Spokesperson training— First in a 6-post series —

Throughout my career, I’ve conducted more than 100 media or spokesperson training sessions for CEOs, CFOs, VPs, and celebrities, readying them for upcoming interviews with the press.

The fact is, while these sessions are designed to prepare an individual to handle the toughest of interviews from 60 Minutes, 20/20 and the like, what is being taught is a strategy of answering questions that can be applied to conducting new business meetings, presentations to clients or vendors, or any conversation where you are wanting to get your message across.

I will share this strategy in a series of six blog posts, and review some of the things we do during training to get our participants ready to succeed when talking to Diane Sawyer, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose.

This strategy will help you walk confidently into any meeting knowing that you will concisely and effectively get your messages across while answering even the toughest of questions. Sound good? Let’s get started.

Typically, we start the sessions off by talking about what makes for a good interview and what makes for a bad one. Almost without fail, politicians are immediately classified as those who conduct poor interviews. Why? Think about it. How do you feel when Senator So-and-So doesn’t answer a question posed to him/her by a reporter, fellow senator or constituent?

Unfortunately, we see it all the time. He/she will ignore the actual question or say something like, “well, that really isn’t important; what is important is…”. Frustrating, right? Now how do you feel when a vendor or business partner deflects your question the same way? Have you ever felt paralyzed by not wanting to answer a question from your client or boss?

Next we tell the trainee that we’ll be conducting an interview. We don’t explain what the interview will be about and in 95 percent of the instances the training participant doesn’t ask. We take him into another room and immediately begin asking a series of fast-paced questions. As you may expect, these interviews don’t go particularly well.

Most people, when confronted with a media interview, surrender their right to be an equal participant in a two-party conversation. An interviewee often behaves like a witness under a subpoena and not like an active participant with a message to convey to a larger audience.

Remember, a media interview is more than just an agreement to answer a reporter’s questions. You participate in an interview because you have a message you want the audience to hear.

This point may seem somewhat benign, but it is foundational to everything else we are going to discuss. Ask yourself this: Why are you having this meeting? What do you want to get out of it? Why is this person taking your meeting? What are the questions that will be asked? Do you have answers?

Much like the interviewee, you have certain rights when you have a business meeting. And the good thing is, unlike the interviewee, you don’t have to worry about being misquoted, saying something that could be taken out of context…Or do you? In my next blog post, I’ll discuss what those rights are, and how you can leverage them to make sure you not only answer the questions, but do so and get your messages across.