Category Archives: speaking

Stick to your subject

An issue facing a lot of my media training clients and also the people who write for the magazine I edit is that they don’t know what they’re talking about. I should rephrase. They know what they need to talk about and are consummate experts on it. Then they talk about something else.

Let me give you an example. On my magazine we have a lot of experts writing for us – academics, analysts, definitely experts. They want the exposure but they buy completely into the idea that we are independent. It works, with the occasional hiccup – like a few weeks ago when someone sent an article in saying “I thought, rather than write about the subject set, I’d do something related.”

Alarm bells time. The writer had no idea what else might be going into the publication. So by deliberately moving away from the set subject he risked duplication. This is all but never going to work.


There’s a related issue when interviewees accidentally tell me something more interesting than they should. I had a guy in my media training sessions once and asked my standard warm-up question/call to action, “Tell me about yourself and your company”.

His response was” “A, I think I know what you’ve heard. It is a fact that if you asked my last employer whether I was sacked or walked out, there would be a disagreement between him and me – but let me tell you, I was not sacked…”

Beyond that point I was not remotely interested in anything his current company had to say. He had made the mistake of interesting me in something completely irrelevant at best, to his detriment at worst.


Both of these issues can be overcome by preparation and targeting. Always prepare for an engagement with the press by thinking: what is the magazine, who are its readers and how do I engage with them? After this, apply your marketing messages. How do you make your points whilst still fulfilling our needs? There is almost always a way.

That way you get to deliver your thought leadership or marketing messages without telling us you’ve written something off-topic, and if you’ve done your thinking beforehand you won’t accidentally tell us something more interesting than the thing you’d like us to write about.

It’s about picking a subject, pointing yourself at it and then continuing down that path, regardless. It sounds easy, but how often, if you talk to the press, do you do it?

For information on Guy Clapperton’s media training sessions click here.

Join an association

One of the best moves I’ve made in many years as a freelance (22 to be exact almost to the month) is to join an association, In my case it was the Professional Speaking Association, of which I am a Fellow. It could probably be anything for you, but that’s the one I went for.

There are numerous reasons for doing so, solidarity, minimum rates in the case of the NUJ of which I’m also a member and have been since 1989, but the big one is the people.

As you’ll see from the picture, which I include to annoy people who are somewhere cold, I’m working in Cape Town for the week at this conference, moderating a panel tomorrow morning. I’m doing it as editor of Professional Outsourcing Magazine.

Stranger in an unknown town

So I thought, I know nobody, I don’t know the area at all. I went onto the PSA’s Facebook site and asked if any members out here happened to fancy a coffee while I was in their area.

I was surprised when one of them suggested dinner, even more surprised when this turned out to be an invitation to his home. Surprise wasn’t an adequate word when I realised he’d invited some other PSA members around as well. So I had some insights into the area from local people, a great convivial evening and have made new friends.

It isn’t always like this of course (although I now can’t speak highly enough of the South African PSA, as you can imagine). But one of the traps of being a self-employed person is that you can end up thinking that’s it, you really are by yourself the whole time and there’s nobody else.

There almost always is. If you’re starting to work for yourself or like me you’ve been self-employed for decades, consider joining an association of some sort. I’ve had business support, help in negotiating deals, guides on rates, it’s all good – but the people are the best thing. I also get great help from the UK meetings and conventions and from my “mastermind” group, six of us who meet more or less monthly and hold each other accountable for our business objectives and what we’ve done about them. Come to think of it, they generally feed me too.

Never, ever feel that you have to be working alone just because you’re title says “sole trader”.

No I won’t speak at your event or write for you for “exposure”

Here is a big cheesy picture of me speaking at last year’s Guardian Small Business Awards, which I was very pleased to host. My ears are smaller in real life I promise. I speak a lot and as you’ll gather from my presence at Guardian event, I write for the Guardian quite a bit too (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise).

One thing that paper, which goes to just over a quarter of a million people and which has a lot of prestige, has never asked me to do is to write for nothing. The exposure, a handful of other would-be clients tell me, will be invaluable. I get people asking me to speak or write because the readership or people attending the event will be useful contacts and may well offer me some work.

The logic is so flawed it’s jaw-dropping – but let’s run through it for a moment.


So, you want me to speak at your event. That’s fine, as long as I can add some value I’d love to. You only want me for half an hour and it’s going to lead to good exposure, you tell me. You don’t see that paying for only half an hour is a realistic expectation.

OK. As long as that half an hour speech is in my living room, I agree, it will only be half an hour. I warn you, though, you won’t get a particularly good audience in there. Parking for a crowd is terrible. A better idea would be to get me to go somewhere, in which case I’m going to have to allow for around half a day.

I’d probably better practice the speech as well. Oh, and maybe write it and do some PowerPoint, or at least know where I’m going with it. Hopefully by this time you’ll note that “half an hour” is no such thing, and that’s before I start to consider my price based on experience or relevance.

But what about the audience, you say? They might book me and they will be very useful contacts apparently. Well, fine, but this audience is watching me speak for nothing in your scenario. They won’t expect to pay me to go and do the same thing again at their event.

Sometimes I hear the argument that the audience isn’t paying to come to an event so there can be no fee; I suggest the audience should pay and the speaker fee should come from that, and I get told that the audience wouldn’t wear it. So now I’m expected to take part for nothing in an event with an audience that might hire me but actually doesn’t have the budget to attend the event in the first place.

You see how this doesn’t add up? Of course some speakers do it, but they tend to end up selling to the audience because they’ve got to make the event worthwhile for them. You don’t want me to come in focused on my business and thinking of your audience as my marketplace, you want me to add genuine value and to be focused entirely on your event.


Writing for your blog or publication is much the same. You want to take advantage of my time and experience to add value, you have to pay me to do so unless you’re a mate trying to start a business and need some content – I’ve done plenty of those – or you work for a charity I want to support. My dad died of a heart attack when he was younger than I am now, and if the British Heart Foundation ever needs any favours free of charge the door is firmly open.

If you’re a commercial concern, though, if you want to make a profit out of content  you want to extract from me or my colleagues, please don’t patronise us by claiming a payment isn’t necessary because we’ll get exposure or make useful connections.

There can be ways around the problem. If you genuinely don’t have budget but can offer me good pictures for this website, or a video for my showreel, I may well consider it. If you have no budget for speakers but are offering a goody bag to 500 delegates, I can get a deal on one of my books and extract my value in that way. 

But please, don’t sit in an office being paid for your time and ask us to work for free – that suggests you value your time at something and mine at nothing. See why it doesn’t go down well? The highest profile clients, including the Guardian, never ask.

For information on booking Guy Clapperton as a speaker or event moderator click here.

How did Miliband repeat himself like this?

Have a look at the video above. It’s only a couple of minutes long. It’s Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, repeating himself and making the same point over and over again.

I show this to media training candidates and ask them what’s going on. Sometimes they respond: Miliband is an idiot.

So let’s leave party politics at the door for a moment. Let’s just assume the likelihood is that after May we will have one of two possible people as Prime Minister, and one of them is in the clip above. Even if he loses, becoming the second-likeliest Prime Minister after May isn’t something you achieve by being thick.

So what really happened? I wasn’t there but I can guess.

Find out about the interview

One excellent piece of advice I’ve heard a number of times is that people should find out about how a broadcast interview they give will be used. Ask the journalist: will you be using just my best quote or will you be putting everything out there, the full three minutes?

If it’s “just the best” then the standard advice is, no matter what the question, get your key messages out there.

This, I suspect, is what Miliband and his advisors were told before the above interview took place. So he’s dutifully brought every answer around to his central point; the strikes are wrong when talks are ongoing but the Government has behaved irresponsibly (disagree if you wish, but he’s expressing his view well).

The problem – and the refinement I’d add – is that someone, somewhere, will have a copy of all the repetitious responses and has the power to make you look (technical term coming up) a muppet. This is what someone’s done to Miliband above; according to some of the labels on YouTube it appeared in this form on Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe, a comedy/satire programme. They’ve just shown the unedited version with all of the identikit answers, and it looks absurd.

So what can you do to avoid this? In the context of a comedy programme Miliband still looks a fool; decontextualised he looks even more so. I’ve seen this circulated on social media without any reference to the comedy programme by people who genuinely get the impression that Miliband doesn’t realise he’s repeating himself. Don’t let this happen to you.

My suggestion to my media training candidates is that they answer the question. Prepare more than one message you need to get into an interview and push different ones. Respond to the questions rather than use them as cues for your spiel. They’ll naturally be different. You can still make your point.

You should end up with your message getting out there just as you’d hoped, but if someone gets hold of the unedited version then hopefully you won’t look quite as absurd as Mr. Miliband does in the clip.

It’s not his fault. He’s been manipulated for comic effect. However, by varying your responses, you can ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to you.

Details of Guy Clapperton’s media training course can be found by clicking here.

The language question

I’m off to Poland today for Professional Outsourcing Magazine, helping to judge an awards scheme and to attend the gala dinner and presentation. I’m looking forward to it – the magazine’s been a pleasure to work on for this last year and there will be people I know there.

Often I visit other countries and speak. A couple of weeks ago I faced an international group for media training, which was fun and stimulating. There are a couple of things to bear in mind when you face a multilingual audience.

Ignore the obvious

On two occasions I’ve been advised to speak slowly to give the other language speakers a chance to keep up. That’s actually so obvious I wouldn’t have mentioned it here if people hadn’t been drawing it to my attention already.

Something on which you do need to focus if your audience will have English as a second language is the quality of the AV. Last time I presented to a tiny group I was using a video to illustrate a point, but the speaker on the TV set wasn’t working. We put the volume as high as we could on my iPad but the back row struggled to hear. Would they have stood a better chance if they’d been English speakers by birth? Probably. Would it have been a better idea if I’d brought a backup speaker just in case? Absolutely, and I’ve acquired a couple. Lesson learned.

The other thing to watch is humour. It doesn’t necessarily travel, no matter how hysterical you might consider your own brand of comedy.

A few years ago I was presenting on social media in Italy, just after the fall of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. One of my slides had a picture of Rupert Murdoch. I said “I don’t know how this man affects the non-English-speaking world. He’s a media magnate who has undue influence in our political world and many of us can barely believe it – I explain this in depth because I know nothing like that could ever happen in Italy.”

One person laughed uproariously but otherwise there was silence. No reaction. I started to wonder about actual violence from the audience if I’d offended them that badly.

I continued with my next point and then the laugh came – I’d forgotten about the gap while the interpreter caught up with me. Of course they loved the Berlusconi gag, they just hadn’t heard it yet apart from the fluent English speaker, who had laughed immediately.

Lesson learned again – allow a gap for the interpreter! And given that humour relies largely on timing, think very carefully about how important a joke might be when that timing is going to be in the hands of a translator rather than your own.