Imitation: not always flattering

I read about the American Senator Ted Cruz‘ attempts to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with some bemusement over the weekend. For people not reading this immediately, this was the weekend on which America made equal marriage for gay as well as straight people legal throughout the country, and – significantly – a couple of days after President Obama started singing “Amazing Grace” at the memorial of his pastor friend Clementa Pinckney, so horribly murdered.

Obama had whoops of appreciation from the congregation, which was used to breaking into song and which saw this as a genuine gesture. Cruz was met with silence and according to the story above, his security people asked anyone with their phone out to delete the footage.

So, you’ve seen a speaker or a spokesperson do something that works. Should you “borrow” it or not, and how do you know whether it’s going to look cynical?

Borrow but make it yours

Personally I borrow stuff all the time. Until recently I didn’t have a formal “sales funnel” but on deciding I needed to sharpen my speaking and media training business, I put one in. Whilst media training I speak about the bridging technique to get people out of difficult subject areas; I imagine most media trainers will to this, it’s commonplace and certainly not my own intellectual property.

I’ll even “borrow” a news story as I’ve done to write this post, and I see nothing wrong in this. What I won’t do is imitate the participants – I’ll add or overlay my own commentary so that the content is mine, and this is where I believe Senator Cruz went wrong. However sincere he may have been, it ended up looking as though he thought, “that worked for Obama”, took all the context away – the friendship with the pastor, the fact that this was an act of remembrance in a church – and tried doing exactly the same thing.

It’s the same when you find someone referring to a story you tell on stage, or something you’ve written, as if it’s their own. A colleague of mine was around the music industry a lot in his youth, mostly through his father, and as a child brought tea to a number of people who are now pretty much legends. He’s told the stories on stage, and was once surprised to hear someone else doing a speech claiming to have done exactly the same thing at the same gig (book Alan Stevens if you want to know the stories, I’m not nicking them!).

It’s never a good idea to pinch someone else’s idea too directly. Refer to it, put your own interpretation on what happened by all means, but don’t just nick stuff. It will always catch up with you.

Do you need help with your media engagements or presentation skills? I can help – drop me a line or call 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *