This morning, former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs gave a master class in how to deliver a keynote address.
Speaking at the Council of PR Firms’ Critical Issues Forum — the theme was “Social Revolution: Are You Mobilizing Communities or Just a Voice in the Crowd?” — he discussed social media, communications, politics, business, and the day-to-day of being in the Obama White House in a seamless 30-minute speech that made it one of the better keynotes we’ve ever heard. After the jump, we have a few one liners from the speech (the #CIF2011 hashtag has been following the conference all day) and a look at why the speech was so successful.
“Social media allows you to be exactly where your audience is.” Gibbs said people gasped when he first suggested that the President appear on Jay Leno’s late night show. But the whole point is to reach audiences where they are. Audiences are on social media, so now that’s where politicians are.
A tie: “2012 will be the Twitter election” and Twitter was “the invisible bubble” above the heads of reporters. Gibbs spent a good deal of time talking about the importance of Twitter to the political landscape. Of course, it gives politicians insight into what the public is talking about, and has become a broadcaster for breaking news. But tweets back-and-forth between politicians and their camps has also become the stuff of media stories. And the media’s use of Twitter provides insight into their thoughts. Gibbs said that Twitter gave him a heads up about what reporters were thinking before they asked the first question.
“Customers are in control and they have an inordinate amount of choices.” Social media, Gibbs pointed out, is a two-way conversation that gives everyone from institutions to individuals “control.” (An interesting statement when the feeling in the Zuccotti Parks across America is that we’ve been disenfranchised.) Besides being where they are, transparency and engagement are important. “Institutions have to be responsive,” he said. And they have to add value, going beyond what’s said in a press release. He used as an example a time during the Obama campaign when they outlined their strategy for Florida, including how much they would spend.
“You can’t ignore bad feedback and hope you eliminate that person from participating.” Addressing the issue of the inevitable crisis, Gibbs said that being an active social media participant will “insulate [your company] when things go bad.” For a long time, people thought it was too risky to participate in social media. “In a 50-50 world, we’ll bet on the 50 that we won’t need it, “Gibbs said of that line of thinking. “So many think of social media as the add-on when we’ve done everything else. Those days are gone,” he continued.
“No one has explained globalization and trade to Middle America.” Directly addressing the frustrations that most Americans have with the current state of things, Gibbs faulted a lack of communication from the government and other leaders about how globalization and modern-day business works. He also laid blame with changes in the media that have eliminated local and regional reporters and media outlets, which is where most people get their news.
As one tweet noted (above), much of what Gibbs said about social media was not the first time many people have heard these comments. But what made the speech so effective was the way Gibbs tied together his thoughts and packaged them for the audience.
He was invited to speak because of the high-profile job he held and the unique access it provided. He used that as fuel for the speech, giving the audience interesting tidbits and using that to move the speech along. Moreover, he tied large issues of international importance to the daily work of his listeners.
He also spoke plainly. Certainly, the White House press secretary is going to have an ease in public speaking. But it would be easy to also into PR-speak. Gibbs referenced his prepared remarks and certainly didn’t say anything that was explosive. But you never got the sense that he was so scripted or so concerned about an errant off-the-cuff statement that he stopped relating to the interests of the listeners. Talking points are good unless you’re hamstrung by them.
[Robert Gibbs also appeared on the Today show this morning. Image via]