A Positive Image
Starts With Media Training
By: Mark Alesia
Media coach works to bring stoic 7- foot Ohio St. star out of his shell
When cast as the counterpoint to Florida's ebullient Joakim Noah during the Final Four, Ohio State center Greg Oden seemed to confirm a public image summed up by the Seattle Times.
"Oldest-looking freshman ever, no smile, furrowed brow, stoic,"
the paper said.
Hardly an advertisers dream.
But move ahead two months, and with the help of a media coach who had a part in one of Oden's favorite movies, the probable first pick in the June, 28 NBA draft has loosened up. In doing so, he has drawn raves from surprised reporters and, of course, helped loosen the purse strings of companies searching for an endorser.
Consider an interview session earlier this month at an NBA pre-draft combine. Kevin Durant the other possible No. 1 pick, came off as shy, according to several media reports. Oden was - gasp - a media darling.
At one point Oden said he had a blue pinstripe suit picked out for draft day, but watch out for the shoes.
"I might have some wild shoes," he said. Tall ain't ever seen
(size) 19 shoes like this before." After the performance, a
newspaper described him as a TV commercial waiting to
Mike Conley Sr. Oden's agent, said people close to the former Lawrence North High School star have known Oden's personality has been there all along, waiting to come out publicly.
According to Conley, it didnt happen for Oden as a respectful high school player, unsure what would be appropriate around adults, or as a somewhat sheltered college player.
"We've made a conscious effort to say to him now, 'OK, Greg, you can be Greg,'" Conley said.
That message has been delivered with the help of Steve Shenbaum,
president of Game On Media in Los Angeles.
Shenbaum has had roles in television shows and movies, including "American Pie 2," one of Oden's favorites. Conley said he hired Shenbaum on the recommendation of his partner in the agent business, Bill Duffy.
"I'm not trying to teach new tricks," Shenbaum said. Tricks only last until they're exposed. Greg already has it in him."
Shenbaum said he sees himself as more than a media coach, with the benefits extending to business and social situations.
Elite athletes, he said, grow up with people wanting to talk to them only about sports. Shenbaum wants them to get comfortable talking about themselves as people. He starts by asking athletes to list things that make them smile. (Some of Oden's answers: his mom, his brother, dancing, movies.)
There are non-verbal exercises where athletes are asked to communicate only through facial expressions
There's a game called "Expert Speaker" in which the athelete is
asked questionson a certain topic he knows nothing about. But every
answer is treated as if its correct. That's designed to bring down
overly-oppressive barriers to expression on topics he does know
about. Namely, himself.
"What we do is stretch the communication muscles. Shenbaum said. They can try out facial expressions or stories in an environment that's safe."
Media training of some type is increasingly common for teams - the NBA and NFL require it colleges often use it - but not necessarily for individuals.
Kevin Long, president of MVP Sports Media Training, said it appears to be working for Oden. "I can tell from his body language that he looks comfortable now" Long said. "He's starting to come out of his shell."
At Ohio State, athletes in football and basketball received media training conducted by athletic department staff.
Buckeyes basketball coach Thad Matta, however, does not allow first-year players to talk with reporters until after their first game. At a charity event before a mid-December game in Indianapolis, Oden and Conley Jr. were off limits to reporters, even though they were returning to their hometown.
Now Oden is out of the protective college environment and soon to be in the wild of the NBA.
Kathleen Hessert. a media trainer who helped Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning with his transition from college to the pros and still writes speeches for him, said its a whole different world.