“My mum is 78, she’ll be 79 shortly, and I’ve already said to her ‘Mum, make sure when you’re called, you’re ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age’,”
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer told a Downing Street news conference.
The coverage of Professor Van-Tam’s reference to his mother has been extensive. In our media training courses we talk quite a bit about the power of personal testament.
Ironically just last year we did a media training course with a senior executive at a pharmaceutical company who had to do a media interview about a new drug. Talking about his vocation to become a doctor and about his experience of helping patients for many years before he entered the corporate world made his comments about the drug that he was discussing very believable.
During one of our presentation courses for senior executives, we helped the CEO of a construction firm with a presentation he had to deliver. During a break when we got chatting, he mentioned that he’d started his life with the company at the age of 16 as a hod carrier.
“I don’t want to mention that, though, because they’ll never respect me,”
he said anxiously. On the contrary, we pointed out, his own personal experience was incredibly powerful. This man had worked his way from the bottom and had experience of the company at every level for over 30 years – what could be more convincing and impactful?
As the coverage of Professor Van Tam’s comments shows, personal experience and testimony during media interviews and presentations is powerful, memorable and convincing.
Essentially it works for the following five reasons:
- It’s a story – we all relate to stories and at Communicate Media we’re all about telling compelling, believable narratives that illustrate a point. Personal experience represents a very human story, often with ups and downs, twists and turns, surprises and moments of revelation and inspiration, all of which are great in a story.
- It’s human – it’s a pretty safe bet that the audience of your presentation or the media interview you’re doing are human beings like you. We don’t relate to corporate messages, vision statements, products or strategies, we relate to other humans. Using your own personal experience to explain and promote any of the aforementioned topics can be very powerful.
- It’s emotional – let’s be honest, emotion is what drives the media. Every newspaper headline is aimed at making you feel frightened, indignant, pleased, angry, amused, surprised – add your own sentiment to the list. Emotion is what engages us and it’s very often what drives actions. The part of the brain that deals with emotion is closely connected with the area that handles memory – add some emotion to a statement and your audience is more likely to remember it.
- It’s authentic – at Communicate we’re very keen on authentic communication and presentation. No one wants to hear from a corporate speaking suit. Audiences are very good at picking up on when a spokesperson is using someone else’s words. They can tell that the person they’re listening to doesn’t feel completely at ease with what he or she is saying.
- It’s compelling – for almost all of the above reasons a well chosen anecdote, story or theme that relates to your experience will grab your audience, hold their attention and stay in their memories afterwards.
Obviously even in this confessional age no one wants to hear a CEO or the leader of an organisation sharing every aspect of their life or acting as if they’re on Oprah. You need to decide how much you’re willing to share and to be aware of what might sound tacky or even manipulative. As always with media interviews and presentations it’s all in the preparation – do your thinking before, not during.
However, working with your Comms team (and us, if you’d like to, of course) you can decide how your own story, your experiences as a fellow human being and your personal testament can work to engage your audiences at a deep level and act as a great proof point to convince them of what you’re saying.
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