In case you’ve been off the Twittersphere or living in isolation, you may have missed the story of Ahmed Mohamed – the bright, 14 year-old student in Texas who brought a home-made clock with him to school to impress his teachers, but ended up in handcuffs instead when she (wrongly) assumed it was a bomb.
The hash tag #IStandWithAhmed has since been shared and circulated hundreds of thousands of times, with support for Ahmed coming in from Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton, Steve Wozniak (who had a similar incident in 1967) and a host of other incredibly supportive fans.
The story really resonated with me on a few levels. One, because he looks freakishly similar to my nephew Sam who is exactly the same age and is half Muslim. I would be horrified if Sam were to go to school with a brilliant invention, only to be considered a threat and subsequently arrested. Oh, did I mention – Ahmed was interrogated without his parents’ knowledge for one and a half hours?
But the other thing that stood out to me as a PR professional and media trainer is how eloquently and calmly Ahmed has conducted himself through this whole debacle and subsequent social and media frenzy.
There are a lot of public figures that could learn a lot from this young man.
Here is Ahmed’s very polished interview:
Here are media training lessons we can all learn from him:
1. Controversy can lead to good change
The most important takeaway is that Ahmed has managed to take a very upsetting incident and turn it into a voice for change and progress. He’s not sulking about it or voicing his opinions negatively. He acknowledges “since the charges have already been dropped, I would like to say that I really want to go to MIT and TAMS” and later adds, “but since I have gotten this far, I will try my best not just to help me, but to help every other kid in the entire world who has a problem like this”. He’s managed to bypass the unpleasantness to reveal hope for change and a desire to make that happen.
2. Keep it short and simple
Ahmed did not take a long-winded approach to explaining his story and ordeal. He stated facts, as they were, using no complicated language or jargon and immediately got to the point. He expressed that he was sad about the way he was treated but kept it to two clear and concise sentences. Which made them so much more powerful.
“I built the clock to impress my teacher, but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her. So it was really sad that she took a wrong impression of it and I got arrested for it later that day.”
3. Good interviews and speeches usually start on a lighter note before getting serious
Ahmed started his interview with a slight grin and a light tone. He introduced himself by saying, “So, I guess everyone knows I’m the person who built a clock and got in a lot of trouble for it”. What a great, succinct and fun way to sum up why he’s starting the speech.
4. Stand up for yourself and your values
Ahmed’s words here speak for themselves: “Don’t let people change who you are. Even if you get a consequence for it. I’d suggest you still show it to people because you need to show them your talent”
Ahmed’s confidence, tone, voice and presence are such a great lesson for everyone preparing for an interview to address a difficult issue. Thank you!
Want to pick up a few more tips on how to better conduct yourself in front of media? Get in touch with us at [email protected]