Sully Steals the Show

In the wake of Sarah Palin’s rambling and bewildering resignation speech, the outgoing Alaska governor seemed the obvious choice for a new edition of “Media’s Masters and Disasters”. And a disaster it certainly was. But so many pundits have already commented on this apparent act of political suicide, it seemed a redundant waste of your precious time for me to pile on yet another critique. So instead, I turn your attention to a media performance as dazzlingly impressive as Palin’s was tragic.

How to Avoid Turbulence

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero of the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson”, was one of the original inspirations for this series.

The world found it amazing that Sullenberger was able to control a jet airliner while it descended into the Hudson River. But we can all learn from the captain’s equally noteworthy ability to control an interview.
To be sure, Sullenberger’s calm, self-assured demeanor set the tone for his 60 Minutes interview. He spoke strongly, clearly, and without hesitation. But his skills went well beyond effective delivery…

Using Colorful and Descriptive Language

Consider the very first line of the interview:

“It was the worst, sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling through the floor feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”

Sullenberger surely predicted that Katie Couric would want to know “how it felt”, and he was ready. He used descriptive terms to paint a “word picture”, without ever slipping into hyperbole.

Telling His Own Story
Sullenberger managed to tell a fascinating and dramatic tale using his own words, not Couric’s.

Had things moved in slow motion for him? No, they moved in real time. Was he thinking about the passengers? No, he was thinking about landing the plane. Did he have any doubts? No, “I was sure I could do it.” (This surprisingly candid soundbite made for perhaps the most memorable quote of the entire interview.)

In a media landscape populated with more disasters than true masters, it is refreshing to see a genuine example of the latter.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent (1995-2000) and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.

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