In his iconic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey asserts that communication is the most important skill in life.
This is especially true in the business world, where effective communication can mean the difference between success and failure. In a media climate in which one spokesperson’s sound bite can alter the company’s bottom line, you cannot afford to take this role lightly. The seven habits outlined in this guide will lead your business on a path to success by helping you become a highly effective spokesperson.
1. Be prepared.
Interview preparation should always begin with research. You should study the reporter, the outlet, and the topic to be discussed. That research will help you anticipate the tone of the interview and the questions that are likely to come up. Create a list of possible questions and develop prepared responses to them. Have your talking points memorized—but also close at hand for the interview—and plan ways to bridge back to them during the conversation. That level of preparation will help you stay composed, quotable, and on message throughout the interview.
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2. Know your audience.
Understanding your audience will help you speak to them and not at them. First identify your target audience, and then craft your messaging in a way that will resonate with them. Avoid using jargon, as it can dilute your message for those who are not experts on the topic. You also should eliminate messaging that may alienate or offend members of your audience—such as political bias, gender bias, sexuality bias, and cultural or racial insensitivity. Remember that your messaging is more powerful when delivered in inclusive language tailored to your audience.
3. Build rapport.
Building rapport is a key element in creating high-quality media appearances. When speaking to a reporter, refer to that person by name throughout the interview to develop trust and familiarity. In the conversation, refer to the reporter’s work (such a recent article they wrote), as it can be flattering and shows that you’ve done your homework. An interview begins the moment you come in contact with any employee from that outlet, so always be polite and courteous to the reporter and their staff before and after the interview. Building rapport will help you create comfortable, high-quality interviews while increasing the likelihood that you will be called upon for future interviews.
4. Speak in sound bites.
Earning an interview opportunity is only half the battle. The other half is delivering insight through quotable sound bites that will make it into the reporter’s story. If you follow habit No. 1, you should prepare sound bites that will translate nicely into print or broadcast. If you do not have a prepared response, a great way to offer sound bites is to summarize your main points of the discussion. After delivering a lengthy explanation of a concept or issue, summarize it in a sentence or two with a line such as, “To summarize what I just said…” or, “The main point to remember is…” The habit of speaking in sound bites will greatly increase your chances of being quoted and sought out for future opportunities.
5. Be yourself, sort of.
“Just be yourself” does not always apply when talking to the media. You need to be your best self. To that end, you should always speak positively about yourself, your company, your co-workers, your clients, and those with whom you do business. Show humor and personality, but maintain a high level of professionalism. A touch of humor makes you appear smart and confident, but too many jokes may compromise your credibility. Preparation, subject knowledge, and interview experience will all help you to feel comfortable and come off as natural when speaking to the media.
6. Amplify your message.
Social media creates exciting new ways to engage your target audiences. A good spokesperson will share company news and thought leadership through the appropriate channels, which are most often LinkedIn and Twitter. The sharing capabilities of these sites enable you to post your media appearances that are published online, providing targeted exposure within your social network. Every time someone “likes,” shares, or tweets your post, your influence will be broadened throughout those networks. Social media provides a legitimate, powerful platform for company spokespeople, and those who are actively engaged stand a much better chance of amplifying their influence than those who are not.
7. Practice, practice, practice.
Talking to the media is a skill that you can improve through repetition and by practicing the tactics covered in this article. You can practice many of these habits in non-media situations. For example, try building rapport with your server the next time you go out to eat. Explain your work to a friend using clear and concise sound bites. Volunteer for opportunities to speak in front of colleagues and business partners to continue building upon your communication skills. Covey encourages individuals to “sharpen the saw” or constantly work to improve their skills while developing new ones.