Facebook COO’s Hard Sell On The Daily Show

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead.

Ms. Sandberg had many terrific communications traits. She made an articulate and persuasive case, used her body language to reinforce her verbal points, and laughed heartily at Mr. Stewart’s jokes.

And yet…

Something about her interview bothered me. I wanted to like her and agreed with every point she made—but I had a difficult time connecting with her. It took me a week and three viewings of her segment to figure out why. (Video is no longer available. Click here to see the clip.)

First, and perhaps most glaringly, she oversold her book. In a six-minute segment, she mentioned Lean In five times (Jon Stewart also mentioned it at the beginning and end of the segment; the name of the book also appeared in a giant on-set graphic, an on-screen book graphic, and a lower third graphic).

In total, viewers saw or heard Lean In no fewer than 10 times in six minutes.

It may surprise you that a media trainer who encourages people to remain on message was chagrined by that. But there’s a fine line between selling and over-selling, between being on message and over-messaged.

Mentioning her book title a couple of times would have been fine. But her continual mentions had the effect of pulling me out of her interview and reminding me that she was there to pitch a product, which compromised my ability to relate with her. Perhaps part of that wasn’t just the repetition—it may have just been that Ms. Sandberg didn’t pull it off without sounding a bit forced.

Lean In

That leads me to my second point. Sandberg sounded a bit too rehearsed. And that’s a shame, because she did a lot of things right. Her anecdotes were tight and effective (e.g. “Pretty like Mommy” t-shirts, her friend’s five-year-old daughter), and her sound bites were great (e.g. “Men still run the world. And I’m not sure that’s going that well.”)

If I was working with her, I’d advise her to stop trying to deliver her lines as she rehearsed them and to start delivering them like she was talking to an elderly neighbor or a high school friend instead. From her less rehearsed moments in this interview, she appeared to have that ability. She should use it more often. She should be going for “real,” not “polished.”

The bottom line? Ms. Sandberg did a great job with the precision of her words, but didn’t do as well in terms of relating with the audience. (I’ve written more about that common challenge here.) The good news for Sandberg is that she’s really, really close. And with a little more work, she can do a better job of making that all-elusive audience connection.

If Facebook doesn’t shut down my account after writing this story, please stay in touch with me at www.Facebook.com/MrMediaTraining.