When musician Terence Trent D’Arby released his debut album in the late 1980s, he had immediate success with two top 10 hits: “Wishing Well” and “Sign Your Name.”
It didn’t take long before his instant stardom went to his head: “My album is better than [The Beatles’] ‘Sgt. Pepper’s,’” he declared. The public disagreed; those were the only top 10 hits D’Arby ever had.
When Jay Leno took over “The Tonight Show” in 1992, competitor Arsenio Hall didn’t mince words: “I’m going to…kick Leno’s ass.” He didn’t. Leno soon became the king of late night, and Hall was off the air within two years. (He returned to late night this fall after a 19-year hiatus.)
In late 2011, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told ABC’s Jake Tapper, “I’m going to be the nominee.” He wasn’t; he won only two state primaries. (His bombastic personality did help him land a co-hosting seat on CNN’s resurrected “Crossfire,” however.)
As these three examples illustrate, making bold proclamations can backfire, sometimes badly.
“But wait…didn’t you previously advise us to use declarative language?”
It’s true, I did. In “The Media Training Bible
,” I gave the following three examples of times when spokespersons could—and should—use declarative language:
1. You might not be able to say that a new drug will work, but you could say it’s the most promising new drug you’ve seen in your career.
2. You might not be able to say that your company has never had a safety violation, but you could say you’ve never had a major incident at your plant.
3. You might not be able to say that your nonprofit’s fundraising drive will solve the problem, but you could say that more people in your community have volunteered to help than ever before.
There’s a big difference between the three statements above and the three examples that opened this article. The three statements above are based solidly in fact—but stop short of bold predictions and hyperbole.
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So, yes, be bold. Make strong assertions. Go as far as the facts allow—but go only as far as the facts allow. If you go past that magic mark, your words will probably be used against you in future news stories—and the tone of those stories could be harsh.
Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared.