As we''ve reported in an earlier article, there is plenty of evidence showing that when the message that is being communicated is out of sync with the way it is being communicated, the audience will always consider the message itself secondary.
In other words, if you have great news to communicate, but your spokesperson shifts into low gear and lacks appropriate positive energy and enthusiasm when stepping into the spotlight, your news will be interpreted as far less positive than it otherwise would be. If, in contrast, you have some less than positive news to report and your spokesperson steps to the podium with a great deal of confidence and authority, the audience will interpret the news through a more positive prism and it will be seen as less damaging.
This is one of the areas on which we concentrate during DPK Public Relations'' Media Interview Skill Training. We look at all the aspects of "performance" that could conceivably detract from the message and offer appropriate remedies. And we identify the various skills that a spokesperson exhibits that add to the power of their message delivery and we work to build on those.
Specifically, the performance elements we examine include:
Vocal power - In acting classes, they talk about playing to the back of the room. That same mentality is necessary for spokespersons. Remember that the audience at home probably is doing something else -- cooking, folding clothes, reading a magazine or surfing the Internet -- so you need to cut through that clutter in order for your message to sink in. That requires speaking powerfully.
Eye contact - Eyes need to hold still. If they flit around, they signal that the spokesperson is unsure of him/herself -- or worse, they can suggest that the spokesperson is hiding something. Good solid eye contact makes you look self assured and tells the audience that you believe what you''re saying.
Facial expression - Unless truly bad news is being communicated a sincere smile should always be the starting point. Don''t try to hold the smile forever, but a smile should be considered "home base." If you find your spokesperson''s face showing concern or negativity -- eyes squinting, eyebrows knitting, mouth turned down -- you could be in for a challenge. Sometimes, facial hair, such as a beard or goatee, can give a negative appearance, which requires that the spokesperson aggressively compensate for it.
Voice inflection - A flat voice that lacks the ability to interpret the content of the message through appropriate inflection -- using pitch and pacing -- is a great way to signal to your audience that they can go ahead and tune you out. A great spokesperson incorporates some of the elements of singing into their performance, using their tone of voice to point out what''s important. When I trained radio news anchors, we called these "punch points." Dan Rather could exaggerate during his newscasts, but I always appreciated that the audience inherently knew what he thought was important simply by listening to his delivery.
Posture - Shoulders back, feet shoulder width apart, arms and hands hanging loosely at your sides. No rocking side to side or front to back. Being "centered" means you need to stand with your weight evenly distributed. You will only be perceived as being in control if you carry yourself that way.
Gestures - Key points should be illustrated physically through hand gestures. Don''t get carried away, though; I''m not talking about pounding the table. If your announcement has multiple elements, you can count them off with your fingers, "Step one is this, step two is that and step three is this." Or if describing the size or shape of something might help tell the story, don''t hesitate to being your hands up about shoulder height to either side of your body (not in front of your face) and describe it.
This morning I had a great illustration that these media training tips really can help. A pair of clients we trained last week rang the NASDAQ stock marketing opening bell. During their Media Interview Skills Training, one of them was sporting a goatee, which made him look as if he were scowling. He had a heck of a time projecting a positive image. At the end of the session, we talked frankly about his options. We suggested that he continue to work on smiling to compensate for the impact of the goatee, but we added that the simplest fix would be to shave. That way, his natural smile would be unencumbered.
Today, in the midst of their media and promotional tour, I noticed that the goatee is history and his broad smile perfectly aligns with the positive message he''s communicating. That''s the type of commitment that should make any organization take notice.
Sometimes the difference between an adequate spokesperson and someone who hits the ball out of the park comes down to close shave.