The Importance of the “Perception” of Image
There are two staples I live by as a media trainer/coach. 1. Image is everything and 2. Attitude is key. I’ve had many argue my points, stating that attitude as opposed to one’s image is the driving force behind one’s reality, but in the world of entertainment there are no absolutes. If anything the perception of one’s attitude does more to determine their long term success in the entertainment business as opposed to their actual attitude. In my world seeing is believing. What the public see, they believe.
Everyone swallows the image pill down easily. We’ve known since the 1950’s that our culture tends to celebrate outer appearance before delving beneath the surface for true talent. However, new students are often speechless when I tell them that their talent is only fifty percent of the package they need to sell. Many artists believe that their golden vocal chords are all they need to make them a platinum selling artist. If I had a penny for every wannabe rapper I’ve spoken with who believed his lyrical prowess and ability to “keep it real” would separate him from the throngs of emcees that struggle to go gold, I’d be wealthy enough to shut down my PR company and relocate indefinitely to the Bahamas. But the truth of the matter is, talent, nor looks alone, is not enough to garner platinum sales, not today not ever. What the talent does outside of the studio, or off set is equally important to what they do inside the studio or on set in determining their long term success.
Quite frankly, entertainment is not the only industry that operates by these principles. Many service-related industries are driven by public perception. After I graduated from college, one of my first professional jobs was with a children’s hospital that was a part of one of the largest health care systems in the southeast. In this position I was responsible for media training physicians, especially specialty physicians. Why would doctors need media training? It’s very simple. When doing interviews with medical reporters, answering questions during press conferences geared toward health concerns or new medical technology and even answering questions wielded by a concerned mother, physicians need to be savvy communicators. Most of my clientele were pediatricians who were often tapped for commercials geared young parents. Many of them, especially the ones with a more specialized discipline, such as cardiovascular surgery or pediatric oncology spent many years immersed in medical vernacular. They became so engrossed in their “culture”, there was often a break down in communication when they were speaking with a patient’s family and friends.
I’m sure you can imagine the importance of clear effective communication when you are discussing options with the parents of a four-year-old leukemia patient. Another example was the data received from the short infomercials offering health advice to parents of young children. We were able to draw sound correlation between doctors who came across favorably on camera and the number of new patients that would specifically ask for that doctor and ultimately become their regular patients. Many of the more specialized doctors had a hard time retaining patients. There would often be complaints of a doctor not exhibiting concern, or not being able to relate or communicate in layman’s terms which resulted in lower retention rates. I realized that the proverbial “bedside manner” was a very real issue with physicians. This was probably my first proven case of one’s “perceived” attitude shaping their reality.
Back when I was teaching simple non-verbal communication techniques to middle-aged specialty physicians I had no idea it would prepare me to teach some of the same elementary techniques to up and coming rappers, unpolished boy bands and wannabe songbirds. Surprisingly enough there are numerous consistencies. Often my hip hop clients will come to my first class determined not to step out of their comfort zone. Much like the cardiovascular surgeon speaks in over-complicated medical jargon, the hip hop artist insists on answering questions in his native slang, which may appeal to a small group of his peers but does not translate to a general audience. Both are ineffective communicators, which will inevitably harbor their success rising to the level that could be achieved if they were able to speak to an unbiased diverse audience.
Regardless of the client and their career goals, my objective as a media coach/trainer is the same every time I enter a training session. I want to prepare that client to relate their story to what I like to call a “PG” audience. This means that my goal is for anyone who could attend a PG-rated movie to be able to relate to that client. Is this possible? Absolutely! There are certain undeniable communication “tools” that transcend age, race or cultural background. The first of these “tools” is simply confidence.
Yes, that’s correct, confidence. If you are listening to an actor detail his new role in an upcoming film and you detect that he is not confident about his role or even the film’s relevance, would that interview make you more or less likely to run out and see the movie? Less likely, of course. By the same token if you listened to your favorite musician speaking to an Entertainment network about his/her upcoming CD and they didn’t sound confident, would you hesitate before spending your hard-earned cash on their new CD? Of course you would, and rightfully so. It is of primary importance for talent to learn to speak about their background and their work in a clear, concise and CONFIDENT fashion. There are several factors that can hinder one from sounding confident. Poor grammar, hesitating to answer questions and even telling inappropriate facts about one’s life can make talent come across as lacking in confidence.
Another key communication tool is enthusiasm. Say you turn on your radio and hear a motivational speaker giving financial advice but the speaker didn’t sound enthusiastic or sold on his own idea. Would you be moved to take the person’s advice? Most likely not. If you heard an artist speaking about a piece of art that he created with little or no enthusiasm, would you be tempted to purchase the painting? My guess is no. I teach my clients that every interview opportunity is a chance for them to sell themselves to a buying public. People respond to others who exhibit an enthusiasm for what they do. Enthusiasm can be relayed through many different non-verbal cues such as posturing, eye contact and vocal inflection.
During the process of media training various clientele I stress to them the importance of being able to relay a confident and enthusiastic attitude that matches their genre of entertainment or service. My objective is always to create a perception of them with as diverse an audience as possible that will portray them in a positive light. When media training a fifteen year old rapper, my goal is to prep him so that he is able to speak to a fifty-year old corporate big wig or a thirty-five year old homemaker and make a positive impression. While neither of the two may like the rapper or have heard his music, it’s important that he is able to express himself in a way that a diverse crowd can understand and perhaps even relate to him on some level. If after training an artist they are only able to speak to their peers, then I haven’t done my job because at the end of the day true success is only achieved when you establish a broad customer base.
I will close by admitting that media training is not as simple as my before-mentioned equation of image plus perception equalling success. But it is my belief that talent plus image and of course a really savvy media coach/publicist will definitely give you greater odds when pursuing a career in entertainment…or elsewhere for that matter.