Is it simply a bad habit that so many politicians and some business leaders dodge answering questions? What’s so hard about a simple ‘Yes’ and “No”, followed by an explanation? Liam Cox and Peter Wilkinson provide seven tips on the journey to be a more authentic spokesperson.
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1. Commit to the task
2. Be anchored in strong ethics
3. Be authentic
4. Understand journalists
5. Understand your audience’s concerns
6. The discipline of key messages
7. The Interview
How annoyed do you become when politicians and leaders fail to answer questions on TV or radio? Do you throw your shoes or just change the channel? Peter Wilkinson, people focus on the interview, but all of the hard work is done in the lead-up. And there’s seven steps to media training.
Yeah. So, I would say that these seven steps are a snapshot of what’s involved in becoming a good communicator. It’s by no means the full package. The second thing I’d say is that the world has changed now. People are incredibly frustrated because politicians routinely do not answer questions. And it snakes through, in Australia’s case, into the corporate area where CEOs and other communicators think that they can sort of skirt around the truth and not do it. The really important thing here is that if you’ve got a CEO who is a good communicator, who’s honest, transparent, empathetic, has integrity, and really commits to communicating well internally and externally, that person will be a much better CEO than the person in a similar company adjacent with… Everything else is similar, will be a much better CEO than the person who doesn’t want to do it.
Community standards continue to rise, so there is an onus on companies to be ethical in the way that they operate and therefore in their communications.
Yeah, so we run into this all the time. Everybody says they’re ethical, but if you’re a politician for instance, in a marginal seat, then your ethics are under pressure all the time to be compromised to garner more votes. And that’s no different from a CEO or somebody on the executive level, who’s scared of their job. There is a lot of pressure on people all the time to be ethical, but it’s an essential part of being a good spokesperson. Ultimately, it’s an essential part. If you do over a lifetime, a hundred interviews, people are going to get to know you pretty well. And so, there’s that old saying, “You can fool some of the people all the time, all of the people, some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” It’s just the reality, and so to be ethically grounded is really important.
And that leads into point three, which is about authenticity and empathy. Many politicians struggle with this. They struggle to answer questions in a straight-up fashion. They generally duck, dive, spin, and deflect and it becomes nauseating, doesn’t it, Peter?
Yeah. So, empathy and integrity… or it’s a combination of integrity and transparency that people look for here. And you can see it best when people are talking about their particular passion, their personal passion, what we call their personal key message. “I love doing this because every day I have an opportunity to make my company better, or the world a better place.” A good CEO will ooze the passion for the job, and that comes through in their personal messages, the way they communicate. So, absolutely critical.
Right for understanding journalism, a tough thing to do. Many journalists are disliked. They do have a job to do though, in holding politicians and leaders to account, are there to ask the tough questions, and if you’re not prepared to answer them, you probably shouldn’t have been in a position of leadership.
Yeah, there’s a combination of fear and cynicism about the media at the moment. And it makes it very difficult for a CEO or politician to have a good relationship if your starting point is cynicism and fear. Journalists, as you’ve just said, are doing a job. It’s a tough job. They’re providing as best they can accurate information and keeping people in power in check. Those two functions. Most journalists are dedicated to that task. There are going to be exceptions, but what we always advise people is to treat a journalist with respect and guess what? Mostly not always, but mostly it’s reciprocated.
Point five, understanding your audience. Many would argue many of our politicians do not.
So that all mantras. Understand first then be understood. So, there are two components to communicating. First is to answer what’s on people’s minds, addressing people’s needs, fears, concerns. The second is getting your message across. But the important thing is, there’s no point in just ramming down your message if you haven’t first addressed people’s concerns. Once you are on somebody’s wavelength, and this has to do with empathy, once you’re on somebody’s wavelength, they will listen to your concern. Everybody communicates to create change, but you can’t create change unless, and until you’ve got people on board with the journey with you, and that’s where you’ve got to first address their concerns, then convey yours.
You touched on key messages. We can usually break these down into three categories, the incident message, the company or the party message, and what you spoke about before, the personal message. And I think now more than ever that personal message is vital. It shows who you are, what you stand for, and it can connect you with your audience or your voter because they can relate in some way.
Yeah, so the incident message, let’s say it’s about… So, all the premiers in Australia at the moment are doing a really good job at communicating about COVID-19. They connect on the incident messages. Not often do they connect on the company or the political message. “We as a party, are committed to keeping you safe. We are totally dedicated to keeping you safe.” So, the incident message might be, “I’m really sorry. You have to be locked up in that tower block, but it’s going to be tough for the next few days until we’ve tested everybody.” The corporate message is, “We are as a party or as a government, totally committed to keeping you safe.” And the personal message is the passion one, which can be really valuable. “I am absolutely committed to this. This is what I think about every day. I’m really sorry, it’s so tough. It’s tough for all of us, but especially you folks.”
If you can get that passion across in the personal message, “I love my job because every day I can make the world a slightly better place.” Or something. The important thing here though is that it has to be backed up by the things we talked about earlier, the empathy, the genuineness, the integrity, the transparency, everything that goes with being an ethical and good person, determined to do the right thing. As soon as BS creeps into any of this, the whole thing tumbles down like a house of cards.
And then we get to the interview, which many great intelligent leaders are very fearful of.
Yep. Well, the first thing is just to answer the bloody question. The question, go to the answer, then what you want to say. That is again, address what the audience’s concern is. That’s answering the question, then go to what you want to say. That’s the first thing. That’s why people throw shoes at the television because politicians and other leaders refuse to answer the question first. They just go straight to the message they want to get across. There’re two things about this I’d say. Interviews are difficult.
If you’re in a TV studio, there’s lights, there’s people pinning microphones on you, those distractions, floor managers walking around, and the like. You’ve got to chill and say, “I’ve done all this preparation. I’ve got to get my messages across, over three messages.” So, you’ve got to almost go into a meditative state, despite all the distractions about you. The next thing I’d say is just before the interview starts, say to the interviewer, “Where are we starting?” Because if you can get your first answer away, your confidence goes up. But if you stuff it up, you spend the next two answers thinking about how you stuffed up the first answer. But what I’d say is the interview is the combination of those other six steps. And if you can get the other six steps right, then you’re well on the way to doing a good interview.
Peter Wilkinson great tips. Thank you very much.
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