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Spokesperson Coaching Tip #16: Honestly, it sounds like a lie

Posted by Barbara Gibson, ABC on July 2, 2007

I wrote awhile back (in Spokesperson Coaching Tip #7) about how overuse of verbal crutches can undermine a spokesperson’s credibility and effectiveness.  The very worst of these are the phrases that are intended to convey openness and honesty, because they tend to have the exact opposite effect.  Words and phrases like “to be pefectly honest,” “frankly,” “candidly,” and “truthfully” act as red flags to the listener, rather than reassurances.  Once or even twice may not hurt too much, but if it becomes a frequently used verbal crutch, the spokesperson inevitably scores low with journalists on “seems open and honest” when we perform a formal Spokesperson Assessment.  And since that score has a direct correlation to the journalist’s desire to have a long-term relationship with the spokesperson to utilize them as a resource, the impact on your media relations efforts can be dramatic.

Even some of the most polished spokespeople fall into this habit.  At last week’s IABC international conference, held in New Orleans, the association presented its EXCEL award, honoring a senior corporate executive who is an outstanding communicator.  Stu Reed, executive vice president of Motorola’s Integrated Supply Chain, was the recipient, as well as keynote speaker.  He was incredibly smooth, personable, funny, and articulate.  But he had a near-fatal reliance on this particular verbal crutch.  In fact, he used all of the phrases mentioned above, multiple times.  I couldn’t help counting, and finally lost count at 24 (less than half-way through the speech).  Afterward, two other people mentioned noticing it (one of whom also started counting).  Many more, no doubt, didn’t notice the words, but may have been affected on a more subliminal level.  At dinner a the following evening, several people were discussing his presentation, and asked me what I thought.  Before answering, I asked them to give me their own impressions of him.  One woman hit the nail on the head when she said, “While he was speaking, I thought he was great.  But later, my feelings changed, and I’m not sure why.  It just didn’t ring true.”

I  have to say here that I’m confident that Mr. Reed was, in fact, being honest with his audience.  He’s an outstanding speaker in every other way, and I’m certain he fully deserves the honor he was receiving.  But this one minor weakness undermined his credibility with at least a portion of his audience.   And he’s probably not even aware of it.  I’d guess his PR team is (it’s hard to miss), but they may not have realized its importance, or had the opportunity to address it with him. My point is that spokesperson assessment is not only for very weak spokespeople.  It can be a way to identify relatively minor things that can have a major impact on spokesperson effectiveness and often are easily fixed with targeted coaching.


Posted in Barbara Gibson, coaching, IABC, media training, SpokesComm, spokesperson assessment, Spokesperson Coaching Tips | 3 Comments »

Spokesperson Coaching Tip #15: Overcoming Spokesperson Arrogance

Posted by Barbara Gibson, ABC on July 2, 2007

Maybe there should be a 12-step program for spokespeople, where, like with Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is admitting you have a problem. The second step, turning to a higher power, would be listening to your spokesperson coach. The other steps would take care of themselves. But from the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with PR people, it’s clear to me that arrogance is the greatest weakness of most of the corporate spokespeople out there.

I’ve mentioned before that my research with spokespeople indicates that the average spokesperson has had only four hours of media training, more than 10 years ago, with no ongoing development since that initial training. So we gave them the basics, usually delivered by an outside former-journalist-turned-media-trainer, then set them off to do their real learning on the job. Without solid feedback, they came to judge their performance on a pass-fail scale. If they survived the interview, it was good. And after doing it for 10 years, they assume they’re good at it. Never mind that the interview often goes off track, that they are frequently “misquoted” or that the coverage is strategically off the mark.  In fact, their skill as a spokesperson has likely not progressed much at all over those 10 years, and they have possibly even picked up some bad habits along the way.  And now, they’re senior executives, very experienced and knowledgeable in their own roles, so it’s harder than ever to tell them they need further development.

Or is it?

Here’s a secret:  it’s all an act.  In every case I’ve encountered where the PR person said their spokesperson was arrogant and not open to coaching or training (including when this was my own perception of my own spokespeople), where I have asked the spokesperson to complete a short self-assessment across the same 12 skill areas that we measure in Spokesperson Assessment, the spokesperson has rated their abilities only about average.  Almost all also indicate they believe they would benefit from further coaching or development.   That alone is incredibly powerful.  They just flew through steps 1 and 2 of our program!    So the arrogance is a cover for their own insecurities.  Down deep, they know they could be better.   While their self-assessment may not be entirely accurate (they often don’t know their real weaknesses), it opens the door for a discussion of how you can help them reach their full potential as a spokesperson.  It opens the door for a formal Spokesperson Assessment, for you as spokesperson coach to provide meaningful feedback, targeted coaching or additional training.

I’ve developed a simple self-assessment survey that takes the spokesperson only a couple of minutes to complete.  You can easily adapt it to your needs as either a printed or online survey, and roll it out to all your spokespeople, to serve as a starting point for your spokesperson development efforts.  If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

Posted in Barbara Gibson, coaching, media training, SpokesComm, spokesperson assessment, Spokesperson Coaching Tips, surveymonkey, training | Leave a Comment »

Media Matters Podcast Features Spokesperson Assessment

Posted by Barbara Gibson, ABC on March 22, 2007

Although I haven’t yet tried my hand at producing a podcast, I’ve finally entered the podosphere (is that a word already being used or did I just make it up — clearly I’m not paying enough attention if I don’t know).  Eric Bergman, ABC, a media trainer in Toronto, Canada, interviewed me for his 18th March Media Matters podcast. 

So if any SpokesBlog readers want to turn the tables and be my spokesperson coach, I’m open to feedback on my performance.  Just remember to use the bad news sandwich to soften the blow. 😉

Posted in Barbara Gibson, coaching, SpokesComm, spokesperson assessment | Leave a Comment »

Spokesperson Coaching Tip #13: Picking up on Non-verbal Cues

Posted by Barbara Gibson, ABC on November 10, 2006

One of the key spokesperson skills we measure against in SpokesComm‘s formal Spokesperson Assessments is the spokesperson’s ability to pick up on non-verbal cues coming from the interviewer, in order to adjust their style, ensure understanding, or otherwise meet their needs.  I’ve seen examples all too often of spokespeople who seemed oblivious to obvious clues of boredom or confusion, or who spouted a constant stream, not allowing the journalist a chance to raise a question or comment.  Sometimes, this is a nervous response, or an attempt to prevent the journalist from asking a challenging question.  It may also simply be an indication of a weakness in interpersonal communication skills.  In either case, it’s essential to improve this skill to help ensure consistent success of media interactions.  Here are a couple of tips to help in coaching for this area:

  1. Evaluate in non-media interactions.  Observe the spokesperson in conversation with other people, paying close attention to body language of the listener and the spokesperson’s style.  During your own conversations with the spokesperson, vary your body language and facial expressions from interested to confused to bored, and see if they react.
  2. De-brief after every interview.  When monitoring media interviews, observe the journalist’s non-verbal communication and any instances when the spokesperson didn’t seem to pick it up.  Following the interview, discuss your observations, and any resulting fall-out.  For example, did the journalist’s boredom with the topic lead them to try to take the conversation off track?  Did an inability to insert a question into the monologue prevent the interviewer from fully understanding the topic? 
  3. Video the interviewer.  This will probably require an internal interviewer, rather than a real media interview, but videotape an interview with the camera pointing at the interviewer.  You can review the tape together with your spokesperson and point out cues that may have been missed, discussing what changes may have been possible in order to improve the interaction.

Posted in Barbara Gibson, coaching, media training, SpokesComm, spokesperson assessment, Spokesperson Coaching Tips | Leave a Comment »

Upcoming presentations by Barbara Gibson, ABC

Posted by Barbara Gibson, ABC on September 1, 2006


Sept 12, 2006, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Hilton Memphis
939 Ridge Lake Blvd., Memphis, Tennessee (USA)

Communicating the Merger:
Strategies for a Successful Corporate Marriage

Few things in the corporate world have the ability to throw more challenges at a communicator than a merger or acquisition. Employee confusion and fear, muddled brand identity, integration issues, operational and cultural conflicts, and a host of other potential pitfalls can impair the success of the merger, and result in lost revenue and weakened reputation. With so much at stake, communicators have the opportunity to play a truly strategic role and make a measurable impact on the company’s success.

Having worked through more than 20 mergers and acquisitions in her professional career, Barbara Gibson, ABC, will share what has worked – and what hasn’t – when planning for and communicating with internal audiences during a merger or acquisition. She’ll share her experiences and observations of what it takes to make a merger successful, and how to prevent the mistakes that lead to failure.

Cost is $20 for IABC members and students and $30 for non-members and guests, which includes hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Registration deadline is September 7.

IABC/San Francisco (USA)

Thursday, Sep. 14, 2006
6:00 PM  – 8:00 PM

King George Hotel
334 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA (USA)

Most professionals know they should network, but many are not sure exactly what it means, what the benefits are, or how to go about it. They join a professional association, attend a meeting or two, but come away without having made any solid networking contacts. Between work, family and other obligations, it’s difficult to find time for networking, anyway. But wait, there’s hope! Plan to join San Francisco IABC on Thursday, September 14, for a great Speed Networking session, which will make the task of connecting with colleagues as simple as A-B-C (or better yet, IABC!). Our guest at this special Chapter event will be Barbara Gibson, a longtime member of IABC who will be in town to attend a meeting of the International Executive Board.

In addition to her duties as founder and president of SpokesComm, a London-based media relations company, Barbara runs a great Speed Networking session. This is how she describes it: ‘With Speed Networking, we provide a structured environment that takes away any awkwardness, and very rapidly gets people talking, getting to know each other, sharing ideas and experiences and resources. The set-up is a room filled with round tables to hold a handful of people, each table assigned a ‘hot topic’ and a facilitator with expertise on that topic.

“Participants choose a table and when a bell rings, the facilitator begins, drawing out quick self-introductions from each participant, then launching in to the topic. With the timer running on a 20-minute deadline, the discussions become intense, rushed and animated. When the bell rings, everyone moves on to a new table, new topic and new mix of participants, but not before several make plans to continue discussions or follow up during breaks, or via phone or e-mail.’

Tickets are $20 for IABC members, $25 for non-members.  Advance booking is required.

Posted in Barbara Gibson, IABC, Mergers & Acquisitions, Networking, Seminars & presentations, SpokesComm | 1 Comment »