About Tom Barritt

Tom Barritt is Partner and Managing Director of Ketchum’s Communications Training Network, a team of executive media coaches. He has helped executives shape stories that get noticed for nearly three decades.

Author Archive | Tom Barritt

Navigating the Language of Diversity and Inclusion

The story of diversity and inclusion is a people story – a story directed to, and about people with, identities, hopes, desires and dreams. It is also a story of language and aspirational ideas.

So, how do we communicate the complex concepts of personal identity, unity, fairness and respect? What kind of place do we want the world to be? What standards do we set for our communities and places of work? How do we break down barriers and become the best global community we can possibly be?

Continue Reading

Putting the Talking Head to Bed

We hear predictions that social media will completely replace traditional broadcast news as the primary channel to reach important audiences. There may be some truth to that. Each day, social media and digital content wiggle their way further into every corner of our lives. Content shared socially can be simple, edgy, immediately accessible, and often deeply personal.

For more than 25 years, I’ve coached thousands of executives on how to prepare for television interviews. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I’ve “coaxed” executives, because more often than not most are reluctant to face the cameras. And for executives who are not fond of the in-your-face elements of live television interviews, social media provides the perfect cover.

I’ll leave it to others to opine on effective social media strategies, but from my vantage point, television interviews are still one of the most personal and intimate ways to address an audience. It’s the closest you can come to looking your audience in the eye and connecting on both a physical and emotional level.

Continue Reading

Move from Storytelling to Authorship

The word “storytelling” is all the rage in the communications world. We’ve abandoned the time-honored tradition of “messaging” and switched to swapping stories with each other. The notion is simple. The public has rejected artificial messaging. They crave authentic stories with descriptive language and personal anecdotes.

This evolution makes sense for many reasons, but comes with a dark side. As with many communications trends, the storytelling movement has become the new bandwagon we’re all jumping on. In fact, talk of “storytelling” is so prevalent, that it just might run the risk of quickly becoming overdone and overexposed.

Continue Reading

Getting Physical on Camera

As is often my habit, I was sitting in an airport lounge recently, involved in one of my favorite business-travel entertainments— watching cable news with no sound. The folks on the big screen are engaged in what is possibly the least desirable interview format for participants: the “Brady Bunch” format, with several talking heads shown in boxes, speaking from different locations around the country.

As this checkerboard scene catches my eye, one woman is enlarged to full screen. The sound is muted, but her pained, deer-in-the-headlights look makes one thing clear: she is talking about something incredibly important— taxes, healthcare, Rocky Road ice cream or something like that. Her lips are tight. Her eyes dart from left to right. Her brow is furrowed. She frowns. Sometimes she glances upward, as if attempting to pull her next line out of the clouds. The image she projects is everything an on-air commentator should avoid.  Her visual impression is shifty, tense and repellent. But, I’m sure she’s made some excellent points!

Seconds later, one of her partners in commentary gets the full-screen treatment. She is passionate. She simply glows. Her eyes sparkle. Her smile captivates and her teeth dazzle like something out of a toothpaste advertisement. She looks me right in the eye, and I am convinced that she is telling me the truth. Except, I don’t know what she’s saying, because the sound is muted.  It doesn’t matter.  She’s won my heart.

Continue Reading

The Presidential Debates, Empathy and the Wisdom of Mister Rogers

We all want to be loved. That’s a universal truth and something that presidential candidates and all communicators need to consider. It’s a simple, human desire to hope that somebody out there cares about us.

If Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” quote has any impact on the 2012 election it is this.  Regardless of the intent, it suggested that he didn’t care about roughly half the population and was writing them off. It’s got to be tough for undecided voters not to take offense when the language was as blunt as was reported.

Empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In an era when social media exposes all kinds of raw emotion, audiences have come to expect, if not demand empathy.

Continue Reading

Five Tips on Being an Effective Panel Speaker

Try your luck at this business riddle. If you gather four people on a panel to speak on a common topic, what do you get? A) A lively exchanged of ideas? B) Useful insights from engaging speakers? C) A fist fight? D) A study in boredom?

Too often, the answer is D, although C would certainly be entertaining. Ask any audience member who’s sat through a formal panel discussion lately. There are dozens of horror stories. I’ll never forget the panel moderator who took a cell phone call during the session (Audience takeaway – This guy is way too important to be here). And, how many times do speakers prefaced their remarks by saying, “I really haven’t prepared anything formal.” (Audience takeaway – Speaker is totally winging it.) Or, there’s the panelist who takes the opportunity to starts a soapbox rant. (Audience takeaway – Just shoot me now.)

Continue Reading

3 Guaranteed Techniques for Igniting a Rapport with Your Audience

It is said that 75 percent of audience members check their Blackberry the minute a speaker steps to the podium. The other 25 percent are thinking about lunch.

Is this true? I don’t have actual data to support the claim, but I’m sure it got your attention.

I’m always astounded when a speaker begins a presentation with the old chestnut, “Today I’m going to talk to you about (insert arcane topic).

It might be a comfortable and accurate way to launch into a presentation but all it does is tell the audience what they probably already know. It’s most likely in the agenda. Let’s call it a “cold start” and a clear signal to the audience that it’s time to check the Blackberry.

Continue Reading

What Presidential Candidates Can Teach Us About Communicating

The 2012 U.S. Presidential election is now – for better or worse – essentially a two-horse race, even though the presumptive nominees will not receive official designation for some time.  Let the race begin, and if you didn’t think the primaries were already bordering on reality TV, brace yourself for an onslaught of media exposure, or over-exposure of the men who aspire to lead the U.S. for the next four years.

It takes a special kind of guy to campaign for President.  The hours are horrendous, the food is terrible, and you’ve got news cameras – and flip cams — in your face 24/7.   It’s not a job for the faint of heart, and I’m not even talking about the economy, the war on terror or the White House Easter Egg Roll.  If you’re in it to win, you’ve got to be an outstanding communicator.  So, while we all settle in to consider who will be the next Commander in Chief of the U.S. — and wait for the inevitable HBO special that will neatly package it all as prime time drama — let’s take a moment to consider what the candidates – the most exposed of spokespeople – can teach us about communicating.

Continue Reading

Writer or Collaborator? The Cookbook Wars Heat Up.

New York Times food writer Julia Moskin’s recollections of her early career as a cookbook “ghost writer” ignited a rolling boil of a controversy in the professional food world.

Those two little words had the combustible effect of splashing water on a kitchen grease fire.   Food luminaries from Rachael Ray to Gwyneth Paltrow took to Twitter and the talk show circuit defending the originality of their work.

Moskin posted a follow-up to clarify the difference between ghost writing – a fairly standard term in publishing – and ghost-cooking, where recipes might actually be created by an anonymous author and attributed to a chef.  What Moskin described as a “light account” – and a tribute to the “ink-stained (and grease-covered) wretches” who labor in obscurity – became a hot mess.  The media devoured the controversy, because while we all love a great meal, we truly relish a culinary smack down.

Continue Reading

From Shakespeare to Goldman Sachs: Characters Drive a Good Story

This post was originally published on CNBC.com.

The very public resignation of a mid-level Goldman Sachs executive – which erupted on the New York Times Op Ed page Wednesday – has all the elements of a rippin’ good yarn.  Fans of both potboilers and highbrow drama need look no further than Page One to find the roles and techniques of classic storytelling, leveraged for generations by playwrights, novelists and filmmakers.   The Goldman Sachs story has it all – a lone protagonist demanding accountability from a powerful entity, with a healthy dose of personal sacrifice, greed, bureaucracy, questionable ethics and dramatic revelations.   Think Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Julia Robert’s Erin Brockovitch or George Clooney’s Michael Clayton and you get the idea.

While we can’t begin to know the real details and motivation behind the Goldman Sachs story, it is clear that the major players have quickly fallen into defined roles in the daily drama the news media crafts each day.    Complex narratives are distilled into broad concepts for easy audience consumption – black and white, good versus evil, guilty or innocent.

Continue Reading