Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
In the aftermath of the Olympics, hundreds of sporting heroes will be given hundreds of opportunities to speak in public, with very little training on how to do it. Wayne Goldsmith says “there is a small window following London to potentially earn an $8,000 to $10,000 fee for an hour’s corporate speaking. By the time Christmas 2012 comes around, most will be back living a simple, more practical, less public and a lot less lucrative life”.
He makes it sound forlorn, but the corporate speaking circuit is not the only one. Interest in these outstanding performers doesn’t fade with their fame, it endures. The community remains interested because they are remarkable role models with a lot to offer. Motivation. Inspiration.Life Lessons. And by the time they’re doing well, any sports star has connections to a school, club, charity, region, or community. Everyone who ever knew them as a kid, or cut their hair, serviced their car, or did tuckshop with their Mum gets a kick out of the connection. They will want to re-establish it.
The ‘sports star turned speaker’ is a real and worthwhile community phenomenon. And a smart athlete enhances their chances of doing well off the pitch/field/track/ or out of the pool if they’ve learned some decent presentation skills. I don’t just mean media training. Provided they have an appealing presence and can work with an audience a sportsperson can speak, write, coach, comment, make guest appearances and present prizes well past their sporting prime.
But being brilliant at one thing doesn’t make you brilliant at another. When it comes to speaking, most athletes are just like anyone else. The camera magic, natural charm and stellar sporting prowess of Usain Bolt probably occur once in a generation. Speaking is very much like sport. It takes practice and perseverance and you have to develop some skills.
An athlete who is managing their career should consider whether they want to go this route. There are lots of questions - what sort of image do you have, who is interested in you and why? What values do you stand for? What stories can you tell? What opportunities will come your way? Will they be good for you? What do YOU want?
If you are up for it, get a speaking coach and get ready for it.
This edited extract from advice by legendary American sports interviewer, performer and columnist Roy Firestone has some food for thought:
1. What advice would you give to a professional athlete just starting his pro career?
Well, not to sound like a prude, but I’d be home by 11:00 if I could, especially during the season. I would try to keep away from booze. I would stay as far clear of as many hanger-ons as I could, or people I look at as potential hanger-ons. I would try to stay focused on the sport I’m making my money at, and I would totally, one hundred percent, stay away from guns.
2. What would you say to an athlete who is about to hold their first press conference?
Speak concisely, speak from the heart, don’t be somebody you’re not, be sincere, answer the questions that have been asked, don’t give them too much, and if you feel that it’s too personal, then tell them that. Don’t talk about money and don’t talk about what you think you are yet, because you’re not anybody yet.
3. What tips could you offer professional athletes on how to best approach interacting with the media?
Try to remember that everyone has a job to do, including yourself by the way. You have a job to do too. Don’t get carried away and so preoccupied by the media that you’re not focused on your sport. Make yourself available in a short period of time—20 minutes or an hour maybe a week. The rest of the time keep to yourself. Don’t be too accessible where you are doing everyone’s little show and everyone’s little TV talk everywhere you go. Remember to keep your sense of your own dignity and the sense of your purpose, which would essentially be an employee of the sports team that you’re involved with….That’s probably one of the toughest and most important things of all as a public figure—that you just cannot please everybody.
4. As the king of the one-on-one interview, what tips could you give to athletes in that specific type of environment?
Be yourself and have a sense of humor about who you are, but also remember your dignity. Don’t take yourself seriously, but at the same time, carry yourself with a certain kind of self-effacing quality. People like that when you tease yourself a little bit.
5. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see athletes making when speaking to the media?
Anything involving brashness. Any confrontation. It’s always a big mistake to challenge the media. Keep it to yourself. …You don’t ever make the mistake of trying to exchange verbiage with a member of the broadcast or newspaper business, because you’re going to lose.
6. What is your opinion about athletes who have refused to speak to the media?
Well, first of all, there is no obligation to speak to the media. But I think that there should be a kind of responsibility that an athlete has to the public. I think they should keep in mind the people. The fans out there would like to hear from them. Be gracious. Try to understand that people are trying to do their jobs when they interview you. If you feel the interview questions are inappropriate, keep it short. But answer the question directly, try to be honest, and don’t get caught in traps.