The dreaded media interview has always been considered the call from 60 Minutes and the pressured response to a business catastrophe or opportunity that brings camera, lights and action to a company. While you can watch this vignette on the networks every week, it really isn’t that common. More importantly, it doesn’t take an army of executives to respond. Handling this type of pressured communication stays rooted in the C-suite and often the CEO’s office.
We’ve coached many people through pressured situations. The difference I see between someone who is ready and someone who isn’t has a lot to do with his/her training and experience to date. In a pressure situation, public relations experts help refine messages. But, it’s difficult to help an executive exude confidence when the pressure is on.
My advice to companies is to expose executives and rising leaders to media situations early. The face of the media has changed so much that it doesn’t take a 60 Minutes interview to gain experience and learn how to get key messages across.
The face of the media now includes bloggers, Twitter enthusiasts, conference attendees, industry publishers, Web surfers, etc. Today, many company leaders are talking to groups at trade shows, customer conferences and industry events. Whether it’s a five-minute media interview or a 30-second conversation at a company booth, it’s important to consider the personal skills of the team sent to get the word out. There are three qualities that any journalist or industry expert will look for:
A confident communicator needs to come across as if he has a right to be there. This quality insures that the presenter is seen as credible, professional, knowledgeable and direct. Most of these qualities come across in physical posture and stance.
â–¶ Coaching Point: Posture is an important part of confidence. Rather than standing up straight, get the communicator to think about standing solidly or settled on both feet. This helps to balance his weight and own his space. It’s also important to come forward to an interviewer to engage in the question just like you were talking to a friend. The same concepts apply when seated.
â–¶ Watch For: A common mistake is shifting body weight from side to side or squirming in a chair. This creates an impression of being nervous or uncomfortable with the question asked. When practicing with individuals, make sure that they appear settled whether standing or sitting, and that their body is relaxed.
A committed communicator needs to convey a sense of involvement and is often described as energetic, passionate and interesting. While many people think that being energetic requires moving around a lot, you can actually convey a sense of commitment with the voice when you really “say it like you mean it.”
â–¶ Coaching Point: Being able to project the voice is an important part of establishing buy-in to ideas. Practice answering questions out loud in order to hear the intonation and variety in the voice. It might be easier to practice by reading prepared answers and then transition to off-the-cuff responses.
â–¶ Watch For: Pace is the most common challenge for people being interviewed. When nervous, communicators rush through their thoughts and often end up saying more than intended. Practice pausing and pacing. A more intentional pace will help keep communicators on point and confident in their responses.
The third quality is connection. Connection means engaging a group or an individual and establishing a sense of sincerity and authenticity. This quality comes across through eye contact and non-verbal cues exchanged between the communicator and the interviewer.
â–¶ Coaching Point: In order to be interesting, be interested. Focus on the interviewer as questions are asked and take an interest in what they are asking and what they are interested in knowing. Make sure that eye contact expands to human contact. Take in non-verbal cues to better read your audience.
â–¶ Watch For: In a pressured situation, many communicators look away to gather their thoughts. Don’t let it happen. Diverted eyes suggest uncertainty and can lead the interviewer to believe that you’re hiding something. The most important part of the conversation for the communicator will be to establish a connection and an impression within the first minute.
The best way to prepare executives for the big, pressured situation is to make sure they experience lots of little ones. And, today’s media environment offers countless opportunities. PRN
This article was written by Sally Williamson, an executive communications and speech coach at Sally Williamson & Associates. She can be reached at email@example.com.