Shy spokesperson?


How often have we found that in a shipping crisis, our key company spokesperson has become ‘unavoidably’ detained, or is simply is nowhere to be seen?

Picture the scene. There is widespread coverage of your shipping incident and everyone has pinned a lot of hope on deflecting a key influential broadcast journalist’s ire in an upcoming interview by the use of your spokesperson. The only problem is your chosen person has got cold feet and doesn’t want to be interviewed.

How do we resolve the issue of shy spokespeople?

First, why the reluctance?

That peculiar English phrase ‘having cold feet’ is sometimes referred to. Having those icy limbs means there is fear by the individual that they won’t be perfect.

Spokespeople need that special training to become comfortable in their own skin in front of other people and cameras. They need to learn how to relax into being who they are so they can trust themselves to think on their feet; cold or otherwise.

It is important that reluctant spokespeople understand and remember interviews are ultimately not about talking to a journalist but they are about speaking to existing clients, and future customers and key contacts. No just Joe Public.

Carrying out regular interviews will give your organisation a voice and, in the case of television interviews, a face.

A TV interview or radio interview can generate huge, entirely free publicity for your shipping company’s views and opinions which can be seen and heard by millions. So, no pressure then!

Media training will definitely help. Not only does the reluctant spokesperson need confidence but he or she also should understand why it is so important to do this interview.

Perhaps whoever has set up the interview can help them understand that he or she is part of a bigger plan and their engagement will ultimately help the company which is now in the spotlight and in need of their help.

We have to remember that individuals sometimes become very awkward in front of a camera lens. That reluctance can very often be seen on screen and makes the interviews ‘difficult’ and, frankly, sometimes, difficult to watch.

In that instance, then perhaps you’re better off finding a different interviewee.

However, if you’re interviewee is THE expert then journalists ideally want to talk to that person. Also, remind them that it’s not about them – it’s about what they want to communicate to others. Prepare talking points and make sure the interviewee has them written down.
With proper media training that nervousness should disappear. People who are nervous and do not understand the rules of engagement are the ones who tend to struggle. It is all about taking control within the interview.

Whilst you can’t predict the future, you can properly prepare your spokesperson. It’s not about persuasion, but preparation. If they know what to expect before the interview occurs, if they’re given proper media training and if they are prepped on all their talking points, they will be confident when the time comes to speak with the media.

It is also worth remembering that the more spokespeople you have who have had recent media training the less likely you to find yourself in a scenario where you are desperately trying to convince a reluctant spokesperson to carry out an interview. The key is to balance the spokesperson’s personal attitude with his or her role in the company.

For some it will be a confidence issue, while others may feel they cannot free up their time for interviews. Some may not see the value of engaging with the media; “No one watches that programme.” or “can’t they just use what is in the press release?”
Or even, in my experience, “Let’s get our Receptionist just to read the statement on camera”. Really.

The key in these cases is to show them both the value to the organisation and their own careers of accepting interview requests.
Show them what rival companies are doing in the media and how it is helping to ensure its messages and story are heard by a wider audience.

Also outline how joining in the conversation with engaging, entertaining interviews, delivered with clarity and confidence, will ensure they are viewed as an expert and thought leader in their field.

Holding practice interviews with real issue-related questions not only gets the team comfortable with the interview process, but also gets the nominated spokesperson more grounded in the facts that are likely to come up.

Another consideration is they may have had a bad experience with a journalist before and have decided they don’t want to risk a repeat performance of the sarcasm and difficult questions.

If the thought of facing questions from an aggressive journalist just seems too daunting for your spokesperson, consider putting them forward for an interview on the intranet or staff magazine first.

This could act as a gentle introduction to the interview process, well within comfort zones, while still improving their skills and working to ensure they get their messages across. Ease them in gently.

A larger shipping company usually has more potential spokespersons than just the CEO or CFO, depending on the subject. The DPA or HSQE Manager perhaps?

If you make sure you’ve worked with all of them, it will be more likely you’ll find at least one or two spokespeople to handle any interviews if one is clearly becoming uncomfortable, or suffering chilly feet.

On the intranet site they could perhaps face some challenging questions from employees through a live chat, which could help boost their confidence in their ability to respond under pressure.

For many spokespeople, particularly those with less experience, print interviews can feel a lot less intimidating than taking to the airwaves on radio and television.

The setting is likely to be more familiar and relaxed than a studio environment and in many cases, there is the chance to get back to the reporter after the interview with further information and to check facts. If the print journalist is coming in, then let’s not forget that 70% of communications is non-verbal. Body language can sell a story.

While it is important spokespeople are not complacent about these types of interviews, getting a few articles with trade and local press under the belt is a great way to boost confidence.

The best way to ensure a spokesperson feels comfortable and confident about taking part in a media interview is to make sure they are properly prepared and understands what to expect.

Explain how you will work with them not just on delivering your key messages but also on identifying likely questions, particularly the negative ones, and how they should respond.

Make sure they know who the journalist is they will be talking to and the publication they work for.

Mock interviews can also work well in advance, particularly with strong and honest feedback about what went well and what needs to be improved.

Sometimes spokespeople feel uncomfortable because some key messages uses language they may not be comfortable using.

Encouraging them to use their own vernacular, anecdotes and examples will not only increase their confidence but also help bring messages to life.

Clearly some of the approaches outlined above will take longer than others and high quality media training is the quickest and most effective way of boosting confidence and changing people’s perceptions of talking to the media.

The best way to improve the confidence of spokespeople is through realistic media training which exposes them to current working journalists in a safe environment.

This will give them the skills and opportunity to practice controlling messages and honing messages.

If your spokesperson has had training before, it is worth remembering the media world and the techniques and methods used by journalists changes quickly and it is important to keep pace with these developments.