A Fortune 50 chief executive — I wonâ€™t tell you his name because he didnâ€™t realize I was listening to his conversation — was sitting at a fast-food restaurant with a woman who was coaching him on how to talk to the media. â€œYouâ€™ve got to stay on message,â€™â€ she snapped when he would forget his lines. He sheepishly apologized and then managed to mangle his line again.
â€œDonâ€™t answer the question being asked,â€ the woman said. â€œGet to your message,â€ she said, explaining that he should use â€œbridge phrasesâ€ such as â€œmeanwhileâ€ or â€œwhat we know isâ€ to avoid the question being asked and change the context of the answer.
â€œLike the politicians do,â€ the chief executive exclaimed.
She also emphasized what she called â€œflagging,â€ telling the C.E.O. to insert phrases such as, â€œthe most important thing isâ€¦â€ and â€œthe main idea isâ€¦â€
â€œJournalists are looking for complete sentences,â€ she instructed. â€œEspecially on TV. You want to give them full messages.â€
Before they got up, she told the executive, â€œTell them what you do.â€
He looked at her, slightly befuddled, and replied, â€œWhat do we do?â€