How to communicate effectively when “you know too much”
Watching the presidential debates, I have found the diversity of communication styles from candidate to candidate to be a fascinating study in spokesperson strategies and how they represent a brand. What traits make a spokesperson successful and what may not work in front of the camera or a journalist’s pen?
When you set aside the issues, what’s left are the basic elements of communication, or the strategies a spokesperson employs to convey their point of view and influence their audience while representing the company brand (or party image, in the case of presidential race).
Although public relations has evolved dramatically during the past 10 years, the basic guidelines for being a good media spokesperson have remained the same (with some tweaks). Below are some of the basics that you may already know but I hope they serve as a helpful reminder to anyone who plays the role of spokesperson, whether it’s a quick answer to a few questions or a longer, in-depth interview. As a spokesperson, you represent the company brand at all times, so how do you stick to the key tenants without going off track?
- Remember, you know too much. You are an expert about your subject matter. So much so, that you likely have a level of understanding that is many levels deeper than the journalist. If you try giving them too much information, you will probably bore them and they may pick up a tangential point you may have mentioned instead of the topic you imagined would be the focus of the article. So keep the conversation simple and focused. This leads me to the next point…
- Stay on message. There are many strategies for doing this, but in short: Say what you want to say, and then say it again. In other words, identify your core message and supportive key points before your presentation. Then, keep your core message simple and repeat it often so it sticks. You may give a lot of examples and scenarios to help explain your point, but always return to your core message. Another good way to wrap up your interview is to use numbered steps to outline your key points. For example, “ … the three main things I want to leave you with today are 1) …. 2) … 3) …” It may seem obvious, but reporters often appreciate the clear, concise recap.
- Engage them in the conversation. This seems self-explanatory but when you have a lot to explain, it’s easy to start lecturing. If you feel this is happening, ask questions to make sure you’re not losing or boring them with too much detail.
- Act as if you’re talking to your most important customer. Although you may be talking to one person, the end result may be an article describing your comments to a majority of your customers. You want it to sound respectful and concise.
- Silence is golden. Don’t babble on uncomfortably if you get flustered when they stop asking questions. Just stop talking. This gives pause for questions and gives the journalist time to take notes. Also, remember that the questions the reporter asks reveal where he/she is going with their article and may flag areas of concern that you will need to address.
- Set expectations accurately. No one likes to be let down or lied to, and it’s a real bummer when products you purchased don’t work as described. Be honest and deliver on your promises. Otherwise, you’ll start to sound like a presidential candidate and no one will trust you – OR your brand.
How do you represent your brand during media interviews? If you need help, give us a call! We have media training experts ready to help.
Author: Anne Schneider
More than 20 years of experience building and executing global communications programs and managing relationships with the media, industry analysts & other influential communities.