The Teleprompter Strikes Again – A Tale of Two Leaders

Kelly Decker here – guest blogging today.

I’m a relatively new fan of Shel Holtz’s blog, arriving there from somewhere the Twittersphere. Shel is a PR guru and writes extensively on communications and technology. Over the past week, he’s been blogging on the Dominos debacle that you’ve probably seen, or, if you’re like me, you heard about it and had no interest in actually watching someone stick cheese up their nose (but, if you’re in the mood, you can see it here).

Shel’s Wednesday post focused on the public apology by Domino’s USA President, Patrick Doyle. He comments on the content of the apology specifically, and that it is unfortunately inconsistent with the facts of how Dominos actually handled the situation, and therefore is inauthentic. But even worse, and the reason for this post, is to point out the behavior that makes it inauthentic. And who is to blame?…The teleprompter.

Bert has blogged about the how the TP can kill a communications experience – and most notably for Obama – read about it here and here And this is hilariously supported by at least 12 different Twitter profiles of Obama’s Teleprompter – go ahead and do a Twitter search for “teleprompter” (my fav is @BOTeleprompter).

Back to Doyle…here’s the apology:

Two BIG problems here:

1. Lack of eye communication. The whole challenge we have as communicators is to engender trust and believability. Our listeners – one or 353,466 in this case (the number of views as of today) – must believe in us for our message to have impact. Eye communication is the #1 behavioral skill because it either makes or breaks our connection with that listener. Doyle should have been looking directly at the camera – addressing his audience to connect with them. Instead, he was talking to someone over in the corner of the room who was just making sure that he stuck to the script.

2. Corporate speak. It’s a two-minute speech on which someone likely spent at least one sleepless night, followed by endless reviews by Legal, PR, Marketing, and others. Domino’s customers just needed to hear something real – just talk to them.

Now, let’s contrast this to another highly publicized corporate apology – this from David Neeleman, past CEO of JetBlue for major service issues in February of 2007. You’ll find an almost polar opposite experience – mostly because he’s not reading a thing. (Unfortunately this is clearly evidenced by his terrible ums and uhs – btw, please don’t model this – it’s the only significant hiccup here.) He looks directly at his audience, tells it like it is, and has a fantastic close asking for your trust and business.

So what? You may be sitting there saying, “Good thing I don’t use a teleprompter.” But these takeaways are applicable to you. Here’s what you can do:

1. Mind your multitasking. We’re sidetracked more than ever these days, and too often we’re tweeting or emailing, or focusing somewhere else than on someone who is standing in our office or cube trying to discuss an issue. Guess what…you’re Patrick Doyle. Put down the Blackberry/iPhone/etc., turn toward them and look them in the eye.

2. Be plain-spoken. The higher stakes a meeting or presentation, the more formal our tone, and we (our personalities) get completely lost in the process. Think conversational, and talk that way. You’ll be more authentic, and only then will your message (the content you spent so much time on) be heard.

2 comments on “The Teleprompter Strikes Again – A Tale of Two Leaders

  1. I find this comparison interesting. If you look at the videos, then obviously the Dominoes guy has a lot to learn in terms of eye contact. but if you close your eyes and just listen, then I think he begins to connect more. But how many people close their eyes when watching a video, right?
    The jet blue guy is more personal, more accessible, BUT because he “winged it” his message gets convoluted. Dominoes message was not convoluted. I was annoyed with the jet blue guy because he kept going off on tangents. This is because he knows this story like the back of his hand, so by winging it, he assumes we have all the background knowledge we need to understand his “apology”
    I see this as a classic case between content versus delivery. One is not better than the other. it is when the two collide that presentations get interesting.
    The Chronicles of a Stage Artist: from obscurity to worldwide recognition.

  2. Thank you Kelly for finding these two clips to compare and contrast. I don’t think that David Neeleman’s ums and ahs are that bad (although it would be better if he didn’t um and ah – I can get past that).
    The most important lesson for me from these clips is that slick and articulate does not beat authentic – even if a little halting.