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If you don’t have anyone to tell your story, no one will hear it.
Spokespeople promote their organisation’s achievements and defend its reputation during crisis media management incidents.
But there is a big difference between talking to the media and getting your messages across to the audience you want to reach.
Each media situation is different and every spokesperson will have their own unique style.
But there are certain characteristics which effective spokespeople have.
Answers the question
A good spokesperson is prepared to answer the hard question.
Dodging and evading questions make spokespeople appear slippery and untrustworthy and leads to frustration.
It creates the impression there is something they are trying to hide and it will usually cause the journalist to probe further.
Appearing honest, direct and open will portray the organisation in a good light.
But this doesn’t mean that spokespeople should just answer the questions they are asked. They should still use tools like bridging and signposting to steer the conversation once they have answered the question.
Really effective media spokespeople are able to express feelings, show emotions and share personal stories and anecdotes.
To connect with the audience and build trust they need to be able to make the interview sound like a natural conversation.
This means being able to use their own words to get messages across and avoiding the corporate speak and jargon which can undermine interviews.
Audiences are put off by anyone who sounds like a corporate talking robot.
Passion and enthusiasm are really important characteristics of good media spokespeople.
Demonstrating passion for the subject is compelling and it is vital for keeping the audience listening and watching.
It will also help the audience to see that you believe what you are saying and are comfortable with the messaging.
But passion alone is clearly not enough. And clichéd phrases such as ‘we’re really excited to announce’ should also be avoided and will just come across as PR puffery.
Good spokespeople monitor and choose their words carefully because they are sensitive to the impact they have on others.
They are attuned to their audience, are aware of boundaries, and know what will motivate people to take positive action and what will cause them to switch-off.
At some point a media spokesperson is going to come under intense pressure in a media interview, particularly if you are dealing with a crisis media management incident.
The heated interview is not just reserved for politicians.
And the key in these situations is the ability to remain calm.
A good spokesperson will not let criticism get to them, become frustrated at a negative line of questioning or display annoyance when they are interrupted.
We tell delegates on our media training courses that when an interview does become heated or hostile, the audience will be much more likely to remain sympathetic if the spokesperson remains calm.
Prepared to prepare
You can’t wing a media interview no-matter how much experience you may have of doing them.
Interview preparation should not only include making sure you know the messages you want to get across, but also anticipating the question you could get asked and the wider issues which could be brought in to the interview.
But there is a balancing act here.
Too much preparation can make media spokespeople appear over rehearsed and that can blunt the much needed human element.
Swotting up over huge briefing documents for hours on end can also make spokespeople more nervous by building up the interview too much in their mind. This can lead to them feeling muddled and unable to recall key information when the pressure is on.
Clearly a good spokesperson will need to have a good understanding of the subject they are discussing.
And they will need to have strong knowledge of the media training techniques that will help them to steer and control an interview and avoid pitfalls.
But a really effective spokesperson will go beyond that and also know what the media is looking for and how their story feeds into the overall news package.
The real benefit of this is that not only will it ensure that more of what they say makes the edit, but also that journalists will regard them as an expert they would like to speak to again in future.
A good spokesperson is able to get their messages out clearly using language the audience will be able to understand and that will make them take notice.
This means using succinct sentences, using relatable language and adopting the type of language they would use if they were telling the story to a friend or family member with no knowledge of the industry.
It also means being able to diffuse challenging questions and steer the conversation without appearing evasive.
It sounds pretty simple, but a good spokesperson needs to be available to the media.
Journalists work to tight deadlines and if a spokesperson does not have the flexibility to meet their time frames, the opportunity to get your organisation’s story across will disappear.
One way round this is for organisations to have a number of media spokespeople who have had recent media training.
If the organisation has multiple sites, it is also worth considering having regional spokespeople. Not only are there clear logistical advantages but the regional voice can also show a commitment to the area.
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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