I've compiled a ranking of the four semi-finalists' coaches, based on their performance in press conferences after their quarter-final victories.
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Each is given a point if they manage to get across what I consider the four essential elements of an effective interview or speech, namely:
- Message – make a clear point, and ensure that it is heard, no matter the questions you face;
- Context – give some bigger meaning to that point by situating it in a broader context;
- Engagement – make your audience feel they have a personal stake in your message;
- Inspiration – take your audience somewhere, make them feel something.
Here’s how the final four deserve to finish, were the spoken word truly as powerful as I like to think.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic was the biggest disappointment last week. Addressing the press after defeating the Russian team, he spoke more about his own abundant tears after the match than about his team, the opponents or the match itself.
Message: One way of detecting what a speaker’s key message is whether he or she repeats, rephrases, or elaborates a point. Mr Dalic didn’t do that. (0 points)
Context: He called the match against Russia "a fight" but left it at that. There wasn’t much attempt at enhanced meaning through – for example - looking at the big picture, taking a historical perspective, or otherwise setting it in context. (0 points)
Engagement: Talking about one’s own tears and emotions is not an effective way of engaging with an audience. As a general rule, I recommend that a public speaker should not tell the audience about his or her own feelings; it’s a much more effective device to explore how the audience might be feeling. (0 points)
Inspiration: Dalic told us that his team is fired up and the next game would be the best. That’s exciting. (1 point)
Winning the third-place playoff: France
The downbeat style of French coach Didier Deschamps following Friday’s match against Uruguay is an interesting illustration of the so-called Mehrabian principles, which maintain that non-verbal communication and tone of voice easily outweigh the words actually spoken in terms of influencing an audience.
He certainly had some warm and positive things to say about his team, but disconcertingly he tends to slightly shake his head as he speaks. It makes him resemble a grumpy civil servant foreseeing problems with a building permit, rather than a triumphant football coach surging to victory.
Message: He repeatedly stressed his team’s youth. (1 point)
Context: He observed that the opposition gets tougher the higher you rise in a tournament, giving some additional significance to Friday’s victory. (1 point)
Engagement: Deschamps didn’t engage with any of his audience, be they journalists, fans or the team players themselves. (0 points)
Inspiration: Watching and listening to Mr Deschamps doesn’t inspire much feeling beyond a vague sense of foreboding. (0 points)
The runner-up is Gareth Southgate, the English coach. He relied on a low-key, more thoughtful manner following the match against Sweden on Saturday. His style is less immediately engaging than Mr Martinez’s expansive enthusiasm, but it can be compelling in its own way. He doesn’t smile much, but shows his openness by raising his eyebrows and looking intensely at the interviewer.
Message: He found several ways to highlight his team’s cohesiveness or, as he said, its "togetherness". (1 point)
Context: He put Saturday’s win in a historical perspective: "Over the years, we underestimated the Swedes". (1 point)
Engagement: His team members were clearly his key audience. He named many individually, and ended with warm words of praise for them all: "I can’t speak highly enough about the whole squad…you don’t get through with just 11 players". (1 point)
Inspiration: Mr Southgate doesn’t inspire much emotion. (0 points)
World champions: Belgium
The winner in our rhetorical playoff is Belgium’s coach Roberto Martinez. He spoke very clearly at the press conference last week after the match against Brazil, delivering his points with enthusiasm, repeating his key ideas, and using open body language and lively facial expressions to transmit his enthusiasm.
Message: He found several ways to repeat his praise for his team’s talented execution on the field. (1 point)
Context: He did a good job of praising Brazil’s finesse and quality, thereby enhancing the Belgians’ sense of achievement. (1 point)
Engagement: Clearly addressing the fans back in Belgium, he told them that this victory was a memory that would be passed down "for generations". (1 point)
Inspiration: He firmly kept his eye on the big goal to come: "Let’s make sure that we all drive each [other] to be as good as we can in the semi-final." (1 point)
Charles Fleming is head of marketing for AMO and a partner at Havas Paris