Media Hits

Believer: My Forty Years in Politics

A book by David Axelrod

"...Later that day, he began rehearsing his keynote with an expert speech coach, Michael Sheehan. Michael had studied as an actor to overcome a childhood stutter and transformed himself into one of the foremost media trainers in America. He was a fixture at Democratic conventions, setting up training booths beneath the rostrum where all the major speakers would prepare. I had known Michael for years and privately had confided Obama?s habit of over-orating. 'First lesson: Let the microphone do the work,' he told Barack. 'You don?t have to shout. You?ll be heard in the hall. But you?re really speaking to twenty million people at home. Have a conversation with them.'

With each repetition of the speech, Barack became more relaxed and conversational, adding pauses, nuanced phrasing, and natural gestures to accent his points. Soon his performance rivaled the quality of the words on the page. 'This is really, really good,' Gibbs whispered to me between takes. 'He?s definitely got it.'"

Game Change

A book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

"In the past, Axelrod had run Obama’s debate prep, and it had been, like the strategist himself, disorganized and loose-limbed. For his debates with McCain, Obama had given authority to veteran Democratic strategists Tom Donilon and Ron Klain and forensics specialist Michael Sheehan, who put him through his paces with repeated dress rehearsals, DVDs of himself to study, and meticulous briefing books.

But Biden worked diligently with Michael Sheehan, who trained him using what Sheehan – with due generational aptness – dubbed an “Arthur Murray pattern.” Describe the situation; explain how it will be worse under McCain; describe how it’ll be better under us. One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three. Biden quickly got the hang of it."

New York Magazine: April 13, 2009

"The "Sheehan effect" refers to Michael Sheehan, the media-training guru who has served as the speech coach at every Democratic convention since 1988, laboring in a windowless room beneath the stage to tune up speakers before their podium turns, and has worked on countless campaigns. Among Sheehan's most prominent clients have been Bill and Hillary Clinton, and also the current president -- whom Sheehan prepped for his star-making 2004 convention keynote and last year's nomination acceptance as well as his televised debates with John McCain. Sheehan's reputation is so stellar that even his competitors can't help but sing his praises."

Fast Company: The Man Behind the Curtain

"You may not know his face, but you most certainly know his words,
expressions, and intonations.  In more than two decades of work, Sheehan has become one of the world's top communications specialists, the go-to guy for anyone trying to make a point in public...
...Sheehan helps CEOs of America's most influential companies deal with everything from hostile reporters to skeptical analysts."

In An Uncertain World

A book by Robert Rubin

"…I needed some help in dealing with the very particular medium of television… I decided to act… I made an appointment to see Michael Sheehan, a media coach who worked with President Clinton, among others.

"I was skeptical about going to see Sheehan, because I knew I couldn't be anything other than myself, on television or anyplace else. I told Sheehan that, and he responded that I should indeed be myself but that I should also try to understand a few basic points about the medium and how it works. For instance, you can attack a question, but you should never attack a questioner, since TV tends to make a personal challenge look more hostile than intended. You should boil down your points and avoid long, discursive answers. You had to be somewhat more animated than in normal conversation just to seem natural, because TV tends to deenergize you. And most important, you have to go in with a clear sense of what you want to accomplish and respond from that perspective.

"…Sheehan was absolutely right…"

Living History

A book by Hillary Rodham Clinton

"I seized upon the village theme, and we swiftly drafted the speech around it. Then I went to the tiny room in the basement of the United Center for one last rehearsal with Michael Sheehan, an extraordinary media coach who made Herculean efforts to teach me to use the TelePrompTer, which I had never worked with before and couldn't seem to master. Though I might finally have found the words I'd been searching for, I'd blow the speech if I delivered them looking like a robot, so I practiced until it felt right."

A Good Fight

A book by Sarah Brady, wife of former Reagan press secretary James Brady, and Gun Control Advocate

"The night before the speech, I stayed behind at the Chicago Hilton, the official convention hotel. I was so nervous about that enormous prime-time audience that I didn't dare do anything but remain in our room to practice.

"The next morning, I got some help. Convention organizers had assigned us a generous block of time with Michael Sheehan, an absolutely terrific media coach from Washington who was helping everyone who was to appear at the convention—teaching us, among other things, how to use the teleprompter. I worked with him for about an hour, right on the convention floor where the speech would take place. It's quite incredible how slick that operation is. The words of your speech are up on the teleprompter almost anywhere you happen to look, so from the audience, or on television, it appears that you're just reciting from memory, and looking here and there at people in the audience as you speak. The experience was just invaluable."

American Son

A book by Richard Blow, former editor of George magazine

John was anxious about this press conference; he'd never done anything like it. Up to that point, almost certainly the largest assemblage of reporters he'd ever had to address had come the morning after his mother's death, and no one would have thought of asking him a tough question that day. Now there was no reason for the press to hold back. Here was an opportunity hundreds of reporters had been waiting for—the chance to ask John F. Kennedy, Jr., questions about his personal life. Our nightmare scenario was that no one would ask a single question about George.

To prepare, John had gotten coaching from image consultant Michael Sheehan, who had worked with Bill Clinton, and Paul Begala, a Clinton spin doctor who'd also advised John's uncle Ted. Sheehan and Begala had spent hours drilling John on potentially embarrassing questions. "Why did you fail the bar exam—are you stupid, or just lazy?" "Is it true about you and Sharon Stone?" "Who's your new girlfriend, anyway?" "Madonna has an article in your first issue—did you have to sleep with her to get her to write it?"

"Together they cooked up some answers…."

You Say You Want a Revolution

A book by Reed Hundt, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Committee and now session VP of McKinsey

"Borrowing from the Ronald Reagan success story, we hired someone to help us articulate an agenda. A graduate of the Yale Drama School, Michael Sheehan gave advice to the President and the First Lady. He was an expert in the New Age of Advocacy: the airwave war. His specialty was cogent television appearances. But he also shaped message…. I began to explain my policy. "I've got it," Sheehan said, shutting me off. He went to the board and drew a box. At each of the four points he put a phrase. I had the baseball fan's feeling of admiration when watching a home run sail over the fence."

Madhouse

A book by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, a senior correspondent for Time magazine

"After a while, Sperling lapsed into almost complete salesmanship. He began Sunday, July 10, with a 7:30 a.m. breakfast at the Jefferson Hotel with his boss, Rubin, and a television consultant named Michael Sheehan. Rubin, who had been an investment banker his whole career, was not comfortable in public settings, but later that morning he was going very public—on Meet the Press. He needed Sperling to help him phrase the good economic news he wanted to present, and he wanted Sheehan to help him smooth his television persona.

"Sperling had gone through ten hours of briefings with Rubin the day before, so all he had to do was update him on the morning newspapers. Sheehan had the larger task. He wanted to transform the mumbly, almost shy Rubin into someone who appeared both comfortable and confident on television. So he suggested ways for him to hold his hands, how he could look serious, and what tone to take when he answered questions. Morning shows require a gentler approach, he explained, much different than the faster-paced, harder-hitting shows that air at night.

"Rubin's appearance was slated as the kickoff of a week of economic boasting by the White House—all directed by Sperling. His idea was to take a usually boring and forgettable document called the midsession review and use its findings to show how wonderfully Clinton's budget was working.

"And the strategy succeeded. Storied appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times."

Potus Speaks: The Words of The Clinton Presidency

A book by former White House speechwriter Michael Waldman

"State of the Union day is typically filled with frenetic and chaotic rewriting, but not this one. Clinton wanted to rehearse quietly with Michael Sheehan and me…. We went up to the Chief of Staff's office … Clinton wanted to talk to Michael Sheehan alone, in the Oval Office."

Madam President

A book by Eleanor Clift, senior editor of Newsweek

"Sheehan is a friendly man with a shock of brown hair that flops in his eyes. He's the kind of guy people are willing to fail in front of, and to share their deepest anxieties about public speaking with, an experience that ranks with death among humankind's worst fears. Sheehan's empathy with his clients may come from his own experience. He conquered a severe stuttering problem and went on to become a teacher of public speaking.

Sheehan's office in downtown Washington has the technological trappings of a modern television studio, except that nothing videotaped there ever goes on the air. Prominent authors, business executives, and politicians who seek Sheehan's services know their struggle to become more engaging public speakers is guarded by a kind of doctorpatient confidentiality."

Showtime

A book by Roger Simon, Senior correspondent for US News and World Report

"Michael Sheehan crouched by the videotape machine, making small notes on a pad… How it looked on TV is what mattered, not what it looked like in real life…

Sheehan had an ace up his sleeve. In previous debates he had helped script 'zingers' for his candidates like the 'You're no Jack Kennedy' line he had written for Lloyd Bentsen.

In mid-September, Sheehan had sent a memo to Clinton telling him not to go negative during the debates, to give longer answers, and to be substantive because this is what the focus groups liked. Sheehan recommended they keep the zingers to a minimum, just a few for each debate, because the interplay between the candidate and the press had changed. Instead of using zingers to impress a group of reporters, it was now necessary to impress the focus groups that the media had assembled.

'In the deadly dance between the media and the candidate, the tempo of the song had changed,' Sheehan said.

Sheehan had been correct. The deadly dance had changed. But only one side knew the steps.