Imagine being misquoted in 1,926 newspapers

Imagine being misquoted in 1,926 newspapers, 9,704 magazines, or being heard to say the wrong things in 347 million households in China, and the prospect of doing media interviews can be pretty daunting. Being misquoted is the #1 reason that people avoid giving interviews, but this is really a big missed opportunity, and with a little preparation it is possible to reduce stress and present key messages that are clear, concise and compelling. There are three simple principles that can be used to ensure that key messages are heard and understood when preparing for an interview: 1. Confidence 2. Simplicity 3. Consistency Confidence Let’s first look at confidence – which enables a spokesperson to remain calm and speak with passion and commitment under the blaze of studio lights. As the saying goes about greatness, so it goes with being a spokesperson: Some aspire to be a spokesperson, some achieve spokesperson status and others have public speaking thrust upon them. As a result I have found that most people go into interviews without appreciating their own credentials to be the spokesperson. The fear of ‘being found out’ that they may not know enough to be credible, simply adds to the stress. One of the easiest ways to build confidence prior to an interview is to establish one’s credentials, to list down and actually say “My name is Ms X and I am a spokesperson because I have… – Academic qualifications – Years in the industry – Years with the company – Notable achievements Simplicity Let’s move on to a key point, especially in mixed language situations, about keeping interviews simple. My first point here is that the journalist is not actually the audience, but is about to become your proxy spokesperson, and therefore messages must be easy for them to understand and to communicate to the next person. The journalist will write down what they remember, and pass it to an editor, who will then make his own sense of your news, and then the article may be passed to a review committee or publisher for final editing. Secondly, while I am not an expert in Chinese, I understand that Putonghua is a series of characters without gender, numeric modifiers, tenses, and that relies on context to establish meaning. Therefore it is really helpful to think of the key messages in their essence, without the complicated syntax of English. A very simple tool that helps to put these thoughts in one place is the Message Home, with the key message being the ‘elevator pitch’ – what could be said in the time it takes to ride a couple of floors. For example for Intel – ‘The world’s largest chip maker,’ or Philips – ‘Innovative products designed to make your life more simple.’ For interviews, often the corporate communications department will produce reams of information and sample Questions & Answers, which only add to the stress of an interview, and the Message Home simplifies this into 1 Key Message and 3 Supporting Messages with Proof Points. Once there is a key message, all questions from the journalists are framed within this structure, and the spokesperson can ‘bridge’ back to their key message by linking the question to the supporting messages and proof points. Consistency Key messages need to be consistent, even to the extent of sounding repetitive, in order to gain credibility and acceptance. “We are the #1 Lighting Company in the World” may seem repetitious to the spokesperson, but when that message is diluted across 4 million websites and over 100 million eyeballs, repetition is transformed into consistency. Consistency applies not only to the message itself but also to the spokespeople who say it. As an exercise, ask 5 people in your organization to give you the key message of the company, and chances are that there will be 5 different answers. Remember that each person is an ambassador for the company, and achieving consistency within enables each conversation with suppliers, partners, customers, or potential recruits to build the key message of the company, rather than to dilute it. A worked example In the best of English traditions, I have prepared a Message Home earlier for one of our clients, Inmarsat. You can see they have a Key Message – ‘the world leader in mobile satellite communications’ and then three supporting messages, each of which is based on fact. Why three? Three is considered to be the optimum number for people to remember and for creating emphasis for the audience. In this case we have consolidated 27 years of history into one Message home. In the first diagram in this article I show the sequence that leads to the ‘quotable quote. ’ The key message is often the vision statement of a company, and therefore doesn’t make for a great headline for an article. Your ‘quotable quote’ will be your application of the key message to the particular interview that you are doing. My suggestion is to think of the ‘quote’ as the headline that you would like to appear in the article, or that the TV anchor uses to introduce the story. Have this quote in mind before going in to the interview, and use every opportunity to repeat it – at least three times. Conclusion Speaking to the media is a core activity for any company or organization, and can be made less stressful, more enjoyable and more successful by the simple application of three principles: 1. Confidence 2. Simplicity 3. Consistency As Winston Churchill said, “from now on ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” Why should a journalist be any different? Circulation figures courtesy of CMMI Media Year Book & Directory

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