How to wrangle 4 tricky types of spokespeople

Follow these tips to keep challenging clients from going rogue or freezing up in interviews.

Some executives are media interview superstars.

They were born to do it, and they work hard to improve. They prepare, effortlessly handle tough questions, and then smile when it’s done and ask for feedback.

Others, not so much. Here are four types of challenging spokespeople, as well as tips on how to rein them in:

The Cowpoke

Cowpokes are eager to lasso the next media interview. They’re always ready to go—or at least they think they are. Forget about prep; interviews are easy. Sometimes they are, but Cowpokes tend to mosey into risky territory.

Overconfidence is tough to tamp down. One way to corral their exuberance is through positive critiques, such as taking the best of what they did before, reminding them of it and urging them to do it again. You can also point to someone else (a competitor or a person they look up to), highlight what they did or didn’t do well, and then show them how to replicate the success or avoid the disaster.

To wrangle Cowpokes, emphasize and hone their strengths. Gently stressing the importance of prep and training is also helpful.

The Avoider

Avoiders are just fine with media interviews—until an opportunity for one comes up. Suddenly they just can’t make this one work, but maybe next time?

Avoiders always know someone else who could step in, or they might decide that postponing is a better strategy. Avoiders hate doing interviews but won’t admit it.

Managing Avoiders is all about advance prep work. Don’t spring surprises on them. Identify the key journalists, audiences and topics they will speak to, and warn them when an interview could be coming.

The Technician

Technicians feast on jargon and complain that reporters “don’t get it.” They might diligently prepare, show enthusiasm and profess an understanding for what must be done, but as soon as the interview starts they often launch into overwrought, byzantine answers.

Play to the Technician’s ego. Explain at the outset that the reporter needs help and guidance. Work on snappy quotes and simple, clear talking points.

The Panicker

When Panickers get an interview request, they often try to memorize messages like a movie script. No matter how they’ve performed, they’ll be certain they blew it. They will also hate the resulting article, even if everyone else is happy.

You never want a Panicker facing a tough interview. If it’s inevitable, build their confidence with baby steps, such as a casual meet-and-greet.

Running mock interviews can also help. Panickers often possess expertise and have a deep concern for accuracy, which makes them excellent spokesperson material. The trick lies in helping them conquer their fears.

Are there other types I’ve missed? Have any advice for handling difficult spokespeople? Please offer your thoughts in the comments below.

A version of this post first appeared on Provident Communications’ blog.

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