Lessons from Our First Decade Training America's Spokespersons

Jason-Thaya-media-interview.jpgDuring our first 10 years, DPK Public Relations has been honored to train more than 1,000 spokespersons for organizations throughout Texas and across the United States. We have conducted training in top secret military installations and highly volatile chemical facilities. We have conducted one-on-one training for individuals shortly before major media opportunities and for large groups that were unlikely to ever be interviewed -- but who rightly embraced the training 'just in case.'

Through it all, one thing has remained true: how you deliver information is just as important as what you say -- and research suggests how information is delivered can easily amplify the power of the information, or it can suck all the power out of it. The goal is to project confidence and positivity to reinforce that you are well-prepared and believable. On the flip side, if a person has difficulty making eye contact and his words are interspersed with umms and uhhs, his credibility goes out the window.

With that in mind, we offer below ten fundamentals for amplifying the power of your message through non-verbal communication, also referred to as body language. These are applicable not only for media interviews but for any interpersonal communication:

1. Make and hold eye contact - Focus on the person asking the questions and challenge yourself to hold eye contact. The eyes are the most important communication tool because the audience consumes a great deal of information about the spokesperson by watching his or her eyes. Holding eye contact indicates that you believe what you are saying, which makes you a credible spokesperson.

2. Dress appropriate for the setting - If it's the weekend, it might seem strange to be in a suit and tie. If you are responding to a disaster, you don't need to look formal because you would appear to be disconnected from the action. We encourage spokespersons to wear solid colors with an emphasis on blues and browns. We prefer our spokespersons to avoid white or black shirts. 

3. Scootch forward in your chair - When sitting during an interview, do not let your back touch the back of your chair. Have the same posture and mindset that you have when you are in a hyper-engaged meeting and want to have your points heard. Sitting slightly forward like this prevents you from slumping and makes you look engaged in the discussion. 

4. Don't refuse the makeup - I've met plenty of 'real men' who resist makeup. They do that only once, because when they see themselves on TV they are stunned by the pale, oily and blotchy mess that they appear to be. A little bit of pancake makeup will prevent the glistening that hot TV lights can produce. Guys usually cringe at the thought of makeup, but if it's good enough for the leader of the free world, it's good enough for you.

5. Spot potential distractions - Look at yourself in the mirror and think critically about what you see. Are your earrings so big that they sway? Are your allergies making your eyes blink more than usual? Is that necklace too big and clunky? You want the audience focused on you and what you say, not on that bit of hair that you can't get out of your eyes. Turn smartphones and tablets off, lose the gum, remove coins from pockets and avoid chairs that swivel and rock. 

6. Keep it brief - Journalists tell stories for a living. You can help them do their job by making your points personal with anecdotes. As part of your preparation, identify a few personal experiences or observations that bring your messages down to a human level. It is always better to talk about people rather than platitudes. Anecdotes can make your message resonate in a way data could never do.

7. Roll with the punches - TV opportunities are famously chaotic and unpredictable. Your interview might be delayed due to breaking news, or they might come to you earlier than expected. They may change gears in the midst of an interview and ask unexpected questions. Regardless, remember your purpose for being there is to confidently deliver your message and it really doesn't matter what else is going on.

8. Remember to smile - If you want the information you are communicating to be perceived positively, you don't want to take any chances. Even the most positive message will be perceived negatively if it is delivered with a negative facial expression. A neutral facial expression could leave the audience guessing. So smile and make it crystal clear that you are delivering positive information.

9. Remember your purpose - You have key messages prepared so use them. Acknowledge any questions you're asked, but always bridge back to your key points. And don't think that once you hit a message you can check it off. You want to return again and again to your key messages to make it clear what you think is important. Doing this also makes it more likely that if the interview is edited your key points will survive the edit.

10. Practice out loud - I've heard people say they practice 'in their head.' That's not practice! Deliver your messages out loud in front of a mirror or use the video function on your smartphone. Use a stopwatch to see if you can articulate your points in 15 seconds or less. Check your facial expression to be sure you keep it positive and minimize the "umms" and "uhhhs" and "likes" and "ya knows." Keep doing it until you nail it.

Photo credit: Jason Thaya