Keynote Speakers at Amplify: Embrace Innovation But Always Remember, ‘The Messenger Is As Important As The Message’

“The messenger is just as important as the message. Only 20-30 percent of what you say will be retained, but everyone will remember their perception of the speaker.”Anthony Huey, Reputation Management Associates

“Winging it” might not work when credit unions want to share their story with the news media, but embracing innovation and quickly being able to think on your feet—and out of the box—can often be the key to success.

Those were among the talents demonstrated last week at the Northwest Credit Union Association’s Amplify Convention in Portland, where NWCUA’s Denise Gabel turned for inspiration to the Oregon Duck, and a former journalist told convention-goers, “You are in control.”

Gabel, the Association’s chief operating officer, took control before the opening general session on Wednesday, when she learned at the eleventh hour that her presentation partner couldn’t join her onstage for a session called “Think Big, Start Small.”

Cause for panic? Nope. Time for innovation? Absolutely.

“The truth is, you have to start somewhere,” Gabel said. “You have to ask, ‘What if?’ You have to ask, ‘Why not?’”

Those questions led Gabel and the Association to Tyson Wooten, who for four of his seven collegiate years in Eugene was the fist-pumping, slam-dunking, pushup-counting mascot for the University of Oregon.

“I didn’t expect that being the Duck would teach me a lesson I’d use for the rest of my life,” Wooten told credit union executives and their supporters. “But I learned that it’s not always about me, and that it’s not a reality in everyday life that we see ourselves as others see us.”

“I invite you to innovate. I invite you to be creative,” he said, “but pay attention to how you affect the people around you.”

Anthony Huey would no doubt agree.

Huey, a former reporter and editor who now offers coaching in effective communication and crisis management as the president of Reputation Management Associates, told conference attendees that “it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.”

“The messenger is just as important as the message,” Huey said. “Only 20-30 percent of what you say will be retained, but everyone will remember their perception of the speaker.”

Perception is truth, Huey said, and while the news media may control the public’s perception—think about how FOX News, MSNBC, and CNN report on the same story, for example—it’s still possible for credit unions and their representatives to control the original message.

Don’t just “wing it,” Huey said. “That’s a very dangerous thing to do.”

Instead, be prepared and:

  • Remember that you are in control: Before you go into an interview, have an agenda. Know what you want to say, and say it with enthusiasm and conviction. Don’t wait to be asked “the right question” and then regret not getting a chance to make your point. Answer quickly, bridge from the question to your message, or turn the tables completely by posing and answering your own questions.
  • Be specific and keep it brief: On average, you only get about 10 seconds of airtime or 30-40 seconds in a face-to-face interview to make your point before your answers are edited or you lose your audience, Huey said. Whether you call them pre-rehearsed adlibs, sound bites or “verbal golden nuggets” as Huey did, you have to be able to quickly pull bullet points from the “Rolodex of your mind,” prioritize your messaging and respond quickly.
  • Be consistent: Do you always find yourself being asked the same questions? Then ask yourself those questions and prepare messaging documents in advance so that you know what you want to say and how you want to say it. Tell stories and use anecdotes, because they help you connect. And share all of that with your staff so that everyone can stay on message, because consistency builds credibility.
  • Be accurate: All of your preparation and all of your rehearsals are wasted if you make a mistake. But you’re human. So if you make a mistake, correct it. And never cop out with a “no comment,” Huey said, because 78 percent of people will immediately think you’re either lying or hiding the truth.

“What people perceive is what they believe,” Huey said. “If you can’t communicate effectively, what will they believe about you?”

ALSO AT AMPLIFY: Laura Kelly, the chief product officer for Dun and Bradstreet and the brains behind the American Express Bluebird card, told the convention’s closing general session that enhanced mobile applications and “virtual branches” are essential to surviving in an increasingly competitive financial-services marketplace.

Roughly 87 percent of the U.S. adult population uses a mobile phone, and 28 percent of them—especially young, affluent, tech-savvy adults—use those devices for mobile banking. Tapping into that market “gives you a branch in every member’s pocket,” Kelly said. “You are no longer limited by your physical footprint.”

Credit unions must add value for their members by increasing security, simplicity, convenience and access, Kelly said. That’s certainly true for mobile technology, she said, but it also applies to brick-and-mortar locations, and she shared images from branches around the world that already are using interactive technology to attract and engage members.

“It’s about doing what’s right for the consumer,” Kelly said. “You have to be innovative in spirit and thought. You have to engrain innovation in your DNA.”


Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216,

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