Corporation presidents and executive offices, promised confidentiality, are riding the small elevator 17 stories on Central Park South to stand in front a small television camera and recite speeches from Churchill, Cyrano, Julius Caesar and the annual report.
It is not a secret forum for frustrated oratirs, but an expensive training ground for business executives who are convinced that it is no longer acceptable to rock from one foot to the other behind a lectern, eyes glued on the written speech which they mumble to an audience fighting to keep from dozing off, with heads crashing into the plates of chicken a la king.
When Roger Ailes was 28 years old, he was writing memos for Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign about how to package the candidate for television. He did a lot of the merchandising that Joe McGinnis' book, "The Selling of the President 1968," described.
Now, Ailes will do it for you if you or your company has $4,000 spend for a course of six 2-hour lessons.
"Television is not a gimmick," Ailes said in discussing the 1968 Nixon campaign and the growing importance in the past decade of knowing how to make a good appearance on television.
Ailes said in an interview that he first sensed businessmen's need of training for television and other public appearances when he was producing the Mike Douglas show in the mid 1960s.
Ralph Nader had written "Unsafe at Any Speed" and Ailes couldn't get a senior automobile company executive to appear on the same show with Nader.
Ailes figured businessmen were on the defensive even then. Now, he says, increasing government regulation and "the activities of highly vocal citizen groups and broadcasters against companies" have made it even more important for the executives to come out of their boardrooms and make a good public impression.
Ailes and his associate Steve Rosenfield do not advertise their training program for corporate executives, but they are also not unhappy to describe it for a reporter.
"Businessmen are trained to be poker players," Ailes said. "They think that their success is in direct relationship to their inability to show emotion."
The most common sympton of their woodenness is that they speak at the same rate - each word spaced and stressed evenly so that a listener has to concentrate heroically to follow the speaker's argument.
Ailes said that the roughly 75 corporate executives who have come to his firm, Roger Ailes and Associates, Inc., divide into two caregories: Those who believe in self improvement and would buy a book on how to bowl better even if they had never bowled at all and those who are referred by their corporations.
A retiring company president sent the two men he was considering to succeed him to Ailes because he felt neither made an adequate public impression to be top man.
Ailes said one company has been so satisfied that it has sent six executives to his course. Others have retained as a consultant for any communications problems that might arise.
Many of the executives are gifted conversationalists, but when they are speaking to an audience, their shoulder muscles and vocal chords get tight, they grab the lectern as if it were the only thing keeping them afloat and their sense of humor disappears.
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