Loeb's Lobs Blog for Corporate Executives and Agency Professionals

3 Communication Tips Culled From Watching the Republican Candidates

Observing the presidential contenders in action (in debates and interviews) is an excellent opportunity to witness the impact of communication style.

You don’t need to be a political pundit to see that Republicans don’t like Mitt Romney. Just about every other Republican contender has, for at least a few weeks, challenged his front-runner status. Republican voters seem to want to find any alternative to this polished (too polished?) and articulate (as long as he’s debating and not responding to a media query) candidate. Voters are leery about his inconsistent positions on important issues. David Gergen, presidential advisor and CNN political analyst, observed in an article in Parade Magazine this past weekend, that Americans feel as if they don’t really know the candidate. He seems inauthentic and therefore not trustworthy.

Herman Cain suspended his candidacy yesterday after a non-stop series of women challenged his “holier than thou” image. Politicians’ personal lives shouldn’t sway our decisions about their competency to handle elected positions. But Americans don’t tolerate inconsistencies between what politicians say and do. A definite trust-buster. Frankly, Cain’s other mistakes were to 1) blame the media for taking him off-message (it’s not the media’s job to allow you to stay on-message); and 2) deny responsibility (haven’t politicians learned that their audience doesn’t want to be lied to?).  I am still waiting for voters to apply the same high standards that they do to personal values and actions, to political promises. When that happens, all candidates — whether Republican or Democrat — will truly do what’s best for all Americans.

Rick Perry brought us the “Perry moment.” Since that fateful Republican debate, Perry is no longer known for his positions or even the mistakes he makes (e.g. about the voting age…).  He’ll be forever associated with his mind going blank when under pressure. The problem wasn’t that his mind went blank (which happens to all of us), rather that he forgot the third of three messages that supposedly represented his core convictions. Made you wonder whether they were deeply held beliefs or just political rhetoric.  Not to mention that being President of the United States is a really high-pressure position, so we’re left wondering what he might say — or forget to say — if he were elected.

Newt Gingrich’s communication style seems intentionally provocative and unintentionally revealing about troubling beliefs. His delivery mocks and disrespects the people he hopes will elect him.  People are definitely talking about Newt Gingrich — and he’s taken the lead in the polls in Iowa — but the majority of the conversation is critical...as it should be!

I’ll save an exploration of President Obama’s communication style for another blog.

With the above observations in mind, the following are three lessons for business communicators:

  1. Authenticity absolutely drives trust.
  2. Our words and actions need to be aligned.
  3. Nail your three core messages. If you can’t remember them, why should anyone else?


Nothing Mediocre – Inspired by Steve Jobs

No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to be mediocre today.” And yet too often we spend our days in mediocrity. We don’t push ourselves to have bold thoughts and take bold actions.

Steve Jobs’ life is a reminder to strive to banish the mediocre from our lives.

Steve Jobs died at only 56 years old. Imagine the other innovations he could have introduced had his life not been cut short by cancer. His gift was dreaming about how much richer, more fun, more exciting our lives could be if only we had…something no one had previously known to covet.

President Obama said, “There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.” And as I read this morning’s papers, I was struck by all the tributes.  Bill Gates said, “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had….I will miss Steve immensely.” Many noted that Jobs is the Thomas Edison of their (our) generation. A customer at Boston’s Boylston Street Apple store last night said, “I feel like he’s the current version of Leonardo da Vinci, because he makes the perfect combination of mechanics and beauty.” (Cheng-Cheng Yang as quoted in today’s Boston Globe). 

There is a sense, as conveyed at the end of the Globe article, Steve Jobs, Architect at Apple, Dies, that with Job’s death, Apple’s magic is gone.  “No one knows how Apple will fare without Mr. Jobs. But however successful the company’s future products, the delightful machines with the stamp of his genius, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever again seem quite so magical.”

Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet Networking technology and professor at the University of Texas said, “Steve’s big contribution to the computer industry was to take it away from the nerds and give it to the people.”  This statement of Job’s significance is perhaps my favorite quotable quote. It conveys the magnitude of Job’s impact.

There was nothing mediocre about Steve Jobs. Let his legacy inspire all of us.

Smorgasbord of Timely Reflections

Rather than one topic today, my brain is filled with thoughts about three timely subjects:

  1. Amanda Knox and where she goes from here
  2. Andy Rooney’s legacy
  3. The Jewish New Year

Amanda Knox: The story of Amanda Knox’s release from prison in Italy dominates the news. But the coverage isn’t just about the court’s decision, her reunion with her family or flight back to Seattle. What’s next for this young woman who went to Italy her junior year of college and ended up in prison for four years? We’re told she spent much of her time in the Italian prison writing and that she’ll likely write a book. One news report said that she wants to help others wrongly imprisoned. We’ll see how the trauma of her last four years — and the fame she didn’t ask for — defines her future.


Andy Rooney: At 92 years old, Andy Rooney delivered his last commentary on this past Sunday’s “60 Minutes.”  Mr. Rooney was almost always sarcastic and on occasion his humor had a nasty overtone, but he was always, always, always a consummate observer of life. He noticed everything and wondered why things were as they were. I often watched his commentary and thought to myself, “Exactly!” And, yet, somehow I hadn’t stopped to notice in the moment. The excuse is always that we’re too busy. Reflecting on Andy Rooney’s years of commentary during the Jewish holidays made me think about a quote from Moses, “Stand still and see!”  Andy Rooney and Moses actually make the same good point!


The Jewish New Year: Jews around the world are celebrating the Jewish New Year. We observed Rosh Hashanah last week and are approaching Yom Kippur.  Many of us ate apple dipped in honey to celebrate the sweetness of life. We blew the shofar (a ram’s horn) to awaken our spirits, to challenge ourselves. In our family we don’t go to synagogue, rather have a tradition of engaging in reflective, thought-provoking conversations about our Jewish identity. Many years ago I developed a series of readings, quotes and questions that our family and friends ponder each year. For example, “Life is a gift. You appeared. You had nothing to do with it whatsoever. You had nothing to do with the color of your eyes, the color of your hair, the color of your skin, or how tall you were going to be. You stand with this gift of yourself.  What are you going to do with it?….” (Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity)

The question Millard Fuller posed is also relevant for Amanda Knox. She’s been given the gift of an overturned sentence and a return to her life, her family and friends. What will she do with it?  Andy Rooney, at 92, can look back on his life and evaluate all he did with it…and still intends to do in retirement from “60 Minutes.”

And each year the question is relevant for me. What will I notice, think about and do?

3 Public Speaking Mistakes Observed On a College Tour

My daughter is taking a public speaking class at college and she called home to talk with me about an assignment she had. Of course, she and her brother grew up with an annoyingly intense focus on their presentation skills thanks to a father who makes business presentations on a regular basis and a mom who makes a living helping business executives communicate well.

2009 NYTimes story about college tour guides

My daughter’s class assignment was to talk about the worst public speaker she’d ever heard.  She reminded me about the tour guide at one of the colleges she visited during her junior year of high school.  We had a hard time imagining why this individual was selected to represent her school to prospective students and their families.  She didn’t seem particularly excited to be with us…or at the college. Unlike most college tour guides who have mastered walking backwards so they can stay 100% connected with their audience (whether or not it’s the safest skill), this young woman barely looked at us at all as she talked — whether walking around the campus or standing inside a lecture hall. We got her unintended message loud and clear, “I could care less about being here speaking with you.”  Her delivery had no passion…in fact no emotion at all. When I tried to help the tour guide by asking if students were happy at this school, she mumbled (while looking down at her toes), “Yeah, I guess so.” We didn’t stick around for the end of the tour and my daughter crossed this college off her list of potential schools. The school never had a chance after the tour…well really the tour guide.

This awful speaker made three classic presenter mistakes:

  1. No insight into the expectations, needs and wants of your audience: Prospective families visiting a college expect the tour guide to help them fall in love with the school. Anything less has the exact opposite effect.
  2. No effort to build a connection with her audience. Good speakers deliver their messages eyeball to eyeball. They smile. Their facial expressions and body language respond as they speak with (not at) their audience.
  3. No passion in her delivery. If the speaker has no passion about their topic, why should the audience.

P.S. During this excruciatingly bad tour my daughter decided that she wanted to be a college tour guide because she knew she could do it so much better. She applied to the tour guide program as a first semester freshman, was selected and trained, and is a proud, exuberant and articulate tour guide for The George Washington University where she’s taking a public speaking class….

How to get the most out of strategic planning

Strategic planning has been a hot topic of conversation lately as companies focus on how to thrive — not just survive — in a challenging economy. Here are my two cents. Strategic planning is all about the questions we ask, the new insights that come into view, and the concrete, smart and actionable outcomes that come about. 

Strategic plans are often several inches thick and packed with data. We absolutely need the data to drive data-informed decisions. And even before we collect the data, we need to know which questions we want the data to help us answer. Ideally the data will lead us in new directions and drive important decisions not just confirm what we already know.

There’s a wonderful story about Albert Einstein proctoring an exam. One of his students was surprised by the test’s questions and said, “Professor Einstein, you accidentally gave us last year’s exam. The questions are the same.” Einstein replied, “The questions may be the same, but the answers are not.”

So whether you’re asking new questions or revisiting important questions you’ve explored in the past, what new answers are you discovering through your strategic planning process?

10 Ways to Be More Confident

I’m often asked by clients to help managers stepping up into more visible leadership roles.  They typically say, “He’s very smart and has great ideas…but he needs to be more confident.”

While there is no “confident” switch, there are ways to help us feel more confident. Here are ten suggestions:

  1. Focus on why you have the position, the seat at the table, the opportunity to speak at a conference…Think about your successes and accomplishments — give yourself a silent, in-the-moment pep talk!
  2. Don’t wing it when meeting people for the first time. There is no excuse today not to be prepared with insights about a prospective client (both the company and individual).  It’s easy to do a quick Google search or check someone’s profile on LinkedIn, yet it always impresses the other person, which boosts your confidence!
  3. Use that preparation to help you shape your point of view and then own it! Deliver your point of view eyeball to eyeball!
  4. Banish tentative language. “I think…” “We might…” “I’m pretty confident.” If you don’t sound like you believe in what you’re saying, why should anyone else care?
  5. Don’t fidget. No nail biting or cuticle picking or hair twirling or pen clicking or coin-rattling in your pocket.
  6. Stand tall. Excellent posture exudes confidence. If seated, lean into the conversation vs. retreating into the back of your chair.
  7. Smile. Remind yourself that you’re happy to be there, in that situation, at that event, at that moment.
  8. Anticipate conversation starters and questions that will demonstrate sincere interest in others. 
  9. Look confident. Dress the part.
  10. Beware of the “wet fish” handshake. When you enter a conference room or restaurant, put your hand out to confidently shake the other person’s hand. Have a firm (but still friendly) handshake and make eye contact.


The next time someone says to you, “you just need to be more confident,” remember these ten suggestions.

Silencing the Monday morning critics

I just have three things to say to the Monday morning critics of the preparation for Hurricane Irene.


  1. Hindsight is 20/20: We saw what happened when we underestimated the impact of Hurricane Katrina. It was impossible to mobilize the needed support after the fact. Leaders in the East coast cities and states along Irene’s path weren’t willing to risk waiting. Two cliches pop into my mind, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and “Better safe than sorry.” Cliched but never more relevant.
  2. Predicting the weather is only part science. How many times have we (in the Northeast) been surprised by a snow storm that wasn’t anticipated that turned highways into parking lots?  Or, as we experienced with Hurricane Irene, by storms that were forecast as record-breaking that passed through with less damage than predicted. Not no damage…just less damage. Thankfully Hurricane Irene didn’t live up to expectations in New York and Boston, but that’s little comfort to the people whose loved ones lost their lives, or the coastal communities that were flooded, or the neighborhoods without power because of downed power lines, or the peoples’ homes destroyed by massive uprooted trees that were no longer able to stand tall in already saturated ground.
  3. In a time of epic natural disasters, we are reminded of the sheer power of Mother Nature. Grotesquely large hurricanes, earthquakes in our major cities, record-breaking tornadoes, and a year of unprecedented droughts and floods.  Reminders that we are just mere mortals.
And I have only one thing to say to the leaders who took the risk of over-preparing for Hurricane Irene. Thank you. I hope you show the same conviction the next time when we will still have to rely on flawed science, history’s lessons and a healthy respect for Mother Nature.

Notable Quotable Quote

At the end of every media training I lead for executive spokespersons I say, “Start noticing quotable quotes as you read the newspaper, magazines and your industry’s trades.  Take an extra minute to think about what makes the quote stand out.”

With that tip in mind, I wanted to share a quotable quote in this morning’s Boston Globe Magazine article, Are 3-D Mammograms a Breast Cancer Breakthrough?  “It’s a step, but it’s a step by a person who has a stride of 7 feet,” said Dr. Elizabeth Rafferty, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s breast imaging clinic, of the promise of new 3-D mammograms for detection and fewer false alarms.

This is a brilliant example of a quotable quote. In one concise, visual statement the spokesperson puts this announcement in crystal clear perspective. 

To help the rest of us learn from this wonderful example, let’s dissect the quote:

  • The doctor wanted to keep the announcement in perspective. Earlier in the interview she said, “I don’t want to call it a magic bullet, because that would oversell…”  So “a step.” 
  • But not a baby step, as we’ve heard about so many other medical announcements. The doctor wants us to understand the huge potential of this announcement, “a step by a person who has a stride of 7 feet.” A really big step. 
This single, memorable sentence helps us understand how to think about this announcement. 

What notable quotable quotes did you read today? 


How to Use Quotable Language That Connects with Your Audience

Ace Hotel lobby, FastCompany.com

Getting my morning dose of social media, I came across an article on Fast Company.com about an intriguing hotel concept.  “Creatives gravitate to a showy New York hotel lobby [The Ace Hotel] to work hard and look good doing so,” according to the article’s author, Lizzy Goodman in \”Ace Hotel\’s Communal Workspace Shows A Winning Hand\” I highly recommend reading about this very creative — and successful — concept.

But this isn’t a blog about the Ace Hotel. This blog was inspired by a quote in the article. I’m always struck by brilliant examples of well-delivered messages, odd sentence constructions or examples of spokespersons trying too hard

“The environment here is more or less a spontaneous organism striving for homeostasis,” said one of the hotel’s co-founders.

This quote certainly makes you stop and think. But rather than ponder what the spokesperson meant, I immediately formed an impression of the spokesperson as trying too hard to be erudite.

The article’s author wrote about the experience in a way I found more immediately descriptive, “For a class of designers, academics, stylists, advertising execs, writers and entrepreneurs,” (the reader can now visualize who’s sitting in the hotel lobby), “the Ace Hotel lobby is their collective workspace….The Ace is a model of the modern workplace in a borderless world.” Got it!  And more…I love it!

Here are three suggestions for how you can speak in quotable language that connects with your audience and creates a positive impression of you as the spokesperson:

  1. Use image-rich words and metaphors that paint a picture for your audience. One example in the quote above is, “collective workplace.” Another example — very relevant during today’s tumultous economy — is the contrast between “Wall Street” and “Main Street.” Crystal clear and very visual. Here’s one more fun example:

Flight attendants typically warn us to, “Please keep your seat belts fastened until we land and the plane comes to a full stop.”  (Blah-blah-blah….) How might we listen differently if they instead said, ” If you’d like to avoid the humiliation of falling down in the aisle, please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened until we come to a stop at the terminal.(Much more visual, conversational and fun, and this phrasing has the added benefit of being unexpected.)

2. Explore word play:

 Alliteration: “artsy ambiance,” “the practical, popular place-to-be.”

Parallel Construction: “adjusting their expectations but not yet adjusting their pocketbooks” (adapted from a quote by a financial industry spokesperson)

Compare and Contrast:

“More than 15 million people are involved in traffic crashes each year.  That’s equivalent to the populations of New York City, Chicago and the entire state of Virginia.”

“In 1990, three million people were injured and 42,000 died in auto accidents. That’s an average of 115 deaths per day or, said another way, the equivalent of a major airline crash every day of the year.”

3. Simplify or dramatize:

Physicists used to call an important phenomenon, “a gravitationally completely collapsed object.”  No one cared, or could remember the concept, until someone related the phenomenon as “a black hole.” 

Please forgive one tangent…Reading about the Ace Hotel lobby reminded me of the late 1970’s when I met with publishing friends and an occasional author in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel. I never quite felt like an insider in this amazing lobby frequented by literary and theatrical legends, but relished every moment soaking up the ambiance. The lobby — even more than the hotel rooms — was a population destination.  

3 Tips to Avoid “Vending Machine” Client Service

Whether you are a lawyer, public relations professional or financial advisor, you need to make sure that your clients don’t equate your service with purchasing a cola or snack in a vending machine.  “Vending machine” relationships are transaction-based. You get exactly what you want — nothing more. Perhaps momentarily satisfying (like that bag of potato chips in the vending machine) but not healthy long-term.


There are three tips to avoid “vending machine client service:

  1. Be curious. Rather than rush to respond, allow (or train) your brain to wonder about the larger situation that prompted your client to call with their request. Ask questions to learn more about the problem and context. You may discover that the solution the client is asking for is, in fact, not the best solution to their real problem.
  2. Don’t limit your thinking to the typical range of solutions. In real life, your client doesn’t need to pick “E3” or “C5” in the vending machine.  Given your unique expertise and background — and as an advisor to your client — you are likely to recommend a less-generic solution.
  3. Add meaningful value: Focus on the ways in which you can solve the client’s particular problem of the moment and — with that solution — contribute to the client’s larger success. 


Of course, there are some problems that really do just need that simple, straight forward solution. But the really good advisors consider the possibilities. Do you have healthy, growing client relationships or have you lapsed into the role of a client service “vending machine” selling pre-packaged, generic solutions?