Public Speaking / Speechwriting Tag - BissettMatheson Communications Sun, 19 Nov 2017 14:17:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb What's all this Media Training stuff about anyway?

I am asked every once in a while what our media training workshops are all about. So I’m thinking, given that we happen to have our next course coming up next week ,and there are still a few seats available, wouldn’t this be good time to blog on this issue? Well yeah! As they say, timing is everything. 

I can tell you our media training workshops are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but you might dismiss that as a biased, self-serving view. So, how about the view of a typical past participant.


There are lots of other testimonials on the media training page of our website.

More specifically, our media training is a combination of theory, examples, stories, and lots of hands on practice, both on and off camera, followed by discussion on the responses - what worked well, what didn't, and other approaches to consider. In short, the workshops are very interactive. What we hear over and over from participants is that what they learn is invaluable, and can be put into practice immediately. Stuff like this:


Another focus of our workshops in the attitude you should adopt in dealing with the media. We find that often there is a mistrust that can be paralyzing. We talk about what reporters are really looking for, and hopefully by the end, participants see the media not as an intrusion to be avoided, but an opportunity to be embraced. But embraced with the appropriate amount of caution. We're all for honesty, but there are limits to what you should share. The workshops look at those boundaries.

They are a lot of fun as well, from the discussion in general, and from video of some media encounters you will learn from, such as an excellent example by actress Anne Hathaway of handling a very awkward question to an appearance on a CBC panel by a representative of Ethical Oil that would make you cringe.

There is a lot more, but you get the idea.

Which brings me back to our upcoming media training workshop next Thursday. If you or someone you know may be interested, details are here.

Thanks for reading. As usual, you can "like" this blog above, rate it below, and ReTweet it if you feel so inclined. And especially, thanks for sharing with anyone you feel may be interested. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 12 Mar 2015 13:02:42 +0000
My experience researching elevator speeches

In advance of one of our recent media training workshops one of the participants asked if I could spend some time on elevator speeches.

We pride ourselves on customizing our workshops to best meet the needs of participants, so as long as it is communications related, we do this. Usually it is a request to focus on one media or the other, or crisis situations, or how to go about getting good publicity, that kind of thing.

This is the first time we were asked to spend some time on elevator speeches.

What we teach about messaging are skills that are quite transferable from dealing with media to public meetings to one-on-one, and of course elevator speeches would be included.

But I wasn’t terribly comfortable that there aren’t specifics to elevator speeches I wasn’t aware of, so as part of my preparation I hit Google to see if there were any words of wisdom or techniques I should be aware of.

I did find a bit to add to my content but what struck me more than anything else is the amount of crap I found. Some of the advice defied common sense and it was obvious whoever wrote of this stuff had no clue whatsoever about effective communications.

I actually read that in an elevator speech, the most important thing is to make sure you highlight your biography, where you went to school, who you worked for, list your accomplishments, yadda yadda yadda. Can you imagine? Other advice was along the same line. This coming from people who apparently own or work in media consultancies.  That’s scary.

The problem with this, of course, is that people without a communications background may believe it.

I know it’s impossible but as I read from some of these sites I couldn’t help wishing there was some kind of standard people who purport to be authorities on a subject have to meet.

The take away, and no surprise here, is don’t believe everything you read. Or, maybe more on point, if it sounds stupid, that’s because it is.     

Thanks for reading. Now please consider rating, liking, RTing, sharing or adding a comment.  

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 24 Jun 2014 02:22:02 +0000
Storytelling - the most effective form of communications


In our media training workshops, I often talk about the power of telling a story to communicate an idea or convey a message. One of the examples we sometimes use is former US President Ronald Reagan. He was an absolute master, so even though his stories are getting a little dated, I'm reluctant to let them go. This example from back during the Cold War is one of the reasons why.

You notice what he did there. We were drawn in to that short story about he and Nancy on the streets of Moscow. He got us engaged, then made his point that communism doesn’t respect freedom. How much more effective that is, than if his speech simply made the point, perhaps supported with statistics. In other words, the approach many others may have taken.

The reason I am mentioning this now is because I just read of another great example of storytelling that I’d like to share. This is from a piece in the Harvard Business Review Blog Review, focused on the power of storytelling as a strategic business tool.

It talked about research focused around that Budweiser ad that went viral after it aired on the Superbowl. You know the one with the adorable little puppy who had a thing for this Clydesdale, and they became separated when someone took the puppy away, but then the horse organized the other Clydesdales and that led to the unlikely couple getting reunited, and they go back to frolicking together and supposedly live happily ever after.

It’s goes right off the scale for cuteness, leaving viewers feeling good in a collective aaawwwwww. But what makes it work beyond the cuteness of the puppy is the story of this special bond and how they overcome adversity. It’s like a mini-movie in 60 seconds.

The writer of the article goes at this from an academic perspective, explaining why it works from the perspective of the neurological affects on the brain when we watch it, the techniques at play etc. etc.

All of that is interesting, but what caught my attention was another example he used of effective storytelling. He wrote about a lawyer named Moe Levine who was seeking compensation for his client, a man who had lost both arms in an accident.

Rather than a long summation focusing on what happened, and why, and going on and on about safety measures and medical reports and whatever else might have been useful in swaying a jury, Levine instead relied on simply telling a short story. It only took him about 30 seconds, but in that time he painted a brief and emotionally compelling picture. Here’s what he said:

As you know, about an hour ago we broke for lunch. I saw the bailiff come and take you all as a group to have lunch in the jury room. Then I saw the defense attorney, Mr. Horowitz. He and his client decided to go to lunch together. The judge and court clerk went to lunch. So, I turned to my client, Harold, and said “Why don’t you and I go to lunch together?” We went across the street to that little restaurant and had lunch. (Significant pause.) Ladies and gentlemen, I just had lunch with my client. He has no arms. He has to eat like a dog. Thank you very much.

Levine reportedly won one of the largest settlements in the history of the state of New York.

Storytelling. In communication I am hard-pressed to thiunk of anything more powerful. 


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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 13 Mar 2014 00:42:05 +0000
David Alward's communications strategy gamble


It was no surprise that Premier Alward focused on energy development in his State of the Province speech the other night as he’s been doing that with increasing frequency and conviction for months. But what was telling about the speech is the degree to which he doubled down.  Strategically it was his party’s effort to define the ballot question for next fall’s election, but to what extent will it work?

He framed it perfectly when he said “The decision before us is simple: do we listen to those who say no to the very same opportunities that have created the strongest economies in North America, or do we finally say yes?”

It was a passionate speech where he hit what has become the government mantra of bringing the jobs home and turning around our economy.

He had specific shots for two groups. One was the protestors, saying specifically “we will not let the personal agendas of the minority be a roadblock to 
developing our province’s bright future.”

Leaving aside that economically the government may not see any alternatives to going this route, in going there the Tories are betting that those opposed are indeed a minority. The government could very well have polling on that, but the last numbers I heard about, which are now about two years outdated, suggested the province is split right down the middle on it.

The other shot was at the Opposition, and this is even more interesting.  Catch this quote “To not take advantage of this opportunity would be one of the most irresponsible things a government could do.” Related to that, and other decisions like pension reform, Alward allowed it may not be the most politically prudent approach, but “I didn't sign up for this job to stand still and press pause.”

Press pause – remember that phrase. You heard the Premier and others in his government use it before to characterize the Liberal Opposition and specifically leader Brian Gallant, and no doubt we will be hearing it a lot more.

That’s the strategy – to position the government as action oriented, specifically on shale gas, against the opposition, who they will try to position as reluctant to make decisions.  

Will it work? It may. Strategically speaking, the Opposition’s current tactic of keeping Gallant somewhat hidden actually has merit. Why take a definitive stand on anything and risk alienating voters if he doesn’t have to? So I expect they will continue having him criticizing government but without offering alternatives. The government will continue to paint him as indecisive for this, but the Liberals are probably OK with that, knowing there is time later to take whatever stands they feel might serve them well.

But on fracking, the Liberals may have walked themselves into a corner. They are on record saying they want to wait for some further studies before saying yes or no to shale gas development. In other words, they might or might not go with fracking but, and this is a big BUT, voters probably won’t know before the election is held.  

The communications challenge for the Conservatives is whether they can convince voters they should reelect them and be sure shale gas development will proceed,  than take a risk on a party that might decide against it. All of this of course, assuming the majority of New Brunswickers are in favour.

It’s as good a strategy as any on the Tories’ part, given the current polling that shows them in trouble.

Thanks for reading. If you feel so inclined, like, rate, RT, and/or leave a comment below. 


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 03 Feb 2014 02:08:22 +0000
metacognition and constructivist approaches be damned, communications is about being understood


On twitter a few days ago, a friend started a thread by posting a quote from a note kids took home from their first day back at a Fredericton elementary school.


Here's the line: "Our school vision is to enhance student learning through higher order thinking, metacognition and constructivist approaches to learning."


As might be expected, everybody who weighed in, me included, was critical, including one guy who read between the lines and offered, "Our schools vision is to Thesaurus the crap out of everything".


Had to chuckle at that because I think he is probably right.


The unfortunate part is that such a pretentious line would come from an educator, and probably someone senior enough that part of their responsibility is to set an example and tone for teachers in their school. So why in heaven's name would this person use such language? Does he (or she) not understand that the first rule of communication is to be understood? Is he that detached from the average parent of the school's children that he or she thinks they really talk like that?


Many years ago I learned two lessons from a journalism mentor that I have never forgotten – Never use a fifty-cent word when a five-cent word will do, and – write like you talk.


If the unidentified educator who drafted the note actually talks like that, I expect he sits alone in the lunchroom.


The question is why this educator felt a need to use all those fifty-cent words? Could be that that really is the way he converses – sorry, talks, with his peers. In which case his sin is not realizing that with a different target audience he needed to change his language.


Does it matter? Well, yes, it does. If he wants parents to understand what the school's vision is, it certainly matters. And he must, otherwise, why would he bother with the note in the first place. But because he failed to explain that vision in plain English, he enlightened few, if any.


Another adage comes to mind – never under-estimate a person's intelligence, or over-estimate their vocabulary.


Now, anybody have any idea what that's school's vision is?    


If you enjoyed this blog, click on "like" above, and if you have some thoughts on it, please enter them below - preferably in plain English (wink) 



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 12 Sep 2013 17:56:00 +0000
"I had a dream" is a masterful piece of speechwriting and communications, but not King's best


As we mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I have a dream” speech, aside from the obvious historical importance of it, I am reminded of just how great a piece of speechwriting it was.


As someone who especially appreciates great speechwriting, this one has always been at the top of my list. I find it absolutely genius in the way it was crafted. The images King draws, the careful line he walks between the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the reality of being black, or to use the vernacular off the day, a Negro in the United States.


But the real magic of that speech, the power that drove it home, was half way through when he went off script. Up to that point he was reading, head down reciting the words on the page. As the story goes, his friend gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted “Tell em about the dream Martin”. That's when he moved his script aside.


King's speechwriter Clarence B. Jones watched this unfold, and as he tells it he saw King shift gears in a heartbeat. Jones leaned over to the man next to him and said “These people out there today don't know it yet, but they're about to go to church.”


The conventional wisdom is that from that point on, in other words the “I had a dream” part was improvised. That's not entirely true because it is a speech he had given about two months before, it just wasn't planned for that day.


But when he shifted into it, he started truly speaking from the heart, and what came out was so perfect in so many ways, not just for content but also for style. The images and choices of words flowed. But it is the style, the cadence that what made it memorable.


Notice the cadence – the repetition of the line “I have a dream”. Eight times in a row he starts his sentence with it, and when he says his dream is to live in a nation where his children will “not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”, notice the alliteration and the use of the  “ka” sound – colour, content, character.


And at the end of the speech the repetition returns with his use of “Let freedom ring” eight times, leading to what is probably the most memorable close of a speech ever – “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”


As speeches go, it doesn't get any better than this.


But that said, I don't think it's his best writing. His “Letter from a Brimingham jail”, written in reply to a number of fellow ministers who were critical of his actions because they often prompted violence, was even more inspired.


There's one sentence in that letter that is 316 words long, enough to make any grammar teacher cringe. But it is a run-on sentence that absolutely captures why he cannot agree with his fellow ministers who say he has to be more patient and wait.


I'll end this blog with that sentence.


“But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 28 Aug 2013 17:55:00 +0000
Another take on that Australian Army video


Yesterday, I blogged about Lieutenant General David Morrison of the Australian Army, and copied a video of him because it was one of the best examples of non-verbal crisis communications I had come across in a long time.


I'm not the only crisis communications consultant who saw the value of the Australian Army chief's no-nonsense response as an example of effective communications. A fellow practitioner, and fellow Canadian, Melissa Agnes of Melissa Agnes Crisis Communications also reviewed that video, but from a bit of a different angle.


For those with an interest in crisis communications, or for that matter effective communications, I am pleased to provide her take has a guest blog.


  If you like this, please indicate so above, and if you have a comment, please include it below. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 26 Jun 2013 17:13:00 +0000
Australia's top soldier good example of non verbal crisis communications


The number one rule when it comes to crisis communications, is assuring the public you need to reach most, that you care, and that you are doing something to make things right. It's as simple as that, but often people fall short, not because they aren't saying the right things, but because they don't come across as sincere.


It's what we call non-verbal communications – how you come across beyond what you are saying. It's the body language and the tone of voice. Do you come across as believable and with credibility and true empathy? If not, it doesn't matter what you say, your audience isn't going to buy it, and in fact they may not even hear it because they have already tuned you out.


In our media training we quote a study by Stanford University that shows 93% of our communications effectiveness depends on our non-verbals. There are many other studies into this and most show similar results.


The reason I am blogging about this today is because I have come across a piece of video that is a great example of effective communications.


This is Lieutenant General David Morrison, the top soldier in the Australian Army.  He is responding to a sex scandal within his ranks. The words he chooses are strong – no weasel words or so-called “spin”, and that of course is good, but beyond this, notice how his non-verbal communications complement his language perfectly.  You can sense he is talking through clenched teeth because he's so angry, and he leaves no doubt he's serious about dealing with it.


This is about three minutes. Have a look and let me know what you think. 




]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 24 Jun 2013 17:12:00 +0000
Hats off to 4-H for its focus on communications training  

First a warning. If you have been following my blog for the past year this may sound like a bit of déjà vu.  But not quite.


In February of last year, I blogged about how impressed I was with the speeches I judged at the Nashwaak Valley 4-H competition. In that blog I wrote:


“I don't mean to overstate the case. They have a long way to go, but this was only at the club level. We were choosing the winners to go on to regional, and then provincial competition, and then there's a national level competition for the older members. All I can say is given that what I watched was the first level, the higher levels must be incredible.”


Well, that was then and this is now and on Saturday, I was one of the judges at the higher level – those who had made it through club, then district competition, and now were at the provincials. And I would not be overstating the case to say every speech we heard, from the little kids as young as seven through to the senior level were extraordinary.  


What struck me was that as judges we didn't detect a bit of nerves from any of the presenters – none. What we saw was nothing but confidence.


It is a credit to the 4-H leaders that they put such a focus on public speaking, with many of the clubs making it mandatory. This has given all these kids a definitive leg up on whatever they do in life. There is not one profession where the ability to communicate, and the confidence that comes with that strength, will not be an incredible asset.


These kids are destined to be the leaders of tomorrow.


The way it works the winner in the senior category goes on to compete at the national level, I believe in November in Ottawa. Congratulations to Victoria Blakely of the Coverdale-Albert County 4-H Club, and soon to be graduate of the Communications program at St. Thomas University. She'll be going by virtue of her winning first place on Saturday. She gave a very creatively crafted and well-delivered speech on the Bay of Fundy tides, and to be honest, she's the first person who could ever explain that tides and moon thing to me in a way I could understand it.


As part of the competition, as a senior she also had to deliver a two-minute speech only two minutes after hearing what the topic was. Talk about pressure. But she nailed that too.


I understand all the speeches are to be posted on the Farm Credit Corporation website, but I'm not sure when. But to give you an idea just how good these young people are, catch this interview from CBC Radio's Shift program from last week, keeping in mind these are two 11 year olds.






]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 28 Apr 2013 17:02:00 +0000
Communications on the the power to dream, from a man who has walked the talk to amazing places


Public speaking, in the right hands, can leave you informed, entertained, upset, or motivated, all of which serve a purpose, but if it leaves you feeling inspired, well, that's about as good as it gets.


Many gifted speakers can do this to one extent or another, but the ability to communicate is only part of the package, the rest lies in who it's coming from because that determines how much credibility they have – in other words, to what extent they walk the talk.


I had the privilege over the weekend to hear someone who is the embodiment of what he speaks about, and I cannot remember listening to anyone who left me with such a combination of admiration and inspiration.


Terry Kelly has been blind since he was one. Despite this, he keeps racking up accomplishment after accomplishment, award after award.


As a singer/songwriter he has under his belt six studio albums, 11 singles, a song of the year (In my father's house in 1993), Canadian Country Music Awards, ECMA awards and a Juno.


He's a double silver medalist in Canadian track and one of only three blind people in the world to run a mile in under five minutes.


And he has been awarded an Order of Canada medal.


But there was no mention of any of this in his keynote presentation on Saturday, which was part of IBEW Local 37's annual personal and professional development day for members, part of this progressive union's commitment to learning, but that's another subject for another day. 


In his presentation, Kelly blended his music and matter-of-fact style with a generous portion of humour but without the slightest hint of self-pity in delivering his message about overcoming life's obstacles to realize your dreams. In fact he dismissed his blindness as something he doesn't even think about anymore.


But as someone in the audience I couldn't help but think about it, and that's where the admiration comes in. He talked about what he called his Dream Adjustment model.


His stories about his days at the School for the Blind in Halifax where he said he was given the gift of not being pampered, and where he and the other kids rose to the challenge of figuring out how to play hockey and drive a tractor, and how he took it to heart when he was told if being blind is the worst thing you have to deal with then consider yourself very lucky.


I can't possibly do his presentation justice but it was so powerful to hear him speak and to realize what an absolutely fulfilling life he has led and continues to live while many of the rest of us live our lives with our dreams on the back burner, suffering from what he calls “excuse-itis”.  And that's where the inspiration part comes in.


I was so glad I chose to attend the learning day and especially glad to hear Kelly's presentation. But throughout it I kept thinking how many people I know and care about whom I wished were there to hear it as well.


If you ever get the chance to hear this guy, go. He's a world class presenter that can't help but leave you inspired. 


Meantime, here's one of his great songs, certainly one of my favourites, In My Father's House






]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 21 Apr 2013 17:01:00 +0000
Canada's huggable brand dealer


We've all seen or at least heard about those surveys where they list the least trusted professions.


They vary a bit but not much – they are usually pretty consistent. Like this one from Journalists come in at number #9, lawyers at #4, politicians at #2, and holding the #1 spot as the least trusted profession in Canada – used car dealers.


Hold that thought for a minute.


I took a social media workshop a while back facilitated by David Shipley, who focuses on this kind of thing for UNB. Excellent workshop BTW that you might want to catch if this is something you are interested in, and if it is repeated, but I digress. So back on point.


In that workshop, David asked the class what we could think of as local examples of exceptional marketing.


What jumped to my mind immediately was Jim Gilbert's Wheels and Deals. I have always marveled at the success of a strategy to brand someone who sells used cars as “Canada's huggable car dealer”.


Think about it – a used car dealer of all people – the very cliché of untrustworthiness, as referenced in the typical survey above, being branded as someone you want to hug.


Most people fear used car dealers because they feel it is inevitable any encounter will end with them being ripped off.  So here is marketing that turns that whole perception on its ear by positioning this specific used car dealer as someone you want to hug; someone you actually want to be around. What a huge mountain that is to climb.


But in the case of Jim Gilbert, it has been climbed to the point where for many, Gilbert's is the only choice when it comes to trading in the old car for a newer one. That is what every entrepreneur aspires to, to be seen as not only the best choice, but the only choice.  


But credit where credit is due. Jim Gilbert got there thanks in large part to Gair Maxwell. Gair, co-founder of the Seamless Brand, a marketing and branding company based in Moncton, has just been named Canadian Speaker of the Year by TEC Canada, the top leadership development program in the country for CEOs.


This was great to see for a couple of reasons. He's very good at what he does in that he understands branding at a deeper level than most, and really is an exceptional speaker.


Watch this and you'll see what I mean




But more than that his is a success story based on taking a negative and turning it into a positive.  While we never worked together our radio careers overlapped – mine in Fredericton and his in Moncton. His was more sports oriented, where he did some pretty cool things including working as the announcer for Grand Prix Wrestling for a bit. Those of a certain age will remember how big that was in Atlantic Canada back in the day.


Later, he was working in radio news for a private radio station in Moncton and was unceremoniously let go for reasons that had little to do his abilities. It was unfair and hit him at a bad time.


But rather than lament about it, he got serious about reinventing himself. Fate took him to a workshop on branding. He embraced it, studied it, and mastered it. The epitome of having life serve you a lemon so you make lemonade.


His branding expertise and gift for public speaking has served him and his clients very well.


It's always good to see someone from our region win on the national stage. But it's particularly nice when someone overcomes a set back to get there.  And equally gratifying when it's an example of Leo Durocher being wrong.


Good on ya, Gair.



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 01 Apr 2013 16:58:00 +0000
Getting frank about homelessness


The best communications is communications that leaves you feeling something. Last night's dinner at the Fredericton Convention Centre put on by the Canadian Action Group on Homelessness Fredericton (CAGH) did that in spades. And that something was hopefulness and inspiration.


Frank McKenna showed he has still got it as a gifted speaker. As Premier he wasn't particularly strong on social policy and homelessness wasn't something on his radar. And in so many words he admitted as much last night in a speech that struck me as incredibly honest and sincere.


He was the perfect speaker for this occasion for a couple of reasons. One, as a speaker he's very good and second, he has devoted a lot of time in his post-political life to humanitarian efforts such as helping in Haiti after their earthquake. Also, he's very respected in the business community.


So who better to make the case that helping eliminate homelessness isn't justified just on humanitarian grounds, but from, as he put it, in a “hard-nosed business sense” it's good economic policy.


That was the point of the evening – the positive point that homelessness can indeed be eliminated. Before McKenna's keynote, there was an on stage discussion with Tim Ross, the driving force behind CAGH in Fredericton, and Tim Richter of Housing First in Calgary. They talked about the success of the Housing First initiative there and elsewhere.


Pretty uncomplicated concept really. People need housing first or they can't make progress on dealing with the other obstacles to a fulfilling life.


And while just about all of us would agree homelessness should be tackled for humanitarian reasons, the story from Calgary is that a pretty compelling economic case can be made for eliminating it as well.


There are lots of pretty impressive figures that show it costs a whole lot less to deal with homelessness by giving people a place to live, than it does to allow homelessness to continue. This because of the considerable reductions in the costs of everything from emergency room visits to policing and the courts.


Want to see something really eye-popping on this? Read Malcolm Gladwell's essay Million Dollar Murray.


But back to last night at the Convention Centre.  Tim Richter made the point that we are already well on the road, and he referenced the way the community rallied after the Issac's Way fire left 26 low income people homeless and how, through the efforts of a good number of people all were placed in new digs.


My mind went to what has happened at the Fredericton Homeless Shelters over the past couple of years, with the success that is continuing of getting people who lived there, many for extended periods, finally into their own apartments, complete with the necessary supports to help ensure success. And it has been a great success.


Then I looked around at the sell out crowd in the Convention Centre, of people who shelled out $175 a pop for a plate of beans and wieners because they believe we really can do something about homelessness, and they wanted to be part of it.


As Frank McKenna put it “We are our brother's keepers.” And he spoke of the leadership in the room of people determined to make this happen. I did a quick inventory and could see it – Tim Ross, Mike O'Brien, Brad Woodside, Gary Stairs and others.


And then socially mixing with people afterwards as they lingered in conversation, you couldn't help but pick up on the buzz of optimism and determination.


There's work to do, and it won't happen overnight, but the evening ended with a roomful of people inspired to keep moving in that direction.


From here it's a communications challenge. To spread the word that Housing First makes sense as the way to go, both for social and economic reasons.


But it's do-able. And the main reason for this is because it looks like a tipping point has been reached where momentum is now on the side of those trying to get it done.


It's inspiring to see. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 20 Mar 2013 16:55:00 +0000
The day I forgot who I was writing for  

The first rule of thumb when you are writing a speech or any bit of copy, is to know who you are writing for – who's going to hear it or read it.  The second rule, is to write it in a way that that target audience can relate to it.


We do a lot of writing, and pride ourselves on never breaking this rule. We do this  instinctively, it's ingrained in our writer's DNA. So it is with no small amount of sheepishness and embarrassment that I am now going to share the time I forgot who I was writing for.


I do this so you can learn. I'm selfless like that – if I can't stand as at least a bad example, of what value am I? I mean really.


It was 2001 and I was a hockey dad attached to the Fredericton Bantam Coastal Tire Eagles. It was year end and that year it was decided we would pull together a bit of a souvenir book for the kids – with stats and photos, that sort of thing. I was asked to write a piece that would go in it, summarizing the year.


I was pretty proud of what I came up with.  We finished the season with an almost perfect record, so I drew the comparison with other major hockey accomplishments that year - Hayley Wickenheiser leading the Canadian women's team to gold and Joe Sakic doing the same for the men's Olympic team.


So far so good, then, in reference to our record I quoted Dizzy Dean's “It ain't braggin' if you can do it”, then later ending with quoting Frank Sinatra “it was a very good year”.


In my mind I had nailed it.


Later, after the party where these souvenir books were handed out, I asked my son Alex what he and his teammates thought of the write-up in their book. I was expecting words like “awesome”, and “great”.


If memory serves, and it does, what I got from this then 13 year old was more along the lines of “I dunno. It just had a couple of quotes from old people.”  Ouch.


But it serves me right. I forgot the first rule of writing.


I'm just grateful that Mark Twain is ageless.  I will stop quoting him when they pry the keyboard from my cold, dead hands. “Oops, I've done it again”.

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 16 Nov 2012 15:36:00 +0000
Young man with Down syndrome puts professional communicator in her place over crude tweet My first exposure to Ann Coulter was back about 10 years ago. She was on a panel on TV being outraged that Canada hadn't joined America in the Iraq war. She called it precedent setting for a “so-called” good neighbour. She insisted that Canada did participate in the Vietnam War.

Others on the panel explained to her that this wasn't the case, but she insisted that yes indeed, Canada fought in Vietnam.

The next time I saw Coulter she was insisting (she insists a lot) that some of the terrorists involved in 9/11 entered the US through Canada. She was challenged on that too, but refused to admit she was wrong. Anybody detect a pattern here?

She plays pretty loose with the facts, but she is an accomplished communicator. She's written seven books that made the New York Times best seller list, she is a syndicated columnist, conservative social and political commentator, and she frequently appears on television, radio, and as a speaker at Republican events.

Anybody who takes her on has to be on top of his or her game. She's articulate and she takes no prisoners, and as I mentioned above, for her the facts don't necessarily enter into it.

So what an absolute delight to see her put in her place by a young man named John Franklin Stephens. John lives in Virginia. And he has Down syndrome. 

You'll see his open letter to Ann Coulter directly, but first, what prompted his response was this tweet from the commentator in support of Mitt Romney after his Monday night debate with Obama.

And here is John Stephens's response:

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren't dumb and you aren't shallow.  So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I'm a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public's perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow.  I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you.  In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics.  See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

A friend you haven't made yet,

John Franklin Stephens

Global Messenger

Special Olympics Virginia

I can't imagine anyone articulating a better response to Ms. Coulter's crude tweet than John has done here.  Hard to imagine that she's the professional communicator among these two. Sometimes life just doesn't make sense. 


]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 24 Oct 2012 15:33:00 +0000
Some thoughts on last night's debate  

There's probably like 10 thousand blogs and face book entries and newspaper opinion pieces dissecting last night's Obama-Romney debate so I figured – yes, the world really needs one more – so here it is. I'll try not to be redundant.


First – memo to CBC, CTV and Global – take a lesson on how to conduct these things. Notice how moderator Jim Lehrer let them go at it. I know he has been roundly criticized for losing control, but the result was lots of time for the candidates to make their points. This was much more satisfying than the usual campaign debates in Canada, where it seems every minute, or just when the candidates get warmed up, the moderator cuts them off.


Second- I cannot for the life of me understand Obama's performance. Civility is one thing, but my gosh, missing an opportunity to remind people that this is the guy who called 47% of the population victims and lazy when he thought nobody except millionaires were listening, and not reminding people of Romney's Bain Capital track record of shipping jobs overseas? In a debate where the focus is the economy? As the saying goes – What was he thinking?


Third – I love political debates – I love the drama and the theatre, and watching for the shots and assessing how the candidates respond to the curve balls under what is  extreme pressure. I looked forward to that debate last night with the same kind of anticipation I have for a Stanley Cup game, and that's considerable.  


But this said, they really are a phony measure of a candidate's ability as president. What is tested is how well a candidate can memorize his lines and how quick he can think on his feet. But that has precious little to do with the job they are applying for. The job requires good responses, not instant responses.


A president, when faced with a question, will get advice, sometimes lots of advice, weigh the pros and cons of various responses, and then choose the most appropriate course.


What a debate measures has nothing to do with this – a debate doesn't measure anything that resembles, you know, real life.


Nonetheless, I'm really looking forward to the next one. 

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 04 Oct 2012 15:31:00 +0000
Five Things Every Presenter Should Know About People  

Recently I happened upon the notes I used when I started offering media training, back 20 years ago. There were reams of them. I can't believe I used all that stuff, but I do remember how important I felt it was to squeeze all this information in the workshops. 


By contrast I can't remember the last time I used any notes, realizing somewhere along the line that sometimes, actually often, less is more.


I learned a lot about making presentations over those years, from both formal and informal assessments of my own sessions, to watching others and reading whatever I could find.


That process hasn't stopped and won't. I have blogged about presentations in the past and references to some of those blogs are listed below.


But the purpose of this blog is to share a video on making presentations that I find to be bang on. It's by Dr. Susan Weinschenk, author of 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People. The video keys in on five things, and in my humble opinion it is worth checking out by anybody who makes presentations and wants to be better at it. It's right here


While I'm constantly tweaking my presentations, the one wholesale change I made over the years came as a result of reading The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. It resulted in a major change to my visuals. Here's my blog on that


And here is one on nervousness from last March. And one on the most powerful word you can use in a speech or presentation. Can you imagine what it might be? 


If you have favourite presentations techniques or tricks that you'd like to share, please do.  

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 23 Sep 2012 15:30:00 +0000
Lessons to be taken from Bill Clinton's speech I like speeches. Before I started writing them, I spent 20 years covering them as a reporter, and while many were great, some were dogs but the majority was mediocre. And despite all those times I was bored out of my gourd wishing to god the speaker would shut up, and even mediocre ones can do that, somewhere along the line I developed a fascination with speeches and how they were constructed and delivered.


I read books on speeches, I deconstruct speeches, I listen to speeches in a pretty weird way – I watch for the cadence, the alliteration, the pacing, how the stories are woven together, the optimism, the hope, whether the speaker is grabbing and holding the audience, the emotional ups and downs, how the key messages are resonating, the tone, and I look for what the audience is probably walking away with. In short, I'm pretty geeky when it comes to speeches.


So last night, sitting back in the lazyboy watching Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, I couldn't help but marvel. I knew he was good, but I have never seen anybody deliver a speech with such mastery.


I am tempted to go on about why I found it so good but that would be redundant with so much that has already been written about it.


So instead, I want to offer a guest blog – not because I entirely agree with it because I don't, but he does offer a good lesson that can be taken from Clinton's speech. I will offer my take afterwards. Here then is Keith Yaskin, a media consultant in Scottsdale, Arizona


Here's my take. In this example, he's absolutely right. Bill Clinton hit head-on the major criticisms of the Obama presidency, and he did it with a master's stroke. In this case it was absolutely the right thing to do.


Such is not always the case. There is a downside to answering your critics. For one thing it can detract from your own agenda. For another it draws more attention to the criticism.


The better strategy is to objectively weigh the criticisms and decide whether there is more to be gained or lost by going there. If the criticism is the proverbial elephant in the room and it is the distraction, as was the case with Obama and how he handled the economy, then yes, you best deal with it.


But that's not always the case.



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 06 Sep 2012 15:27:00 +0000
In wake of shooting, Toronto Mayor fails on communications front  

When the planes hit the World Trade Centre, then mayor Rudi Giuliani rose to the occasion by providing what the public needed to hear and see – calm and reassurance. It's all he could offer, but when it comes to a crisis, often that's the most important thing you can provide, it's what is necessary. Rule number 1 of crisis communications – Show people you care.


Fast forward to this week and the horrific gang-related shootings in the midst of a community block party in a suburban area of Toronto. Two innocents killed, and 23 wounded.


Shootings aren't rare in Toronto, but violence of this scope certainly is. It was time for the mayor to step up. But rather than showing some compassion and offering some reassurance that the city is committed to doing everything in its power to deal with what to every other observer is a growing problem, Mayor Rob Ford choose instead to play apparently to potential tourists, dismissing the event as an “isolated incident” and insisting that the city is safe. He hurt his credibility more by going a step further by insisting that Toronto is the safest city in North America.


While I find that hard to believe, maybe statistically it is, but that's not the point. The point is that that's not how people feel. And when what you say isn't in synch with the listener's reality, your comment will be dismissed.


In cases like this, where emotions are running high, the last thing a spokesperson should be doing is quoting statistics. If it really were an isolated incident, and the recent high profile shootings in the very public Eaton Centre among others suggest it's not, as is the fact there were more than 160 shootings in Toronto this year, up by more than a third from last year, calling it an isolated incident will be interrupted by some as the mayor not really taking this seriously. And that is just the opposite of the message he should want to send.


Mind you in cases where an incident truly is rare, we absolutely agree it's good communications to point that out as way of putting it in perspective, but that's only after establishing that you care and take it seriously. Mayor Ford left out those parts, and just jumped to the “isolated incident” quote and his safe city statistics. And that's why his response has left people cold.


And unlike Giuliani on 9/11, there was no sense of compassion in anything Mayor Ford said.  He did talk tough by guaranteeing that these gang members with guns will be tracked down and put in jail. But that was a promise he can't keep, so it rang hollow.


The next day he finally did get around to expressing some compassion, but it was with the sincerity of a Wal-Mart greeter.


In short, the Toronto mayor did not handle the communications on this whole thing very well.


That's unfortunate because I have no doubt he really does feel bad about what happened, and also perhaps feels a little helpless.


But regardless, his job at such a time is to show he gives a damn and to bring reassurance. This is done through the combination of what you say and how you say it. Mayor Ford failed on both fronts. 



]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 18 Jul 2012 15:23:00 +0000
To the bad media interview examples everywhere - I salute you  

Regular readers of this blog will know that I do media training. Because of this, I'm always on the outlook for interesting video examples that serve as either good or bad examples of how to handle a media interview.


I must say though that the bad examples are much more fun.  Good ones you just learn from, but the others – well, you learn from those too, plus you get that extra entertainment value.


There's no shortage – there are clips of people saying and doing the most self-destructive things – from the newly elected mayor of Toronto acting like an ass on As It Happens to the now former Director of Alberta Health Services insisting on eating a cookie rather than answering serious questions about bed shortages. And the list goes on, and on. And I'm thankful for that.


One of the most recent ones is interesting. In this interview, this guy, Australian MP Bill Shorten has cemented his reputation as possibly being the most loyal politician in the world.  Have a look at the video above.   


On behalf of media trainers everywhere, I salute you Mr. Shorten. You and the many others who have selflessly sacrificed credibility for the sake of providing a bad example, make our work just that much more fun.   

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 12 Jun 2012 15:19:00 +0000
The most powerful word to use in a speech  

I was at a fundraiser luncheon for the New Brunswick Association for Community Living today. There was some powerful and moving video and various speakers re-enforcing the message that the Association does incredible good for the people it serves – the intellectually challenged and their families.


One of the speakers was Krista Carr, the Association's Executive Director. I had heard her speak before and she's pretty good at it - her passion for the work of the Association always comes through and anyone listens can't help but “get it”.


But her speech today especially resonated, not because the content was any different than what I had heard before, but because of her choice of words – or to be more precise, one word.


As someone who writes speeches and on occasion delivers them, I appreciate the power of the spoken word. But in all my years I have yet to find a word that packs more power than the simple word “imagine”.


Krista spoke of the importance of inclusion to children with disabilities. I don't have this exact, but to paraphrase, she said something to the effect of “Imagine you are a child and all the kids are going on the school bus for a field trip and you are left behind”.


Just a simple line, but because of the word “imagine” it hits like a body blow to the gut.  Does you heart not break for that kid?


That's the power of the word. It invites a listener to invoke his or her imagination. You immediately put yourself in that child's shoes. You feel the emotions he would feel. And you immediately understand why an Association that works to ensure this kind of thing never happens, matters.


I can't remember the last time I wrote a speech that didn't make liberal use of this word. It's just too strong.


When I wrote the speech for then Opposition leader David Alward for his PC Party biennial convention, I wanted to get the audience to compare what was to what could be. I used the word “Imagine” to trigger that; to put them in the community. Here's the passage:


“Imagine how much more we can accomplish as a province if we can engage communities in helping develop creative solutions to the challenges and opportunities that face them, rather than these communities having to expend all their energy to fight the government to overturn some stupid policy that they never would have implemented in the first place had they had the will and conviction to listen to citizens and respect their desires.”


That is so much better than if it just read – How much more can we accomplish….


Words are powerful, and I have found none more powerful than the simple word “imagine”. John Lennon I think would agree.



For information on BissettMatheson's speechwriting services:

]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 29 May 2012 15:17:00 +0000