Having just left a conversation with a Corporate Communications VP I respect a great deal, I now have a topic for my 100th Monthly Memo! This Exec was saying how hard it is to jump back into the company spokesperson role after being away from it for a time – especially because this person now understands the ‘big picture.’ Every question from a reporter is harder to answer because this Exec now knows more about the moving parts within the company. The same premise applies for public speakers answering audience questions. “Gee, how do I answer that question knowing all I now know?” The answer comes in how you focus when in front of an audience or a reporter.
Who are you talking to? The quickest way to focus your mind when you find yourself in this situation is to think, “Who is my audience?” Or maybe it would be easier for you to say to yourself, “Who is NOT in my audience?” I am NOT talking only to my colleagues. I’m NOT talking to other subject matter experts. I am NOT talking to people who are privy to all the inside stuff. I need to know my audience and talk specifically to them. In a media situation, you are talking to an intelligent but distracted group. They are busy with other concerns in their life, so they need the one or two key pieces of information you can provide them. That’s it. They don’t need to understand all the moving parts.
When we are talking about controversial issues, we often only think about the activists on the other side of the issue. We want to send them a message. That’s fine, but don’t ignore the bigger audience who is also watching all of this. They hold sway in the world of public opinion and have a say in this process.
What will my colleagues think of my answer? I have heard that a lot in the academic and healthcare worlds. “Oh, I can’t simplify the answer that much because I’ll hear it from the other Doctors next time I see them!” Really? What is more important? Getting an important, clear, focused health message to a big audience or satisfying the detail-orientation of your colleagues? Who cares what they say if you are helping more people live a healthier life?!
How do I know I’ve correctly tuned my answer for my audience? The best way to know you are focusing your answer correctly is to run it past an outsider – someone who is NOT drinking the Kool-Aid every day! “Does this make sense to you? What comes to mind for you when I say this?” Many times I’ve said my job is “Professional Outsider.” (I should put it on my business cards.) Many of us can use the help of someone who has no dog in the fight – someone who can give us honest, clear feedback.
So next time you are in front of an audience or a news reporter, make sure you are very FOCUSED on your audience and your specific messages. You’re not just talking with that reporter or audience member – you are talking to everyone who hears the message from them – and that can be hundreds or thousands of people. There is no time for the long, detailed explanation in that situation. Keep it FOCUSED.
Many thanks to all of you who read and enjoy the Monthly Memo – it has been my honor to write and share it with you. More to come!
Please follow along through the month @CaryPfeffer
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.