What makes a great spokesperson?

Every organisation, big or small, needs spokespeople who can promote its achievements and defend its reputation in a crisis.

But the strength of these spokespeople has a huge impact on how your organisation is covered by the media.

After all, there is a big difference between talking to the media and your customers and actually getting your key messages across effectively, gaining good coverage and protecting and enhancing your reputation.

And when huge amounts of money can ride on a presentation, businesses need leaders who can present effectively to staff, clients, partners and investors.

A spokesperson is the voice, and for television, the face of the business. They have a vital role and businesses should have more than one.

But what makes a good spokesperson? Is it a natural flair for public speaking? Or, perhaps, the confidence to think on their feet?

To help answer that question, we asked five of our expert journalist tutors who deliver our media training courses to each list the top three things they look for in a spokesperson.

 

Lawrence McGinty – former Science and Medical Editor for ITV News:

1. Conviction - Do they really believe what they're saying or are they just mechanically parroting a prepared script? 

2. A spark of something - humour, determination, apology - whatever emotion sits well with what they're saying. 

3. Humanity - do they really care about people affected by the issues? Do they talk from personal experience? How will what they say be received by those affected? 

 

Clare Catford – journalist/broadcaster who has spent 20 years working with the BBC and the independent sectors:

1. Personal - using personal stories to illustrate key points and most importantly the words 'you' and 'I'. This makes what you sound immediate, and relevant. 

2. Passion - enthusiasm is the most compelling and attractive quality. But only when used with jargon free language.

3. Grace - graciousness is a rare but deeply attractive quality. You show it by putting your audience first. Asking what you can learn, how you can help, how you can support, in a presentation, is much more effective. Admitting that you got something wrong, and that you changed and outlining what you did as a result is a wonderful admission of confidence and humanity.

 

Tasneem Siddiqi – has a career spanning 30 years in both radio and television and has reported, presented, produced and been an editor in news and current affairs:

1. Articulate – A good spokesperson needs to be able to get their messages out clearly using language the audience will be able to understand.

2. Passion – I want a spokesperson who is passionate and enthusiastic about the subject they are discussing because that passion and enthusiasm is vital for keeping the audience listening and watching.

3. Examples – A good spokesperson has a conversational tone and they bring their messages to life with powerful human examples.

 

Simon Brooke – freelance journalist who works regularly for The Times, The Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Wall Street Journal:

1. Authority - not just in their manner and bearing - the spokesperson must have the confidence of the organisation’s leadership and journalists need to know that he or she is really telling them what the leadership is thinking and doing.  If we believe that the bosses are holding something back from them or that we can get something more useful by going to one of those bosses directly they’re pretty well redundant.

2. An understanding of how journalists work and what makes a story - again, if a spokesperson is saying something that doesn’t sound convincing or looks as if it’s just about marketing or if they don’t know how the mechanics of the print and broadcast media operate journalists will quickly ignore them.

3. Timeliness - it sounds obvious but we just want someone to respond quickly, even if they can’t say much.

 

Emma Nelson – started her career at the BBC in the Midlands and currently reports for BBC London. She also reports for British Forces Broadcasting:

1. Eager – I want to speak to someone who is willing to be interviewed. Reluctant spokespeople do not make for good interviews or represent their organisation well.

2. Credible – A good spokesperson is a credible voice and sounds human. Audiences are put off by someone who sounds like a corporate talking robot.

3. Doesn’t dodge – I want to interview a spokesperson who answers my questions and doesn’t try to dodge the tough issues. Sure, I understand that you have your own agenda – and may use media training techniques to avoid fully answering my questions – but as long as you go some way to answering my questions and help me to ‘move the story on’ and provide quality content then I’ll be happy.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our highly practical Media training courses and presentation training.

 

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Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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