We all wish we had a Steve Jobs-type on our staff. Someone we could put out front every time and know he was going to perform in a way that makes our company look good.
Maybe you do have a Jobs-like spokesperson on your staff. Maybe you have several. The key is identifying and them and providing training that allows them to be confident and ready when the need for a spokesperson arises.
Ask these questions when choosing a spokesperson:
Is this person technically qualified?
A lot of qualifications are tied to job titles, but the title isn’t the only thing to consider here. In fact, you should not automatically assume your CEO or top executive should be your spokesperson, especially in times of crisis. Instead, you want to have someone who can step in as the face of your organization if necessary.
Who the spokesperson is at any given time depends on that person, the message that needs to be communicated and the audience who needs to receive it. You can use different spokespeople at various times, although the importance of consistency is worth considering.
Can this person provide factual information quickly?
The person you choose needs to have knowledge of the information needed and access to that information.
Does this person have the communication ability/authority to speak without rehearsing?
You want your spokesperson to be able to rehearse, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. There are times (during a crisis, for example) when your spokesperson will have to speak at press conferences or in media interviews with little time for preparation. Be sure your spokesperson can speak intelligently and directly on the fly, if necessary.
Will this person present information in a clear, concise and competent manner?
You want a spokesperson who is articulate, who can communicate key points without adding a lot of extra information and who people find believable.
Will the public understand the situation by listening to this person?
Your spokesperson should be able to communicate what happened that led us to this point, what’s happening now and what’s next in a way that your public can understand.
Does this person communicate concern for people in a clear, compassionate manner?
Some people are just more compassionate than others. I have a difficult time communicating concern and compassion without coming across flat. I know this about myself, and I know that I’m a bad spokesperson in these types of situations. If this is the type of information you need communicated, you want to make sure your spokesperson can handle it without sounding like a jerk.
Do people trust this person?
A lot of whether your public will trust your spokesperson has to do with vocal quality, confidence and appearance. Like it or not, people will decided immediately whether they think your spokesperson knows what he/she is talking about. Think about whether you would trust your spokesperson if he/she were a stranger delivering this news to you.
Does this person want to be a spokesperson?
You really shouldn’t force someone into the spokesperson role. If an individual isn’t comfortable representing your organization, he/she is not the right person for the job. Choose someone else.
Is this person good with the medium required?
Your spokesperson represents your organization in a lot of different scenarios. It may be in front of a large crowd, a small group or in a face-to-face interview with a reporter. Understand which medium is required and which spokesperson is best at that medium.
For example, I am not entirely comfortable on television. I do television interviews, but they’re not my favorite. Two of my co-workers are former broadcast journalists. It makes much more sense to choose them for broadcast-based speaking opportunities.
To train your spokesperson, discuss:
Teach your spokesperson the importance of using confident, assertive body language that isn’t distracting to the audience.
Your spokesperson should seem appropriately excited about the opportunity to communicate about a topic important to your organization. One of the best, easiest ways to show energy is to talk 10-15 percent louder than usual.
Inconsistent eye contact communicates many things, and none of them are good. It makes the speaker seem nervous, defensive and dishonest. Encourage your spokesperson to aim for 100 percent eye contact. It will feel strange at first to alway be making eye contact with someone, but it becomes natural with practice.
Most people are taught not to gesture when speaking in more formal settings. This is incorrect. Gesturing will help the spokesperson look more natural, enhance the impact of his/her words, and helps him/her form clearer thoughts and speak in tighter sentences. Just don’t let your spokesperson gesture so much that it becomes distracting. Few people actually do this.
Your spokesperson should keep his/her Keep your body language unlocked, open and inviting.
In seated interviews, keep your hands on your lap near your knees or put your hands together loosely on top of your lap. Do not sit all the way back in your chair. Instead, sit forward with your feet first on the floor or your legs crossed at the ankle. This keeps you from slouching and makes your body language and vocal tone naturally more energetic.
For standing interviews, nest your hands loosely at your navel or rest your hands at your side, bringing them up only to gesture. In standing interviews, place one foot just a few inches in front of the other. It will help keep you from rocking.
Voice and habit words
Speaking more loudly adds energy and excitement. Speaking quickly also is fine when the information you’re conveying is exciting. Just be careful not to speak so quickly that no one can understand you. Purposely speak more slowly when you’re making a key point or explaining something complex.
Keep your voice level, overall. Be aware of upticks, when your voice gets higher at the end of a sentence. You don’t want this to happen at the end of every sentence.
You also can add a short silence to your sentence when you want to emphasize a point.
Do not worry about habit words like “umm” or “actually.” A lot of people say these. Using them every once in a while isn’t that big of a deal. If you think you’re using them too often, just train yourself to pause and take a breath before you answer questions or make another point. These words usually are uttered when you’re trying to transition or think.
To prepare your spokesperson:
Explain the situation
Be sure the spokesperson understands who they are speaking to and why. Help prepare him/her for the types of questions that will be asked and the environment in which they will be placed.
If it’s at all possible, practice the speech, presentation or interview with the spokesperson. It’s best to practice in the actual location, if you can.
Identify information provided
Help your spokesperson understand what type of information already has been provided and what he/she will be responsible for releasing.
Give background on the reporter
If your spokesperson will be in an interview situation, tell him/her everything you can about the reporter who will conduct the interview. This will help ease the spokesperson’s nerves and lay the foundation for him/her to form a relationship.
Educate on media
If photography, video, etc. are being used, explain to the spokesperson how this will work, step-by-step. This is especially important if the spokesperson is new. Don’t forget to tell him/her how long it will take to set up/tear down equipment and whether he/she is expected to be present during that process.
Suggest and practice the main message and three key points the spokesperson should communicate during the interview. Ask the spokesperson some questions you expect and allow him/her to answer.
Not every spokesperson is going to walk on stage and own a room like Steve Jobs did. But you can use these points to help choose a spokesperson well and prepare him/her for the task.