"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." George Bernard Shaw
My head is still spinning after facilitating a series of Media Skills Training workshops to blue chip clients within the energy sector. Make no mistake - these organizations are the heavy-hitters, the Real McCoy movers and shakers in their industry.
Fraught with a frightening myriad of issues as overwhelming as global warming, environmental sustainability, alternative energy sources and the size of their carbon footprint, one would imagine that they have their key messages crystallized to a blinding shine, ever ready to draw upon a wealth of knowledge and a plethora of facts to drive their arguments home.
Sadly, often the converse is true. It's one thing to be media ready and to have practiced how you look and sound in the unforgiving glare of the public spotlight, but it serves no purpose being media savvy if you aren't clear about your key messages. It's a bit like running a marathon before you've actually learnt to walk.
Assaulting a reporter with bricks of corporate or technical jargon, waxing lyrical about something that could easily be conveyed in a crisp sound bite, and playing for too much time can and will land you in more hot water than you can imagine.
The media is often criticized - and sometimes correctly - for misquoting an interviewee. The way to mitigate this risk is to be clear about exactly what it is you want to get out there before actually putting both feet in your mouth and changing gear.
If you know precisely what it is that you want to say before opening your mouth, a reporter will find it somewhat difficult to put words in your mouth and to lead you down their particular garden path.
You need to be in the enviable position of having stock responses at your fingertips to a diverse range of questions ranging from the easier to the more controversial - without looking as if you are reaching for something that will remain forever out of your grasp.
That, in its simplest form, is what credibility is about. Anything else is farcical. Tips around having a clear message
- Know what it is that you want to say. Leaving nothing open to interpretation. It's no point complaining to a reporter after the fact that what you meant to say was...
- Ensure everyone in your organization sings off the same hymn sheet. Too many times, messages are determined at top level and are completely misconstrued the further down the line they travel.
- Be open and frank. Ducking and diving doesn't make a thorny issue go away. But once you've tackled it, move along - or else you'll run the risk of entrenching the negativity in the minds of your audience.
- Get to the point. Long and rambling verbiage says nothing. And anyway, your audience really isn't interested in everything you have to say.
- During a safety briefing at the start of one of my workshops, a corporate communications executive went through the safety drill, monotonously droning on about what her audience should do in the case of a fire. Not a single soul listened. Not even when she referred to the fire DIStinguisher.