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 fresh or faked? usmagazine.comBy Steve Piacente, Executive Communications Coach

If you remember nothing else about the fireworks scandal of 2016, remember this: the days of getting away with it are over.

Those we know well, and even not so well - be they individuals, corporations or even revered public broadcast networks - better remember that social media has placed a powerful megaphone in the hands of anyone with a smart phone and internet access.

PBS was reminded of all this the other day after someone decided it would be best for viewers and patriotism to mix old and new Washington, D.C. fireworks footage in a supposedly live broadcast on Independence Day.

Viewers – thousands of them – quickly figured out what was going on. Their fuse was short and the bang was loud. “Only in DC could a PBS fireworks show become a scandal,” tweeted “thedcfloridian.”

PBS apologized, at first saying it was “the patriotic thing to do,” then adding it was trying to provide the best viewing experience possible on a wet, dreary night.

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler, as reported by and others, said the critics were right. "Why the producers and the on-camera hosts … could not take 10 seconds to say (or post on the screen) something like: 'To you folks out there around the country watching on television, the weather is not so good here on the nation's front lawn tonight and you can't see the fireworks very well, so we are going to show you clips from earlier displays …’ is, to me, sort of mind-boggling." 

And yet these lapses occur with astonishing frequency - at restaurants, during traffic stops, on airplanes, and in classrooms. Pick your venue. Odds are someone has done something dumb, offensive or clumsy, and someone else has recorded and posted it. 

Interestingly, the Washington Post says fireworks are “supposed to be beautiful” and PBS actually did the right thing.

Not the point. The point is that fakery is upsetting, especially when it comes from a trusted source. So:

1. Be credible. Losing or damaging your credibility will not only be embarrassing, it could also hurt the annual fundraising drive.

2. Be authentic. If you’re in the public eye, don’t assume you know what’s best for people. Explain your thinking before making unilateral decisions.

3. Be mindful. Remember that Twitter, Yelp, Instagram and a dozen others are only a few clicks away. And that reporters monitor and mine them for leads as much as they once chatted up the clerks at the county courthouse.

4. Be candid. Own your mistakes. Apologize (as PBS did), and quickly lay out the plan to avoid a similar mistake in the future.

As the smoke clears from the great fireworks snafu, it seems PBS has learned its lesson and will not suffer last damage. Or do you disagree?





Feet on hot coals / Donna AldridgeBy Steve Piacente, Executive Communication Coach

If you’re famous and ask people to storm across hot coals, odds are you could end up with burnt toes. And some bad publicity. Even a national news story or two. 

So it was the other day in Dallas for motivational speaker Tony Robbins, whose “Unleash the Power Within” seminars include the “fire walk,” intended to teach folks how to “turn fear into power.”

For those unfamiliar with Robbins, he is a best-selling self-help author with 2.81 million Twitter followers. More than 17 million have watched his TED talk, “Why We Do What We Do.” So, as with any celebrity, well-known CEO, or government official, when things go awry, TV trucks appear fast as ambulances.

Here’s how the principal and Team Robbins quickly cooled the crisis coals and ensured one hot night in Dallas didn’t turn into a multi-day story.

1 - They responded quickly, and set the record straight with confidence. Robbins’ organization told media outlets like CBS News, “In Dallas tonight, someone not familiar with the fire walk observed the event and called 911, erroneously reporting hundreds of people requiring medical attention for severe burns.”

2 - They doused fiery headlines by citing a single stat that put things in perspective. “Only five of 7,000 participants requested any examination beyond what was readily available on site.” (CNN, citing a Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman, said that of the more than 7,000 participants, at least 30 suffered minor foot burns. Five were hospitalized.)

3 - They stayed on message, citing pleasure at completing “another successful fire walk for 7,000 guests.” The walk has apparently been part of Robbins’ shtick for 35 years.

4 - They were prepared, both at the event, and for any negative PR. That is, trained medical personnel were on hand at the site just in case. And, Robbins spokeswoman Jennifer Connelly was ready afterwards with the company line.

"It is always the goal to have no guests with any discomfort afterwards, but it's not uncommon to have fewer than 1 percent of participants experience 'hot spots,' which is similar to a sunburn that can be treated with aloe," Connelly told CNN.

5 – Robbins leveraged third party allies on social media, at one point retweeting a column on Inc. that called the incident a “false alarm.”

Without getting into the wisdom of walking on hot coals – or its symbolic value – Robbins’ response demonstrated for anyone in the public eye the importance of being prepared, getting in front of a crisis, and delivering key messages with precision and clarity. Nothing turns a fire into ashes faster.

Any other thoughts on the Robbins rapid response team?





Suppose you didn’t know who won the Miss USA pageant last weekend.

And suppose you were asked to pick the winner and runner-up from a photo of the five finalists shot moments before the grand announcement. Odds are you’d select the two who struck the “Wonder Woman” pose.

All five seem confident. Each boasts a radiant smile. So much poise in one lineup! But those two carving out space with their elbows – a description you might find in a story about the NBA finals – look as though they’ve already had a peek inside the envelope.

And indeed they were the winners. Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber walked off with the crown, while Miss Hawaii Chelsea Hardin was runner-up. Second runner-up Miss Georgia held her hands by her sides, while Miss Alabama and Miss California opted for a “red carpet” pose, with right hand on hip and left arm straight down.

Now, no one is suggesting Barber and Hardin finished one-two because they assumed the pose immortalized by Wonder Woman Lynda Carter and highlighted in behavioral psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Barber is a U.S. Army logistics commander and has served in the military since age 17. There is nothing artificial about her power pose.

Still, the photo reinforces what we all know, that our bodies speak volumes even when our mouths are shut. Pageants aside, everyone who appears before an audience – even if the audience is one person or a small staff meeting - should remember to:

  • Make sure your body language sends upbeat, positive signals. Avoid gestures that suggest nervousness, insecurity or defensiveness, like crossing your arms, locking your fingers or clutching the lectern.


  • Be mindful of your face. All of us were taught not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what we do. Research shows our faces can express emotion sooner than people verbalize or even realize their feelings. A pleasant expression will serve you well.


  • Lighten up and toss in a smile. Smiling is associated with everything from confidence to lower blood pressure. It makes you appear more likeable and more competent. Can you overdo it? Sure, so save it for the right moments, like openings and good news.


  • Make eye contact with members of your audience. Notice the five finalists. They aren’t looking down, away or at some imaginary spot in the distance. They’re looking at their audience. Which suggests confidence, trustworthiness and the very real possibility that any of them might be the next Miss USA.


Need more evidence? Think of the opposite of the Miss USA lineup – the police lineup, where the suspected and accused use their bodies any way they can to shrink back and draw as little attention as possible.

One more note about power posing. Pageant contestants, actors and comedians can get away with it in public. The rest of us should do it in private, as a means to shoo the butterflies and get positive energy flowing. 

Walk into your performance review like Wonder Woman and you’ll see what I mean.

Has your body ever sent signals that got you in trouble? Please share a story. 


Photo credit: 



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