The trouble with talking points – planned answers for difficult or tricky questions – is that they too often SOUND like talking points! Whether you are pro golfer Phil Mickelson explaining why he is taking huge money to set up a rival golf tour or just about any elected official caught in a tight spot or an athlete explaining away a tough loss, you’ve heard it. Done poorly, it sounds rehearsed, stale and offers no energy behind it. But there is another way!
Whenever I am working with someone who may be asked tough questions we work on the SOUND of the answer as hard as we do the SUBSTANCE of the answer. Let me set out a few examples and I think you’ll see there is a better way to handle the classic ‘talking points situation’ by employing these techniques.
Stay away from a script: This may sound scary but hear me out on this. Let’s say the talking point is “We need to make these cuts to our workforce in order to insure the future health of the company.” In preparation for the interview, I will encourage the spokesperson or CEO to express that idea a bunch of different ways. The point is important and therefore you should be able to explain it from a lot of perspectives – all while making the same basic point. Explain it from the perspective of the remaining employees, the firm’s customers or the investors. Each time the answer sounds different while still staying “on message.” With practice and skilled training this is absolutely possible for many people who otherwise can be heard mumbling through stale sentences no one really believes.
Add conversational words: I can’t emphasize this enough. The simple act of throwing in conversational asides brings life to a talking point. Expressions like “You know…” “Here’s the thing…” “I get it…” “I’ve given this a lot of thought…” makes the message more real and believable. After all, it’s the way we speak anyway – let’s include some of those words when addressing a “talking point” scenario.
Every answer stands on its own: Often, when faced with a tough situation, the leader will hear the same question many times. Here’s the key to making your answer work: Every answer stands on its own! Yes, I get it, you feel you’ve answered this question a million times. If you approach each answer as if you’re hearing the question for the first time the response will have a freshness to it. Is it a bit of a mind trick? Yes, but the finished product will be much more effective.
A period is your friend: There’s a semi-viral video out there where you can hear the audience laugh when I use this expression. It’s true. A period – ending your sentence – is your friend. Many times a nervous spokesperson will keep rambling on and on – only going further into a rabbit hole. Speak your piece and stop.
With that, I’ll take my own advice. Have a great 4th weekend!