By Dr. Hume Johnson
Many spokespersons make the job look easy. They are able to express their points in a compelling way, are natural, authentic, credible and memorable. But no successful spokesperson gets in front of a reporter and simply rambles off random thoughts. They are trained media performers and you can be one too. Here are my top tips for becoming a great spokesperson:
- Develop Your Key Messages: These are the main points that your organization or client wants its publics to know. When reporters come calling, they usually arrive armed with an agenda. Have yours too. In other words, be prepared. Do not take the interview for granted. Figure out what you wish to communicate to your publics? Jot down at least 3 or 4 key messages (or main points) using simple language that everyone – even an 8th grader – can understand. As a side note, try to find out what kind of program or publication it is, what is the nature or format of the interview, who is the primary audience and what kind of story the reporter is doing, so that you can tailor your messages accordingly. Indeed, the more prepared you are, the more comfortable you will be with the process.
2. Be Conversational: So you have your key messages written down? Yes? Now practice to communicate these messages in the most conversational, believable tone you can muster. Talk as if you are communicating with a friend you respect. Do not use jargons. Keep it simple. Don’t forget your key messages, they are your best friend. Every response to a reporter’s question should be guided by your key messages. In other words, try to reiterate your key points throughout the interview, in a concise and upbeat manner.
3. Prepare for Hostile Questions But Do Not Meet Hostile Questions with Hostility. Instead, acknowledge the question and “build a bridge” to your key messages. How do you do this? Use transitions such as “One of the things to remember is” or “Let’s put it this way…” are great ways to bridge to your key messages.
Below is a spokesperson training session I conducted with public relations students at Roger Williams University. They faced tough questions about their college but were trained to keep plugging away at their key messages:
4. Give Reporters the Headline, then Tell the Story: Some people love to tell stories so much that they become lost in the story. While many reporters may be interested in the story you tell, they simply may not have time in an interview for it. To guard against rambling on and on, give your audience the headline – a summary of your point, then given sufficient time, feel free to explain. If the reporter has to cut your response, at least you gave your audience the key points or messages you wanted to make.
5. Be Enthusiastic and Engaging: I cannot stress this enough. Look and sound like you are delivering important information. Media practitioners wish to rapport with a confident person. For radio interviews, your voice must be strong and clear and exhibit personality or else listeners will get bored and switch channels. So remember to project your voice. For television, be an enthusiastic participant in the interview. Even for serious topics, you do not want to seem bored. You still need to look and sound alert and engaged. Gesticulate (not too much) and make sure your body language is relaxed.
6. The Reporter is Not Your Friend: Neither are they out to get you. But please understand, in an interview, the reporter’s loyalty (even if you are close pals) is to the story, not you. So do not get too comfortable and forget your key messages, and utter things you may later regret. At the same time, reporters are not out to get you. They genuinely want to hear your views or organization’s perspective. They will press you for details, or challenge you if you perceive you to be less forthcoming. However, your job is to articulate the main messages that you want your public’s to know. My advice is to be yourself. Don’t try to reinvent yourself in an interview. You will not come across as credible. And don’t lie to a reporter. EVER. Don’t fake an answer if you don’t know it. Admit that you are stomped but you will find out. Further, don’t be afraid to pause. Taking a few seconds to think is not a crisis.
In summary, have your key message prepared, can exhibit confidence, maintain your composure in the face of tough or hostile questions, and communicate in an enthusiastic and engaging manner. Finally, practice aloud, do role playing with a friend or co-worker. Questions to ask yourself: Are your message points coming across? Are your answers concise enough? Are you believable? Professional athletes and actors train rigorously and rehearse before facing the public. Don’t treat your own challenge lightly.
Keep these tips in mind when you face your next media interview!
Dr. Hume Johnson is a communications trainer and consultant. She teaches Public Relations at Roger Williams University.