In the world of communication, it can be tempting to think that the message received is the same one that you transmitted. When David Cameron announced this week that austerity was here to stay, some applauded the belt tightening. Others felt that he should have chosen a different occasion to a white tie banquet, with the onlooking Lady Judge Lord Mayor Alderman Fiona Woolfe sitting on a giant gold chair.
Around this time of year, many of us in the UK wear poppies, but these are so ubiquitous, it’s more of a statement for a public figure not to wear one: Jon Snow has courted this controversy in the past, the University of London Union got unwisely mired in it this year, and UKIP managed to put their logo on a wreath, possibly using the logic that the last time the UK was truly independent of Europe, Hitler was strafing the East End. They all got their pictures in the paper – but not necessarily the headlines they’d have wanted.
The Royal British Legion always manages in these instances not to put a foot wrong. Occasionally a spokesperson will be quoted as saying that ‘nobody is compelled to wear a poppy,’ or more often says nothing at all and lets others argue the cause on their behalf. A dignified silence can sometimes speak volumes.
If silence isn’t an option, however, make sure all your messages match. It always helps to boil everything down to a clear statement and let that inform what you are doing: ‘This company has had its best year ever’ informs what you say, what you wear, and so on, even down to whether there are flowers on the table at dinner and who’s been booked for the cabaret. If your message is ‘Times are tough’, you might want a more stripped-back look to the event, and possibly not arrive at it in your garage-fresh Bugatti.
Eccentricity is easy to pull off: Richard Branson never wears a tie, and if you ever meet Simon Woodroffe, look down to witness the most interesting shoes you’re likely to see all year. It’s far more difficult to pull off a look that doesn’t upset the apple cart, particularly if you’re hosting an event rather than speaking at it – you don’t want to upstage anyone, and you’re often taking the part of the audience and putting truth – or at least, questions – to power. So here are some things to think about before you take the stage:
DO think about what your role is, and what functions you are expected to perform.
DO work out your take-home message.
DO ask someone you trust if there is anything that detracts from this message.
DO be clear and explicit about communicating this message.
And lastly, DON’T stand between a woman with more titles than names and an archbishop in his best schmutter and talk about penny pinching.
PS Programmes deliver presentation skills, TV and radio media training and crisis media management, tailored to the needs of our clients. This article also appears on http://www.presentationskillsprogrammes.co.uk