Updated: Apr 24, 2020
Recently we worked with an internal PR team at a Fortune 500 technology company. They are a progressive technology organization that heavily invests in media training for their executives.
Business Presence, LLC was hired to assist with certifying executives as company spokespeople, bringing our expertise in both content and presentation. We recorded video of each interview for playback and review.
One of us took on the role of ‘reporter’, interviewing each executive for about twenty minutes with a set of prepared questions. The content covered both the broad company narrative along with communications around their particular areas of expertise. We also scattered in some trick, pass/fail questions to keep them on their toes, simulating an interview with an intrepid reporter. For example, executives are trained by the PR team to pivot away anything related to company financials unless they are on the finance team. Thankfully nobody went to PR jail!
Overall, we were most engaged by the executives who used plain speak versus jargon and who were relatable, passionate, and easy to follow. When a reporter is able to break through the predictable, linear narrative and get sound bites that connect at a human level, their stories are more engaging to their readers.
After the twenty minute interview we moved into the playback and review process. This is always the most uncomfortable part of the certification process for an executive. It’s not easy for any of us to watch ourselves on camera, and it’s even harder in front of a group of experts poised to give feedback. Many spoke very quickly and needed to take more time to disseminate and explain the content, especially when it was technical. Some of the most common issues were being repetitive or buying time at the start of an answer with “great question!” Or they persistently used uh’s and um’s. Adding more color and details via customer stories to illustrate points was another area of improvement. These are problems we can help them overcome. There were a plethora of small notes from the PR team about content, such as how to say something differently, better use of metaphor and when to cut an answer shorter.
Ultimately the executives will pass or fail based on the scores given by the internal PR lead/certifier. About 30 percent didn’t seem ready to speak with reporters. There’s room for them to grow: taking charge of the interview, being less scripted, nailing key messages and giving good soundbites. They can also work on using more range in their vocal dynamics.
Those who pass are in command of messaging and storytelling, and, thanks to our coaching, now have the confidence and experience to communicate with journalists on behalf of their company.
Being an effective company spokesperson requires mastery of both content and presentation, they’re inseparable, one without the other and you’re only half-way there.
We enjoy this kind of work. The content is typically stimulating and we get to bring our expertise around both content and form, and tap into our journalistic backgrounds.
Marianne Wilman and Marilyn Pittman were the Business Presence coaches at this training.
Image by: Alejandro Escamilla