This post isn’t about TED, it’s about Teddy.Teddy Roosevelt called the presidency, a “bully pulpit.” He liked the idea of speaking directly to the public with the expectation the public would then apply pressure on Congress to support his positions. In that sense, Roosevelt is a great role model for how we should train our minds for a media interview. Rather than answer a reporter’s question, we should respond with the message we want the public to hear – and not care as much about what a reporter may be after. It’s not easy to look past someone asking you questions, but if we embrace the idea in mid-interview, we’d imagine ourselves speaking to a large audience, rather than seeing ourselves in front of a single reporter. Envisioning that scene in your mind allows you to set aside the premise of any reporter’s question and move into delivery of your key messages. Take the moment on as a performance; don’t accept it as an interrogation.
Roosevelt was the first to use the presidential press conference as a way of reaching the public. Back then, press conferences weren’t the scrums you see today. Instead, he met privately and infrequently with a few members of the press, and in so doing, invented a new type of platform which has evolved into today’s modern-day presser. In that sense, it’d be fair to give Roosevelt credit for inventing the original Ted Talk.
His best contribution to the work we do in the Predictive Media Network, however, was his speech in 1906 called, “The Man with the Muck Rake.” In his time, Upton Sinclair published, The Jungle, exposing the grim life-and-death work conditions inside the meat processing industry. In the same era, Lincoln Steffens’ article series for McClure’s Magazine called, Shame of the Cities exposed political corruption and urban blight. It’s important to note Roosevelt’s alignment with the position of Sinclair, Steffens and other journalists of the time. As a Progressive, he actually agreed with the conclusions these reporters were drawing out in their work. What alarmed him, however, was the sensationalism reporters were increasingly using –– a practice Roosevelt labeled as muck racking. In the early part of a speech at the laying of a cornerstone on a new congressional office building, Roosevelt said about muck rackers, “…the man who never does anything else, never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muck rake, speedily becomes, not a help, but one of the most potent forces of evil.”
Heading into a media interview sometimes feels like facing someone with a muck rake, but Roosevelt provides us encouragement on this front. Later in the same speech, he said, “If the whole picture is painted black there remains no hue whereby to single out rascals for distinction from their fellows. Such painting finally induces a kind of moral color blindness…” Our job as spokespeople, then, is to ensure color is added. We owe it to the viewing or reading audience to deliver a few good quotes capable of penetrating the muck and providing perspective. Today’s media seems as prone as ever to paint stories in one color, so you may wonder, “What’s the use?” It’s a frustrating question, but one that takes us to a famous Roosevelt quote from a speech he gave in 1910 in Paris called “The Man in the Arena.” He said,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
This is two sentences, 140 words. We know today’s quotes need to average 8.95 seconds, so Roosevelt might not be camera ready for our time, but his words are full of wisdom we can still use. When we embrace the public, rather than surrender to a reporter’s line of questions, we take the initiative, set the tone and can take full advantage of our media interviewing opportunities.