, would show both remorse and responsibility. Without being able to demonstrate a remedy it would be difficult to demonstrate remorse. Strangely the conversation ended shortly after this recommendation.

Make sure you can genuinely claim to have taken specific action before making your public apology. Talk to people, fire someone, call a meeting, send a cheque, call in the external consultants ASAP and you’re already three steps down the road to putting the crisis behind you.

The Queensland ex-cop hard man who failed to stop a Princess.

Throw out the bad apple. Too often we see organisations defend the indefensible. Churches, unions, ethnic associations and big corporations regularly do this. The public will respect an organisation that is willing to make the hard decisions. Note – there have been no sackings from Border Force or NSW Health post-Ruby Princess.

Prioritise your key audiences such as staff, volunteers and donors – as they will follow the story more closely than strangers. Media isn’t the way to reach these people – ideally you’ll be able to talk to people face-to-face or on the phone though it is likely you’ll have to resort to your website or email.

When a crisis hits you need clear healthy communications channels to your key stakeholders. It’s too late to start building up a media list or an email database of your stakeholders. These need to be put in place long before the proverbial hits the fan.

The virus is spreading.

Hootville Global HQ is based in Stonnington which has Victoria’s highest infection rate. Have I been told this from the City of Stonnington, my State or Federal MPs all of whom email, write and robocall on a regular basis? Nope. Do the signs in local parks make clear how much Stonningtonians should stay at home due to the alarming and relevant local stats? Nope. Do these people deserve my vote? Nope.

Media management. Media is an accelerant to any crisis. Here is some confusing advice: sometimes you can snuff out a crisis by delay, refusing to share information and keeping the crisis close to your chest. You may even seek legal action to keep things quiet. Sometimes this works, as it did for the Catholic Church for decades. However if your crisis eventually becomes public your delay compounds the sin in the eye of the public. So if you have any intention of going public with your crisis go public earlier rather than later

Don’t think that your past media experience will hold you in good stead. Some organisations can get accustomed to soft, supportive media. Crisis media is different. You’ll be speaking to different media and different journalists with different expectations and attitudes.

Have a non-perishable story in your bottom drawer. This is a story (obviously positive) that can be told at any time. Use it to deflect attention.

Finally – a crisis is an opportunity. Plenty of individuals and organisations have faced crises and lived to play another day. Bankruptcies, allegations of sexual assault, infidelity, salary cap breaches, mass resignations, exploding appliances, workplace deaths and politically incorrect gaffes have failed to derail the careers and corporate profits of many. How openly and effectively you deal with your crisis will have a huge impact as to how well you rebound.

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How I got 28,000 signatures

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how to use petitions

Public seem to love their public spaces to be kept public. Who knew?

Late last year I angrily sat down and did something I’ve never done before – launch a petition. It aims to combat Apple’s Victorian government-approved plan to knock down a fair swathe of Federation Square to build a corporate megastore.

Frankly I always thought petitions were somewhat naff and not a tool I recommended to clients. That was 85,000 signatures ago.

My petition (the second largest) has secured 28,000+ signatures, two others have landed 67,000 or so more. Yes, I’m sure there’s some overlap but that’s a hell of a lot of people.

Here’s how I landed such a huge response:

action: my petition and the largest petition both launched on the day of the Apple announcement. That was when public anger was hottest and people were literally taking to social media asking: “Is there a petition?”

outrage: two years of secret negotiations between government and Apple followed by a junior Minister announcing a done deal (still secret) just before Christmas that handed over public space to a tax-shy behemoth didn’t go down well. The petition took advantage of the outrage.

copy: I find a lot of the tone on petitions to be strident in the extreme, poorly argued or very parochial. Hopefully mine was not.

promotion: the bigger one’s network – and the more willing one is to use it – the better.

spend: I spent $200 promoting the petition in Facebook. The results were good – 34c a click through – though I expected even better. Maybe I should have targeted audiences more cunningly. I also spent money with to promote the petition on their site but the reports are so bad it’s hard to judge if that money was well spent.

communicate: I’ve signed 19 petitions over the years and I’ve received few if any updates on their fate. I have sent signatories seven updates so far, full of milestones, media coverage and thankyous. These messages are always accompanied with requests to share the petition. These have all been short and sweet and they have worked.

When signing up, people have the option to leave a comment explaining why they support the petition. I have sent hundreds of these people messages and liked hundreds of their comments. I wanted them to feel that this petition was alive and kicking. petition advice

More dammit. I want more!

It was exciting watching the tally climb. On TV, life is full of moments when well-intentioned but under-resourced folk gather around some computer monitor in hope. They watch the votes / sales / responses come in – slowly at first but building in momentum. Maybe – just maybe – this thing is going to work after all! Eventually expectations are smashed, high-fives occur and triumphant music plays. I guess it was kind of like that. Launched at 1.30am or so. 100 signatures by breakfast, then 1000 then 10,000 and so on. Lots of screen refreshing and self-congratulations.

Minor grumble: the platform is pretty clunky, lacks some obvious bells and whistles and the local office ignored several tweets for help.

The big takeway for marketers

Well things have being going gangbusters on the Federation Square front. More on that in a week or so but meanwhile it’s got me thinking. The right petition, with the right support can rapidly gather more supporters than any comparable option I can think of. Between myself and my fellow two petitioners we have 80,000 people to contact about the next stage in our upcoming campaign.

80,000 from scratch in a few weeks for a Melbourne-specific issue. What other option could do so much for so little cost and effort? Not a start-up website or social media campaign.

What topical, anger-inducing issue can you build a petition for? And how will you then carry those people over to your campaign email, social media and website? Think about that.

BTW: Sign-up to my petition to help fight the good fight.

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Want media coverage? Think visually.

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how to gain media coverage

One needn’t be gorgeous to gain media attention. Who knew?

Join me April 27 for my Media Savvy workshop.

Whether or not your story idea results in media coverage depends on many factors: timing, talent, exclusivity, topicality and many others besides.

This bizarre form on the left, a creation by Australian artist Paula Piccinini at the behest of Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission reminded us once again of the power of strong visuals when seeking media coverage.

One determining factor that cannot be understated when seeking media coverage is vision. Striking vision. Visual appeal is the prime reason that the TAC scored media coverage here and overseas for what we see as a fairly indulgent initiative.

Graham represents what the human form would have to look like to withstand a high speed crash. Our resistance to Graham is based the fact that this is a fairly silly premise.

Our resistance is is also based on our assumption that relatively small numbers of the drivers who are so over-represented in the road toll may not be fans Piccinini’s work nor viewers of 6 o’clock news services.

Will this bizarre creature change driving habits? Not as effectively as a booze bus or speed camera. To us, Graham comes across as the sort of project that an organisation rich in resources would indulge in. But what do we know? TAC tells us that the value of the media coverage gained by Graham has more than justified his budget.

how to gain pr

High concept, big budget media fodder.

Headspace – another organisation with more resources than most – recently gained mainstream media hits when it erected this pod on the streets of Melbourne which aimed to help tackle the stigma around mental illness for young people.

Whether it meets a subjective will be hard to gauge but once again the media came coming they cannot resist a compelling image and high concept.

So what does this mean for those of us without hundreds of thousands of dollars at our disposal to spend on domes and demi-humands?

Story time

how to get a journalist to cover your story

The case dragged on for years. Way Out finally won in 2014.

Hootville was proudly supporting the Way Out Rural Youth Group some years back. Way Out – a same-sex attracted support group – was taking the Christian Brethren to court after the Brethren refused to allow them to rent its commercial campground for a weekend retreat.

We thought we had a great story pitch the Channel 9 news – good guys, bad guys, gay youth, a court case, multiple spokespeople and a controversial group of Christians.

Surely they would say yes to a pitch. But then came Chief of Staff Michael Venus’ question: “What’s the vision?”

We thought we had it covered but multiple spokespeople, Way Out members with nose rings and colourful hair hanging out just wasn’t gonna cut it.

Without more compelling vision we were going to lose a story on the Sunday night bulletin which is the most watched bulletin of the week – a big, fat, mainstream media hit if ever there was one.

PR tips

A HUGE percentage of nightly commercial news services is made up of CCTV.

Someone had the bright idea of supplying amateur video that members of the group had shot at the retreat held the previous year. The fact that the vision had been shot by amateurs on camera phones and handheld video cameras was actually a plus to the reporter who felt that it added some visual variety and showed the kids in their natural habitat.

That scrounged vision plus a helicopter shot of the campsite on Phillip Island got us over the line with ABC and Channel 9. It was a very happy Sunday night at Hootville.

That extra vision didn’t cost us anything but time and effort. At other times we’ve arranged balloon releases, staged our media event in front of the big mouth of Luna Park and once, a long time ago, staged a political launch at a tabletop dancing venue but that’s another story for another time.

The lesson is create something visually compelling whether it be as extravagant as a work of art or a three-dimensional sculpture or as simple as archival footage.

And no matter how compelling your story idea remember that it will be more compelling when accompanied by some great vision.

Lesson in summary:

Vision – the ability to offer media outlets and interesting, intriguing, colourful, dynamic imagery associated with your story – can often be the difference between getting a Yes! as opposed to a: “We’ll think about it.”

This is why we see so many, cakes sliced and balloons released at media events it gives the camera operators and photographers some thing more interesting to display than your spokespeople and pie graphs.

Here’s an incomplete list of ways you can add visual appeal to your next story pitch:

Archival imagery – still and moving.

Audio recordings

Amateur vision taken in any format on any device

Staging your launch somewhere visually intriguing such as the steps of Parliament house

how to get media coverage

Great vision. Huge coverage.

Gathering en masse is the staff at the Royal children’s Hospital in Melbourne did in this photo opportunity.

Wearing something unusual particularly en masse.

Releasing balloons, cutting cakes.

Entertainment such as children’s choir or musical act.

Concocting an entirely visually driven stunt such as Greenpeace protesters climbing the Sydney Opera House.

Supplying high quality video footage to allow cameras to essentially travel to inconvenient places whether that be your wildlife reserve in Western Australia or the inside of a particle accelerator.

Puppets and street theatre though this stuff always makes you look like a bunch of old-fashioned lefties.

media coverage  how to

Consider purchasing your own plane.

Making a big entrance Trump-style

Creating and supplying infographics or animations as is the case for so many medical and scientific stories.

Going nude. (You know you want to.)

How to facilitate

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How to emcee or facilitate a session

The call comes unexpectedly. It’s the event organiser:

“Would you mind facilitating a session at the upcoming event? No big deal. A few speakers, some intros, some Q&A. You know the deal. Cool?”

“Sure. Why not.”

Now what?

A facilitators’ role is to ensure everyone gets the most out of their time – what could be more important than that?

There isn’t one way to be a good facilitator. You don’t necessarily have to be a microphone-loving, limelight-hugging extrovert not attend my upcoming Presentation Savvy workshop. You don’t have to have a professorial knowledge of the subject matter being discussed. If you recognise the importance of the role and work through the following you will do a great job.


Make the speakers comfortable. This might mean sorting out their audio-visual needs with the techie, pouring them some water or going over the format. What the speakers do not want to hear is: “Oh I don’t really know, I’m just doing this as a favour.”

how to be a better public speaker

Be tough. Get the session started – pronto!

Start and finish on time. It’s tempting to wait for stragglers but don’t. It sends a bad message to all concerned and is plain rude to those who have turned up. Starting late means that your speakers will be cut short, Q&A time will be sacrificed or you’ll run over time. No option is OK.

Get the show on the road: welcome people, explain any truly essential housekeeping  and more importantly establish ground rules so people know why they are there and what is expected.

Re-establish the overall theme or session topic, intro the speakers and outline the format.

If you want audience participation (we sure hope you do) be clear that participation is expected and that the audience has huge influence on how worthwhile the session will be.

If organisers insist on housekeeping – sponsor thankyous, exhibitor plugs, dietary options etc – leave it to the end of the session. Mentioning this stuff at the beginning saps energy and wastes precious time.

Introduce speakers your own way: this means doing more than reading the given introduction in the program. Add some observations of your own. Perhaps you have some observation about the person’s employer, expertise or have worked with them before. If so, draw on it.

Don’t be afraid to beef up a humble introduction or downplay an introduction that is over-the-top. Generally speaking, a shorter introduction is better than a longer one. An audience only needs to know the aspects of the speaker that are relevant to the current topic so judge what is and isn’t relevant. Less is more.

Brett de Hoedt public speaker

“So who other than me has a brilliant insight on this issue?”

Encourage contributions from the floor: relay / repeat comments if they cannot be heard by everyone. Ensure contributors can be heard and seen. Attention quickly wanders if audiences can’t connect with speakers. Interpret and clarify comments made that might not be clear. Extract contributions form the audience in various ways.

Gains contributions in ways beyond speaking such as writing notes and having audience members have short one-to-one conversations.

The facilitator or emcee should always be ready to ask the first question of the speaker.

Keep the bastards honest. a good facilitator challenges assumptions, asks people to explain, counterbalances and plays the devil’s advocate. (aka advocatus diaboli in Latin). Be willing to play devil’s advocate in all directions – not just when someone says something that you find disagreeable.

Tricks of the trade for more contributions

Rove: don’t get stuck behind the lectern, rove the room with a handheld microphone and a clipboard if necessary. This is just a little more dynamic and when combined with some vox popping, keeps your audience awake.

Vox popping: don’t wait for people to raise their hands – barge up to them, ask a question and pop the microphone under their nose. This is called vox popping. Ask a simple Yes / No type question and pick someone who seems as if they have the wherewithal to respond.

Dorothy Dixers: set up some questions, anecdotes or comments beforehand from friends or connections in the audience. This is a great way to cut straight to content that you know will be interesting.

Trivia quiz: throw in one or few trivia questions. These can be a quick way to highlight some misconceptions and spark responses. Have a small fun prize for respondents – chocolate works well. Booze works better.

Personal stories: by asking for one person’s experience you can gain contributions from people who don’t feel they have an answer but do have a relevant experience.

One-to-one or small group chats: this can break up longer sessions nicely, enable people to get to know each other and extract contributions from shy people.

60 second stretches: if the crowd is getting restless give them a strict 60 seconds to stand up, stretch and have a quick natter. Then it’s back to work. This can energise a crowd.

Written responses: ask for written responses to key questions. Again this allows the shy or scandalous to contribute.

Ask the audience room for its immediate response to each others’ contributions. This can create a debate. “Anyone disagree with that?” “Anyone have any improvements to that suggestion?”

public speaking training workshops

Have mercy, be interesting.

Keep them awake: you need to inject energy so that the audience feels awake, engaged and included. I regularly ask audiences that have been sitting for too long to spend 60 seconds standing and stretching to reinvigorate.

Keeps discussion things on track tangents and conversational cul de sacs must be identified and corrected. The facilitator is in control. Never let one person dominate.

Keep speakers to time in a manner that you agree upon beforehand. A bell, a nod from the front row – whatever works.

Nothing too bad will happen.  (This isn’t brain surgery.) Enjoy it.

If you want to work on your presentation skills join me for Presentation Savvy at the Hotel Lindrum. Small group, big results, follow-up coaching and cocktails. 


How to fake confidence

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I recently delivered my public speaking workshop Presentation Savvy to a global NGO.  The room was full of smart, serious, accomplished people – world travellers, post-nominals, senior gigs – you get the drift.

Yet one question created such interest that I thought it was worth a blog. The question: how do I fake confidence?

confidence when public speaking

Confidence can get you nominated.

It’s a good question as Western society highly values and respects confidence. Rightly or wrongly, confident people are considered credible, smart and worth obeying.

This is very bad news for people who lack confidence, are skewed towards introversion and genuinely feel nauseous at the thought of having the spotlight turned towards them.

Here’s the good news:

how to fake confidence

Who knows what lies underneath? Who cares?

One of the great truths of public speaking is that audiences respond only to what they see and hear. They don’t know what you don’t tell them and they can’t hear the internal dialogue rattling through your brain.

So if they see you as confident they will presume you to be confident and respond accordingly. Furthermore – acting confident can lead to feeling confident which is better than feeling nauseous.

So how do you fake confidence if you don’t genuinely feel it? Do as the confident folk do:

Confident speakers don’t tell audiences that they are nervous. Don’t reveal that you are feeling anything but great. Nobody cares anyway and people tend to see in you what you tell them to see. Don’t ask for sympathy – just be great. When taking the stage make an ad lib about the previous speaker, the event or a current event that pertains to your presentation. Confident people make jokes and laugh other people witticisms. If you are nervous let them work it out for themselves.

Confident speakers have voices that are strong and steady with some variety in pacing and pitch. Deep breaths before taking the stage can help achieve this. Better to be too loud than quiet as quiet signals a lack of confidence.

Confident speakers walk and talk and move and gesticulate. We have never bought into the whole bollocks of “power poses” (even the woman who made her fortune from the concept now denies their power) but I do acknowledge that our bodies readily reveal confidence or apprehension. Confident speakers stand up straight. They look like they wish to be on stage – whether they want to be or not.

Confident speakers make eye contact and are unafraid to hold someone’s gaze. (Not for hours – that’s creepy.)

confidence public speaking

Dress to impress. Accessorise with contrasting belts and automatic weapons.

Confident speakers dress snappily. One of the easiest ways to boost your confidence is to feel that you are looking your best. In some instances that might be a conservative but well-groomed appearance for others it might entail some sartorial splendour. For goodness sake life is short – look sharp.

Confident people don’t fidget with their belongings, hair or PowerPoint presentation.

Confident speakers have a clear purpose to their actions before hitting the stage. Less confident people are easily taken on a tangent. If you need to see the A.V people to sort out your microphone see to it straight away.  Don’t waste time on pleasantries. Ask questions; get yourself sorted.

public speaking advice

Move on. Nothing to see here.

Confident people remain calm. They don’t crumble if they experience a small mistake such as a PowerPoint glitch or dropped speech notes. They simply move on. Happily, audiences are very forgiving. (Really.)

Confident people are engaged and present. Nervous people are unaware of their surroundings and are instead focused internally. Confident people are more externally focused and happy to ask others questions or solicit their opinions. Do not lurk in corners. Meet and greet, mix and mingle.

Confident speakers rely less on scripts and speak more personally. Those who are confident do not need a script as they know what they want to say. They can incorporate an unexpected question or opportunity. Confident public speakers share more with their audiences. They are more than willing to reflect, relate a personal story and speak from their own experience which is far more interesting.

Confident people cope well when someone disagrees with them. Q&A time strikes terror into some speakers’ hearts. I’ve had an audience member wish my business go bankrupt and parts of my anatomy go AWOL. Another threatened to hit me. (Yes, really.)

If someone disagrees or has a different perspective put yourself into journalist mode and ask them questions to tease out their position. Anxious, nervous people can be defensive in such situations which is always a bad look. It’s a good look and you might learn something. Confident people are not afraid to ask for help or an opinion. Nor are they afraid to give one.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it and refer the question to the room to see if someone holds the answer. (We’re all in this together.)

Confident speakers can take a compliment. They don’t try to argue with the person giving the complement nor do they gnaw on the complement like a starving dog with a rubber bone. They simply accept the complement thank the compliment and move the conversation on. Pro-tip: confident people extend compliments to others.

Genuinely confident people don’t feel the need to boast. While they don’t downplay their achievements they wait for an appropriate moment to mention their local government award or gifted child. (Note: if you have a child who is gifted be aware that no one believes your child is gifted and no one wants to hear about the child anyway.)

public speaking training

Preparation is an investment. It returns double for nervous speakers.

Confident people do the work. I have a confession to make: I’m a very confident person. When I’m speaking, emceeing or training I’m doing what I like to do, what I’m good at and what I’ve done for a long time.

That said, each year I have about 8 gigs that challenge my confidence. The challenge might be a twist to the usual content, the audience or the client. Perhaps there are some internal politics that threaten to end the day in tears. Sometimes I can’t quite put my finger on why a certain event poses an extra challenge.

I make it a point to take on these engagements as a way to push myself. My hope and belief is that the audiences in these situations don’t realise I’m less confident than usual. As always audiences take me at face value.

When I’m faced with one of these challenging gigs I spend extra time preparing, research the client, audience, issue more deeply than usual and show up a little early, ready for action. It works.

In conclusion:

Is this blog simply telling you to fake it until you make it? Yeah; probably. But as anyone who was faked anything until they made it knows…sometimes this stuff really works.

BTW: there’s nothing wrong with some nerves.

My advice is to not attempt to incorporate all of these confident characteristics at once. Oh and forget about alcohol or any medication to calm yourself. Work on several of these tips at a time and as your competence and confidence grows continue to push yourself. If you have a trusted ally to monitor you and report back on your confidence level that will help you.

public speaking workshop in sydney

Do this workshop.

Good luck. If my Presentation Savvy workshop can help you get in touch.

If you enjoyed this blog you’ll love my blog on personal branding and people skills. It’s written for people who cringe when they hear the phrase “personal branding”.

One of our most recent websites…

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website for consultant

Prepare to scroll.

We ventured a tad from our usual client base to create this new website for Hootville neighbour and fellow dog lover Dr Anne Hartican.

Dr Hartican specialises in workplace culture, leadership and injecting humanity into organisations.

If you have a workplace issue perhaps you’ll scroll down and complete the People and Culture Map.

Personal branding: a practical, behaviour-based guide

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Personal branding

personal branding for business

Strong personal branding displayed by Mr Lagerfeld.

The phrase personal branding sends shivers down the spines of many fine people. I can’t say I blame them. The world of personal branding is surely the domain of motivational speakers, real estate spruikers and the crass corporate soulless types who seem to be sharp of suit and hard of heart.

Trouble is, the people who find the term “personal branding” cringeworthy are precisely the kind of people who lose out from not cultivating a personal brand. These people forget that a personal brand will help them go further, achieve more and take more people with them.

Personal branding is about creating a reputation for yourself; staking a position, being associated with certain skills, traits or characteristics. Personal branding is about establishing a profile for yourself that will serve you, your campaigns, your companies and your causes for years to come.

Those with stronger personal brands earn more, are offered more opportunities and as a result contribute more. (They win.)  No one has ever been hired or heeded, referred to, respected or supported by people who did not know them.

Here is more discomforting news for those who believe that branding is for the brash – we are all brands whether we acknowledge it or not.

Everyone has a reputation and image whether that be among a small group of co-workers, a slew of clients or an electorate of voters.

building a strong personal brand

This walking, talking brand may take the White House.

How you are perceived by the people with which you deal will decide the opportunities you are offered, the degree to which you can persuade others to your way of thinking and go a long way to deciding your career trajectory.

Personal branding is for everyone: even librarians and philosophers who seem to benefit from a high profile.

I regularly speak about establishing personal brands. In every audience there are individuals who have already established themselves as leaders, thinkers, contributors, mentors. Equally there are others in every group who have established themselves as disinterested, unhelpful, uncommitted. These ‘personal brand values’ may be justified or not but they already exist and they are working to the advantage or disadvantage of the individuals concerned.

What ‘sort’ of person can build a personal brand?

Rightly or wrongly there are some characteristics that play well in Western working life: confidence, competence, humour, eloquence, attractiveness, mild eccentricity, extroversion, affability. These are terrific default characteristics for anyone seeking a strong personal brand.

So what do you do if you aren’t similarly blessed?

It’s easy – too easy – for the introverted among us to presume that the world of personal branding, career building, profile-raising is the domain of the extrovert, the charismatic, the strong-of-jaw. I am not going to lie to you – this stuff is easier for some folk but there is nothing stopping shy, introverted, reserved people from deliberately and effectively creating a brand for themselves.

networking for shy people

Not too shy to build a global personal brand.

Just ask TED talker Susan Cain who explores the life of the introverted and the benefits that introversion may bring the world. Her TED talk has been viewed millions of times and she has exposed her sensitive self to the world, all while remaining an introvert. She is far from alone. Every day in the media, in politics and in public life I see people who have secured household-name status for themselves despite a fundamental introversion.

Introverts – you can create a profile though you will have to work harder to overcome your fundamental reticence. Remember that behaviours are more powerful than attitudes. Eg: asking a question at your next meeting shows curiosity and engagement whether you felt comfortable asking the question or not. You had the attention of the room, if only for a moment.

If you want more detailed ways to

fake confidence read this practical blog.

There are plenty of ways to build a profile and make a mark that don’t require face-to-face communication, strutting the stage at conferences or making small talk to strangers over drinks. (Though would any of these kill you?) We’ll list many simple behaviours later.

Can’t I just “be myself”? Nope.

The recommendation to: “Just be yourself” is pretty much the oldest advice in the book. It’s a parenting and family sitcom staple and it is solid. Pretentiousness and fakery are the hallmarks of someone who holds the wrong end of the personal branding stick.

That said, I believe we need to be the best version of ourselves so that we can achieve more. If most of us were ‘ourselves’ at work we would quickly be bogged down in conflict, sexual advances and snack machine burgalry. Hell – most of us wouldn’t report for duty in the first place.

We need to constantly evaluate ourselves, improving a little bit at a time. We shouldn’t just “be ourselves” forever. Yes, we can improve. People who believe themselves to be coachable, improvable, fluid in skills and personality tend to evolve and improve more than those who don’t.

Individuals with a more rigid view of personality and skills tend to count themselves out of opportunities to watch and learn, model successful behaviours and adapt to ever-changing circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Do you feel uncomfortable approaching a boss who barely knows you with a pleasantry or an idea? Maybe that’s just the way you are, have always been and always will be. That’s you being you. But that discomfort is limiting you.

If you’re the sort of person who could never call a stranger for career advice, think again. If you can use a phone, you have all the skills required to call a stranger and ask for help. If you are one of those people who never stays in touch with former colleagues I’ve got news for you – you could be. It’s up to you. So don’t just “be yourself”. Be a constantly evolving best version of yourself.

101: the basics

Let’s talk basics, by which I mean the essentials that all of us need to master if we are to create the right impressions with our peers, bosses, clients and customers. What you’re about to read was allegedly taught to all of us though about half of us have forgotten the basics entirely and most of us could do with a brush up.

personal branding speaker

Know everyone.

Make it your business to know your business

There is no excuse to not know the people across your team, your floor, your building and your organisation. Discover how teams and individuals fit into the masterplan. (Assuming that there is one.)

When I meet people who can’t explain their company from a broad perspective I know that they lack curiosity. Some people don’t really know how their organisation is funded or which products are most profitable.

When I meet people who know only the names of senior colleagues I assume them to be … unegalitarian.

Make it a point to know the names, roles and purposes of as many people as possible. Be a social butterfly and find ways to engage with your colleagues.

Particularly in the early years of your career say yes to every opportunity to raise your profile. This might be as petty as organising the Melbourne Cup sweep or KrisKringle. It might be about helping less tech savvy members of the team put together a PowerPoint presentation. If you tackle these errands as opportunities and use them as an opportunity to meet new people, ask lots of questions and gather insights you will be well rewarded for your time.


personal branding what to wear

Looks matter. Even at high altitude.

This LinkedIn post created an enormous number of comments. Sadly most of the comments are politically correct. Here’s the gist: a business owner expects staff to be professionally attired at all times. The boss believes that his staff never know when they might bump into a prospective customer so they should be dressed in shirt and tie, ready to impress, even when flying.

I do not adhere to this rule myself but I was taken aback at how quick people were to claim that clothes make no impact on how they perceive others and that their appearance should have no impact on their career progression. What politically-correct bollocks.

The next time someone tells you that clothes are irrelevant to how they judge people, pause the conversation and strip off to your underwear. You will see how little attention they pay to your clothes. Alternatively ask them to swap their navy blue jacket for an exquisitely tailored pink and purple polka dotted alternative. See how they like that.

I have blogged about this before – people do pay attention to what you wear. Clothes and appearance send signals. To pretend otherwise is to be wilfully ignorant. The difficulty is that the signal you attempt to send with your appearance may not be interpreted as you expect.

You may wear a designer suit hoping to impress people with your taste and affluence. However the beholder may take you to be just another “man in a suit”. Your version of relaxed, creative and individual may look to the beholder to be slapdash and sloppy. You just can’t win. The best advice I have is to dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. If you must lean to one end of the scale dress up.

Some people have a distinct fashion sense which they use to brand or distinguish themselves from the pack. Good for them. You may not care about fashion to that degree but be aware that people around you are subjectively judging you. Just as you are judging them.

From fashion to race and gender

As with your choice of fashion, people will perceive your race, gender, ethnicity or sexuality according to their own worldview. Sometimes this will work for you, at other times against you and there’s not much you can do about that. We live in an ageist, sexist, Islamophobic, ableist, secular, homophobic, shallow, unfair world. Sometimes you can be too attractive, young, successful and hardworking for some people’s tastes. (That’s the story of my life!)

personal  branding advice

A Logie winner less likely.

That said, there are people of every persuasion who have successfully created a brand for themselves that serves them well. Sometimes they have been helped by their demography at other times hindered but my point remains: don’t let any of that stop you. And don’t use any of that as an excuse not to set forth.


First impressions matter. How do you like to be met? I’m guessing your answers are utterly conventional. You’d like a firm handshake, eye contact, a smile, a warm hello and some friendly chitchat that seems to be sincere. You may not expect a lasting conversation though you’d like to feel that you had that person’s attention for a brief moment.

Perhaps, if your new friend is skilful enough they will search for and find common ground based on your jobs, employers, mutual acquaintances. Perhaps you’ll be asked for an opinion on something that appears important to this new person. If you’re really fortunate they will acknowledge and respond to your thoughts. My, what a socially skilled person you’ve met!

And there you have the basics of good introductions:

  • Eye contact
  • Firm, handshake willingly extended
  • A smile
  • Warmth
  • Conversation
  • Common ground

Is it really that hard? It must be because good introductions aren’t common. Master this 101 level skill. Make people feel as if you really want to meet them.

Here’s a little test: find a volunteer. Pretend that you are strangers to each other and that you are meeting for the first time at a meeting. You have sat next to each other and have a few minutes to kill before the formalities begin.

Introduce yourselves to each other as you normally would. Don’t try harder than you normally would.

Now try it again, greeting them as if you are happy to meet them. Not happy as in long-lost-ageing-rich-aunty type of happy. Just as in “oh yes – I’ve heard about you” sort of happy. Turn up your human warmth by 10%.

Was there much difference? Which greeting was more pleasant to receive and give?

Want a conversation starter? Skip the weather and commuting comparisons and try these:

“Can I ask you something?”

“What did you think of that last speaker? Last month’s meeting? The agenda?”

“You work for X? What are they like to work for?”

“What’s keeping you busy at the moment?”

“Did you see [famous serious person] on [respectable current affairs program] last night?”

“What are you hoping to get from today?”

Body language (still) speaks loudly

It feels dated to talk about body language – very 1980s. That said, we do communicate a lot with the way we stand, how we place our hands, the degree to which we make and hold eye contact. I test this during my presentations on personal branding by asking the audience to shift their posture and change their body language to give me the impression that they are more engaged and entertained than they currently are.

100% of 100% of audiences are able to change their body language to express greater interest in me in three seconds. They sit up straight, lean a little forward, shift to the edge of their seats, lift their cherubic faces towards me. Smiles break out across the room some heads even turned at an angle to indicate desire for more of my wisdom.

That is how easy it is to signal interest, presence and respect with one’s body. Even though this is utterly false, I am touched.

As the speaker I hope that I return the favour by standing, moving, pointing, nodding, gesticulating. This comes naturally to me but I hope it underlines my energy, movement and care.

I’m not suggesting falsifying your interest through posture. Just be sure that you look alert, engaged and reasonably respectful.

Confidence should be on everybody’s list of brand values as it is highly rewarded. One key way to express self-confidence is through your body. Are your looks furtive or do you maintain eye contact? Are your shoulders slumped? Are your handshakes weak and reticent or firm and friendly?

If you use your hands as you speak, never rein yourself in. If you have an expressive face use it to express what you feel.

Body language speaks volumes about how you see yourself. People respond accordingly. Speak wisely


personal branding meetings

Does this look like a switched on group to you?

Meetings matter

Bad news! You will spend an extraordinary amount of your time on Earth in meetings whether they be around a board table, standing in a corridor or via Skype.

How you perform in these situations will go a long way to branding you in the minds of others – just as their performance influences your opinion of them. Some tips:

Prepare: if there is an agenda, familiarise yourself with it, if there is reading to do, read it. Also – this is vital – prepare a comment, observation or question for the meeting. This preparation is even more important for the introverted.

Some meetings are important enough to justify contacting a fellow participant beforehand. Not only will this benefit you in the meeting, it signals to others that you take the meeting and the objective seriously.

Do some research about an issue that will be discussed at the meeting. Spend 10 minutes Googling news articles about the issues at hand or hunting a relevant case study. This will improve the quality of your contribution to the meeting and show you to be willing to go the extra yard.

Speak: do not waste your time and others by attending a meeting without making a contribution. Ask a question, make a comment or ask for clarification. No matter how introverted you are or out- ranked you feel, if your presence in the room is required ensure that you justify it with a contribution. You should NEVER leave a meeting without contributing something of value.

Encourage others: generosity is a great characteristic and a good look. If you find a legitimate opportunity to introduce someone else into the discussion do so with a quick: “Sophia didn’t you tell me that you experienced that at your last workplace?”

Stay awake: make sure you are alert but not alarmed in your meetings. Genuinely listen to what people are saying rather than simply waiting your turn to speak. Don’t forget to display your level of interest via your posture, eye contact and lack of plaintive sighing. Take notes!

Follow-up: find a semi-legitimate reason to contact one of the fellow attendees and ask her a question, request clarification or make a comment. Or pay them a compliment. I have noticed a distinct correlation between high performing young people that I meet and their propensity to pay a compliment. Whether it is sincere or simply a technique to ingratiate themselves – it works.

Yeah, I know you knew all that. Later on we’ll take it up a level but now is the time to consider:

What’s my brand anyway? Well it’s a lot like jam and chips…

#1: Look like you belong, then look different

creating a personal brand

So many brands,so little distinction.

This photograph by Andreas Gursky is an expensive piece of art photography highlighting the banality of consumer culture. I use it as a way to represent the crowded marketplace in which you find yourself.

Within each category – jams, biscuits, chocolates, chips – are many brands. Each brand tries desperately to look like it belongs in its category.

Have you ever purchased what you thought to be a bottle of jam only to discover that you’d selected a packet a biscuits? Of course not.

At the same time each bottle of jam is trying to distinguish itself from the other jams.

Within the world of jams there will be brands claiming to be upmarket, budget-friendly, traditional, contemporary, healthy, low-sugar, local and imported. Some of these claims will be true, others false but each brand is attempting to have a ‘position’, a ‘personality’.

I have bad news for you – it’s the same with humans. No I am not on drugs as I write this, stay with me here.

You need to look like you belong, especially if you are a newbie, then distinguish yourself among that category.

If you’re a prospective chief finance officer it is unlikely that you’ll be offered a position as chief marketing officer. That’s a different category of job and not your concern.

Your concern is to first look like a CFO and then to distinguish yourself from the alternative CFOs.

Sadly the producers of fast moving consumer goods pay more attention to distinguishing their worthless products than good people like you.

Like the jams and snacks, your personal brand should be a deliberate decision that you have made based on your default settings and the ideal characteristics of someone who would have great success in your desired career.

Recently in a presentation there was one chap described by the others as an alpha male with a great sense of fun, an extroverted nature who was very helpful to others.

Another person in attendance told us that he’d once been described as “reserved, friendly, a finisher and one of the good guys”.  “My goodness,” he said. “I realised I was a brand.” Correct. We all are.

If you have a reputation, you have a brand. If people think of you in a certain way – and they do – you are a brand. That brand might be well known to thousands of people or vaguely understood by a handful nevertheless you are a brand.

Building a strong personal brand takes time. You will need to be persistent and consistent in your efforts to position yourself.

What will you be?

Open to new ideas? Maverick? Willing to stick up something you believe in? Supportive of new employees? Resistant to change? Cynical? Thoughtful? Happy to pitch in? Polished? Here for the long haul? Party animal? Money focussed? Big picture thinker? Decisive? Consultative? Organised? Client-driven? Volatile?

What skills do you wish to be known for?

Killer presentations? Tender-writing extraordinaire? Training guru? Social media czar? Able to soothe angry clients? Mediator of rivals? The list goes on…

This back-of-envelope exercise may help you establish your brand.

Divide a piece of paper into six columns. From left to right title the columns:

  • Me
  • Others
  • Ideal
  • Keep
  • Lose
  • Develop

In the Me column write down words or phrases that you feel accurately describe you. Throw in the skills you have. Write down situations that you deal with very well or very poorly such as giving feedback, approaching bosses, asking for help. Be realistic, detailed, thorough.

In the Others column write down words or phrases that others – colleagues, bosses and clients – might use to describe you. Again, throw in the skills with which they’d associate you. You could ask them for their opinions but most of us will simply go on instinct and perhaps seek input from a trusted ally or two. Again, be thorough.

In the Ideal column write down the descriptors and skills of someone perfectly suited for the career and role you want. What’s their CV look like in terms of education and referees? What are they known for? As always, detail is good.

Now let’s populate the remaining three columns:

  • Keep
  • Lose
  • Develop

Scanning your three completed columns I hope that you note positive / helpful attributes appearing in all three. Any positive items featuring in all three should be listed in the Keep column as they are working in your favour.

Any negative / unhelpful items featuring in all three should be listed in the Lose column for obvious reasons. Likewise throw items that feature in the Me and Others into the Lose column if they don’t feature in the Ideal column. (This is a tough one for most people.)

Any positive items featuring in the Me and Ideal columns should be listed in the Develop column. Your colleagues need to see these displayed loud and clear.

Any positive item featured in the Others and Ideal column should be listed in Develop as you need to believe that you have this characteristic within you.

The items that comprise your Keep column are your current brand values (along with the soon-to-jettisoned Lose column items). The Ideal column is what you are working towards.

201: your empire builds

Stay in touch

Size matters. The more you are willing to invest the time to stay in touch with people you meet along your journey, the more likely you are to have a great career. That cannot be overstated.

Think back to former colleagues, fellow students, people you have met at conferences, networking meetings and the like. Admit it – you’ve already lost touch with people with whom you had established a positive working relationship. They have forgotten you and what you have to offer them and vice versa.

The Internet age has made staying in touch easier than ever. Use social networks – LinkedIn in particular – to maintain a strong collection of weak ties. Weak ties are the connections we maintain with past colleagues, university friends and the folk we meet at conferences and such. You don’t have to be their best friend nor should you bombard them with minutiae of your life but do maintain connections to people.

The wise Eric Barker recommends sending five different types of emails.

Find a mentor, many mentors


To some wise old souls, mentoring comes naturally.

There is an overwhelming correlation between people who achieve great things and people who are willing to ask for help. High achievers don’t stop seeking mentors, even as they themselves are sought by others for advice.

In a sense this is counterintuitive – people with the skills and the wherewithal to achieve great things shouldn’t need help – but of course they do. You also need to identify people who can further your knowledge, connections and career.

Be sure to reach out to those people in person, on the phone or via social media. They needn’t be top dogs in their field. They should just know stuff you don’t.

You needn’t seek a long-term relationship. Don’t expect life-changing walks along bodies of water. You might just need some advice.

Where do the mentors hang out?

Conferences, in the media, at your current or former workplace, via your peak body. Many people will be flattered to be asked and others will donate their time and expertise out of goodwill. Here are some tips to make these opportunities happen:

Richard Branson is busy and Steve Jobs is dead. Find mentors that are likely to be available. CEOs and sports stars are busy people.

Be pithy with your request. Don’t write them a novel or bore them with small talk on the phone. Get to your request simply and swiftly. Remember – this may seem weird to you but it’s unlikely to be weird for the target.

Don’t use the word “mentor” which is akin to using the word “marriage” when proposing a first date.

Make your request so small and reasonable that it would be unreasonable to refuse. Ask someone if they can email you a response to 3 questions. Ask for 10 minutes of their time on the phone. Ask for a quick cup of coffee with them to chat about two specific issues. Don’t be vague – no stranger wants to become your bestie. They are more likely to be willing to offer simple advice.

When you get face time with someone who is important to you, do more than simply listen and nod. Take some notes to underline the value you place on the information you’re receiving. A little research beforehand will be well received by who’s ever helping you.

Afterwards send a short, sweet message of thanks. This is a great habit to into and increases the likelihood that you will receive more help from the person down the road. Follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Stay lightly in touch.

building a personal brand

I’ve swapped Facebook for LinkedIn.

Social media

Online: I spoke to a room full of recruiters recently. Each and every individual confessed to researching candidate’s online behaviour. Most simply Googled and entered names into social media platforms but some went further.

If you wish to establish a strong and credible personal brand your social media and online habits will have to be aligned with the way you wish to be seen.

Do not expect people to ignore dubious disclosures online. No matter how separate you think work and personal life are, the distinction barely exists any longer.

On the other hand if people researching you see that you’ve made regular, thoughtful contributions to professional forums on LinkedIn or that you follow a high quality Twitter cohort they may well give you bonus points. Hell – you may even learn something via all this social media business.


Along with your back story your CV demonstrates why you and you alone are the right person for any task that you choose. Beyond simple academic qualifications ensure that your CV is full of interesting optional, experiences. These may not be directly related to your chosen career. Consider involving yourself in a voluntary project or overseas volunteering. Learn a skill that will jump off the page to the next person perusing your resume – unicycling, Latin or the Tango.

Back story

You’ll often be asked, in one way or another for your backstory. How you tell it goes a long way to how you’ll be perceived. People with a strong personal brand often have an interesting back story.

Sometimes selectively edited, good back stories distinguish the individuals from the competition. The best back stories explain why the individual was born with a destiny to be where they are and where they want to be. Some of common elements of back stories:

  • the rags-to-riches tale;
  • the I was a chronic underachiever at school tale;
  • the I just started doing this for my friends who encouraged me to do this as a business tale;
  • the my parents raised me in a peculiar way to be just like this tale;
  • the I am so nerdy about a certain topic that I went to extremes tale.

Ensure that your back story distinguishes you and shows that even many years ago you were on track to be where you are today.

You might mention how you were always interested in your current field of endeavour. How your family instilled these values into you. How you went broke studying your expertise around the globe. How you sweet-talked your way into an internship. How you have read every book available on your passion. Get it? Show passion. Position yourself apart from the pack. Here’s mine:

I’ve always loved media and politics. My earliest memory is the day of the dismissal.

I could hum all the themes from all the news bulletins by aged 10.

I started a photocopied magazine for my tennis club aged 14 which lasted three editions.

I used to fake being sick just to listen to Derryn Hinch on the radio. 25 years later I used to fill in for him on the air.

So when I got the chance to work for peanuts as a cadet at Truth newspaper I jumped at it.  I haven’t stopped since. I became a tabloid journalist at New Idea, publicist with the Seven Network and a talkradio host on 3AK.  Then Jeff Kennett bought into the station and decided he wanted my breakfast timeslot. That’s showbiz.

These days I use my media and marketing knowledge to help nonprofits and businesses. It’s a perfect fit – media, marketing and campaigning.

Is it true? Yep. Selective: a tad. Designed for maxmium kudos? Of course! It shows that I have media and communications in my blood.


Be smart

In an era of opinion, general knowledge is hard to come by. There’s a lot of dumb out there so the ability to refer to a school of thought, book, historical incident or even a recent tweet that is germane to the conversation is still a great look. There is no shortage of information available but it is up to you to filter out the riffraff. Twitter can be a great way to keep abreast of more than just celebrity gossip. Follow the New Yorker or The Economist and you will soon find your horizons expanding and IQ rising.


Be eloquent.

At risk of sounding old and grumpy I believe it’s fair to say that eloquence has dropped off a cliff. The ability for people to speak fluently with nuance and – heaven forbid – flair has always been rare. Now it is downright endangered.

People’s ability to explain, summarise, compare and contrast has been replaced by a smaller vocabulary both verbal and emotional. This is harsh but I stand by it. This is great news for anyone who can express themselves with aplomb as they will stand out from the crowd to an even greater degree.

People wishing to attain eloquence are in for some bad news – unlike other characteristics mentioned here eloquence is hard to fake and slow to achieve. Your information diet is vital – turn off FM breakfast radio and switch to ABC. Turn off the commercial reality shows and engage in news and current affairs and documentaries.

Indulge in quality print journalism. Just as junk food dominates our kitchens, junk information is dominating our minds. People not exposed to quality reasoning will not magically display quality reasoning skills.


Monitor thyself

personal branding

Though a corporate chap, Goldsmith is one of a kind.

Marshall Goldsmith the thought leader on leadership recently told me (and several hundred other conference attendees) that he has learnt at least one thing from his decades of coaching top CEOs around the globe: people rarely improve without structure.

He takes this advice so seriously he has drawn up a spreadsheet listing 15 or so daily considerations ranging from the personal (Have I been a good husband today? Have I exercised?) to the professional (Have I developed new any intellectual property that I can use today?)

He gives himself a mark out of 10 on a daily basis across the criteria. That’s structure. But that’s not all.

Not only does he have a spreadsheet, he pays a woman to call him each day and go through the questions. Structure on top of structure. He knows that without the structure of the spreadsheet and the daily phone call he would not monitor himself and his ‘performance’ would weaken.

This may sound extreme but if there are characteristics that you wish to develop to create a stronger personal brand you need to have those characteristics, behaviours and attitudes listed on paper and regularly assess yourself against them.

By the way Marshall is a personal branding master – he is known to almost always wear a green polo shirt and beige chinos. His backstory takes us to Kentucky’s poorest county and a mother who believed in education. He presents himself as an unaffected chap who didn’t know who Bono was until after they’ finished chatting for an hour. He’s also the least likely Buddhist one might ever meet. His brand inspires respect, interest and no small amount of envy.

public speaking personal branding

Speak well = well regarded.

Take to the stage, develop your presentation skills

Those of you wanting to build your profile should find every opportunity to publicly present.

Strong presentation skills go a very long way to marking you as a smart, significant person. Happily these skills can be learnt. A great presentation casts you as an authority. Even for introverts, the basics of public speaking can be learnt, rehearsed and refined. I can help via my workshops or free eBooks.

Some workplaces – particularly those which are more progressive – allow staff to make a lunch time presentation. Your workplace would probably say yes if you had the courage to suggest it.

Making a short, sharp light-hearted presentation about a topic in which you have expertise will instantly brand you to your co-workers are someone who is confident, knowledgeable and willing to grab some attention. Some people will see this as speaking above your station – so be it.

Similarly seek or create speaking opportunities at conferences that are relevant to you, your career or interests.


Consider writing an opinion piece, case study or article for trade publications or even mainstream media outlets. A letter to the editor may be less demanding and stands a higher chance of publication.

Blogging, podding et al?

For those of you who are willing to go to any length to create a brand for yourself feel free to enter the world of blogging, podcasting and online video. A word of warning though: these options are hard work once the initial buzz has worn off. Finding regular content on a regular basis is difficult and the rewards may be slow.


If you are comfortable seeking conference speaking opportunities and perhaps penning a letter to the editor it may be time to hit the big leagues and seek media coverage. This may be easier for the sole traders among you but regardless, nothing will build your profile and brand faster at less cost with more fun than media coverage. Oh yeah – it also carries more risk. We can help.

Peak early

Join your peak body or industry association. Make the effort to physically attend industry events even at your own cost and inconvenience. (The correlation between people who fund their own development and those who enjoy better careers is staggering.) Better yet, join the committees that help create these events in the first place. You’ll always get more than you give.

Finally: Career building is a long game. Play it well and you’ll go further, have more fun and likely make more money. You’ll enjoy more choice and security. Enjoy. Just use your personal brand for good, not evil.

Brett de Hoedt

That’s him in two dimensions.

Brett de Hoedt is a hell of a speaker. He recently delivered a 90m session on personal branding to the Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program. Here’s the feedback.

To have Brett deliver a challenging, memorable, practical presentation on personal branding call him today on 0414 713 802.

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What do journalists want?

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Good news: the media needs you.

Too many organisations, companies and peak bodies think that gaining media coverage is for someone else. It’s not. I guarantee that you are sitting on untapped media potential. What a waste.

The media really does need you.

Without organisations just like yours actively participating in the process of identifying story ideas, contributing talent and helping to facilitate the media’s own ideas, the media would collapse for lack of content. Grant yourself a licence to participate.

gaining media coverage

Media loves misery – and lots of other stuff.

“But the media only wants bad news stories.”

No matter what some people will tell you; good news stories do get coverage, so too do bad news stories, sad news stories, complicated news ones. There is lots of space to fill with issues of every persuasion. Go get yours.

So what does media want?

NEWs: tell the media something it doesn’t know. At least a little new. New to them doesn’t mean it is new to you. It’s more likely to be re-packaged news. Spotted a trend? Unveiling a product? Launching an event? Excellent; that’s news.

EXPERTISE: Every journo has a black book. You must ensure that you feature in these lists of expert spokespeople and contacts. It’s not easy to dislodge an existing go-to contact. Generally speaking, a journo will keep going to the one contact until that contact moves on, gets boring or, heaven forbid, says “No”. Be ready to interpret and comment on data, reports and breaking news AS IT HAPPENS. That’s what experts do.  

what journalists wantVISUAL: weak stories (and downright non-stories) can be run simply due to strong visuals.  Go to great lengths to create compelling visuals. You have yourself a story as .

DATA: whether it be a small survey or a national longitudinal study, media loves something that crystallises an issue. You are sitting on data – the sort of thing that you send to members, investors, funders. Or grab a clipboard and ask 100 people three questions. It can be that easy.

SENSATION / CONTROVERSY: You don’t have to slander and lie but bold statements, strong opinions and contrary  views make more impact and engage media.

IMMEDIACY: media wants everything ASAP. First in is best dressed; even if not necessarily best informed.

PRE-PACKAGED & SELF-SAUCING STORIES: Journalists are busy people working under a lot of pressure in a harsh working culture. Also; they are as lazy as the rest of us. Thus a fully rounded story suggestion – one with expert, data, case study, visual angle and even a media-friendly opposition spokesperson is much appreciated. Do the work for them.

pr advice

Great media hit inspired by giving a journalist a “ride-along”.

ACCESS: to case studies and real life examples via you. This is vital. They also love access to visiting overseas experts. You are the insider, help them in. Let them tour your facility, meet your client, review your data.

PREDICTABILITY: journalists rarely make calls to find out what an organisation thinks about an issue. Media wants to know what you think about issues before they arise. Do you have your opinions / demands / plans listed on your website?

CONTEXT / TOPICALITY: media wants stories that tie-in with bigger issues or happenings; positive or negative. That youth crime wave terrorising the city is an opportunity to talk about: sentencing, parenting, home security, funding for youth sports, policing and more. Get on board.

RESONANCE: media wants appropriate stories that resonate with their audience. Try to make your story relevant – perhaps to parents, new parents, fathers, first home buyers, a geography, a profession. Do your potential stories relate to a niche audience? Good – now approach media that targets that audience.

SPECIFIC SOLUTIONS: propose a specific answer or solution. Don’t just commentate or whinge. Media wants your proposals so that it can hold decision-makers accountable to it.

TIMING: You will always do better if you pick a slow news day – weekends, public holidays, post-football, Summer. Choose to unveil your survey / poll / report / study at a time that makes it more topical to maximise the appeal.

how to get media coverage

Yes – this really was published by a professional journalist.

FINALLY: Don’t think that your story isn’t newsworthy. Look at the bollocks they will print! A LOCAL ANGLE  works a treat.

High praise indeed

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Brett recently presented Because Youth and Beauty Ain’t Enough to the Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program. here’s what the program manager said: 

“Your session was one of the highest rated of our whole Melbourne trip. Very cleverly designed. You’re a pro.”

Lucy Mayes Program Manager, Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program

Here’s what the program participants said:

“Just brilliant! He put on a good show and he is very clever! What he says makes sense and I can’t wait to get the resources from him and plan to use them for my community work. Very powerful stuff!”

“Wow! Not nearly as scared of or embarrassed by the idea of my personal brand – actually Brett’s words have given me prompts and strength to develop that brand in line with what I believe and am aiming for.

“Great session from a skilled operator, who used the short period very effectively to transmit his message and advice – would love to do some more work with this gentleman!”

Loved Brett – he is a born entertainer.  I took away the importance of having a check-list and scoring yourself.  I will now make sure that when I attend a meeting I will ask at least 2 questions and I will encourage others to contribute.”

“What a professional speaker. Had us in his hands within minutes. Rapport, use of room, engaging, eye contact, choice of words, (NLP). By the end he could have said anything and I would have had difficulty disagreeing with anything he said. Extremely persuasive in a fun way that we were not even aware of the fabulous ride we were on.”

“I was a little sceptical at the beginning of this session (the title challenged me!) I soon became very interested. The concept of ‘personal branding’ wasn’t one I had considered before. Now I find myself subconsciously branding people!”

“Brett was great his presentation reminded me of David Parkin (Coach of Carlton) Very forward, direct & confident. He also showed great qualities like Peter Dhu – Overcoming your nerves and speaking without fear; Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway !!! I gained a wealth of knowledge from this session.”

“Brett  had us laughing a lot, however his message was still vital and clear about our own brand and reputation.”

“Great session, loved the interaction, just have to implement in my work/life.”

“Brett was one of a kind and really taught us how to self-promote. He was the most energised and engaging speaker I’ve ever listened to. I took away a lot of tips from this session.”

“Very entertaining. Really good information about branding and communication. Have already gone to his website and youtube channel and watched some of his videos.”

“Very worthwhile information about personal branding. I am looking forward very much to receiving the links he was going to share with us.”

“Brett builds confidence and helps to recognise own virtues while having fun and being happy! Excellent session.”

“Fantastic session. Funny, informative, lots to learn.”

“Humour is always a great way to learn! Very relaxed and enjoyable session.”

“Hilarious…. really reinforced for myself that I am what and who I am and my portrayal of that is what makes the difference. Be proud, stay confident and don’t opt out.”

If only he was conducting three public workshops in 2016. Oh yeah – he is.

Public speaking lessons care of Bill Shorten

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Big entrance: it helps to have a few former prime ministers and prominent party officials in attendance. This is not an option for most of us. Entrance music instrumental music helps fill a gap and build emotion – use it if the occasion justifies it. A witty or memorable opening line helps. Shorten draws from former PM Gough Whitlam for his.

Emotional ups and downs. Shorten started on a high, indulging in some call and response then within five minutes attempted to reach an emotional depth by referring to tragedies in Orlando and Britain. Not bad. Presentations cannot be at one emotional pitch. You can still appear passionate and energised when the tempo is slow and the content sombre.

Energy is essential. If you’re not excited why would you expect your audience to feel that way? The best public speakers are energetic even when speaking slowly and deliberately. You can’t be in full flight all speech long. At some points Shorten sound a little shrill.

Too much acknowledgement of VIPs in the early moments can kill the energy of a presentation. Do as Shorten did and place this later in your presentation. Short, sharp personalised introductions are the best way to introduce VIPs and Shorten did this well.

If someone truly needs no introduction – Bob Hawke for instance – don’t weigh them down with one. If you are tempted to acknowledge more than a few issues or individuals in the room group them together as constant interruption for cheering gets tiresome pretty damn quickly.

Location, location, location: if you can pick a location that underlines your themes and priorities do so. By choosing Penrith, Shorten – like every other leader in recent memory – was squarely aiming at the swinging voter of Sydney’s west. Ensure that you aim as shamelessly at your target.

Backdrops & messaging: Shorten and his party were sending too many messages from the stage.  There was the small banner directly behind him repeatedly declaring:  Medicare, Jobs, Education. Plus a large banner stating: We’ll put people first. This is too much.

Applause: If you are wanting applause you must signal that there is the expectation of applause.  Ask poor Jeb Bush. As with telling a joke – it works best when you appear confident. Don’t timidly prompt applause. Signify that you expect it with your content, volume and intonation. Create the space for it and allow the time for it. But please – limit it. Too many ‘spontaneous applause pauses get wearisome.

Cliches and language: we at Hootville are not above the use of a cliche or two. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times. But here is one phrase that none of us should use: “Fair go.” It needs to be retired from the lexicon. “Fair dinkum” which Shorten also used needs to find a place in an aged care facility for geriatric vernacular. And stay there. Few prominent public speakers in Australia refer to their audience as: Friends.

I versus We. This is a difficult choice that you must make as a speaker if you are a leader. Shorten began by emphasising the ‘we’ – the party. However this changed 15 or so minutes in when he began to say that: “I understand… “I know…

‘We’ is great but it’s hard for your audience to accept ‘we’ if in reality you are the decider.

Very broad terms: when Shorten talks about “hope and respect” for the electorate he is using very broad terms. “Investing in people” is similarly broad and vague. No doubt these phrases have been focus-group tested but to my ear they don’t mean much. Minimise the use of such terms.

Far better is: “Foreign aid for foreign companies” which is how Shorten described the government’s corporate tax plan. Not a bad turn of phrase and one that stands a chance of establishing itself in Australian public discourse. Wit, humour, alliteration and rhyme make your messages more memorable.

Indeed ABC 24’s new sticker quoted “Foreign aid to foreign companies” directly.

Announceables: anytime you can announce something (government funding for employment programs) do so as it adds real fibre to your presentation. That said; no matter how tempting it is to give the people what they want have the discipline not to overpromise.

Specify audiences: Shorten made a point to name various locations in Australia and various audiences – specifically unemployed Australians under 25 years of age and those 55+.

Just how many under 25s were spending their Sunday afternoon watching the launch is another question. 300,000 didn’t even bother to register to vote in a tight election. BTW: for this they are primarily accountable.

Name thy enemies: Shorten decided to name some of our largest companies by name – mainlky banks. He knows that public faith in these corporations is at a low and by naming names he helps gain more support for his argument.

Story time: It was 25 minutes or so into the presentation before Shorten told a story. It was about the visit to an Indigenous and remote school that he had visited during the campaign. He told the tale of a little boy who didn’t have a television as a way to highlight education spending.

The preceding 10 minutes had been nothing more than a laundry list of pledges and promises and spending. These lists become monotonous and generic rather quickly. Some overarching narrative, personal observations and stories hit a different mark with the audience.

Address the negative perceptions around you and your issues. Shorten did this when he referred to people who feel that politics is a cynical game and that their vote does not matter. I recommend to all clients that they do something similar. It gives you a fighting chance of getting the attention and consideration of the right people at the right time.

Repetition: Shorten used repetition towards the climax of this presentation ending multiple sentences with the phrase: “Vote Labour.” Perhaps you use this too. It is a common tactic used by gospel preachers and Presidential candidates such as Barack Obama. (Watch it from 10m in.)

Repetition adds theatricality to your presentation – even more so if the audience chimes in with the repetition. Shorten needed more confidence to make it work. Repetition is worth considering, particularly if you’re trying to excite and inspire.

Let there be music: Shorten used music which immediately chimed in upon finishing his speech. This is good and continues the emotional uplift. Or perhaps everyone is just happy that it’s over.

Score: 7.25 /10. Not bad but not memorable beyond this campaign. Mind you, truly memorable speeches are harder to conjure in this cynical, information-drenched era.

If you want to dramatically improve your public speaking and presentations talk to Brett about his Present Savvy workshop.

And read what you can learn from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s launch speech.

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