Choosing A Company Spokesperson Part 4

Spokesperson Qualities And Skills

What are some of the qualities you need to look for in an employee before making them the company's on-camera spokesperson? What skills do they need to do the job? Which must come naturally and which can be learned? Here are some pointers...

Doing the job of corporate spokesperson well, in many ways has nothing to do with knowledge or level of authority. After all, you can always learn the facts and policies and have a slew of PR people craft statements for you. And regarding authority, you don't really need a title. If you're appointed the spokesperson you've just been given the authority to speak for the company!

Casting this role is mostly about finding a natural spokesperson: someone comfortable talking to crowds or cameras or the press. But they don't have to be perfect. Generally, these people are outgoing, well-spoken, fast thinkers--not fast talkers who talk without thinking. The best candidates for spokesperson tend to deal with pressure well and are reasonably attractive, with obvious natural traits that can help get your message across. Often these are very nebulous traits such as likeability and sincerity.

"The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made."-- Jean Giraudoux French dramatist, novelist & diplomat

Sincerity, Credibility, Believability--These and other buzzwords describe what viewers find in spokespeople they listen to and respect. The whole idea of putting anyone on camera--actor or employee--is to give the viewer a human being to relate to. An appealing messenger helps us pay attention to and believe the message. The reverse is also true.

It's important your spokesperson be allowed to be their self. Not stifling their personality is important. In fact, some of the things that contribute to what we call "likeability" are self-confidence and being comfortable in your own skin. Others are basic social graces such as being courteous and respectful and friendly. There is no perfect human being and no perfect spokesperson. Recognize that your spokesperson will be accepted for who they are--as a person.

Facial expressions, especially a warm smile, are important. They're non-verbal communication to which humans interpret and respond instinctively. A smile at the appropriate time is winning. It says you're relaxed and happy. It makes the recipient feel good as well. Just ask Julia Roberts who built her career on a great smile. Expressions that show concern and empathy are equally important. These two attitudes are the most important, and unfortunately, the least used by corporate spokespeople. Used appropriately, they are powerful. The converse is also true. Used inappropriately or overused they make you a phony. A poker face is a good default position but used constantly it is interpreted as cold and unfeeling.

For interviews and live presentations, look others in the eye. Learn to think while continuing eye contact. Don't look away for extended periods, but don't stare. Concentrate if necessary. Being distracted by movement or others besides the speaker will make you look away. That will be interpreted as rude and uncaring or possibly worse: shifty and untrustworthy. Blink but don't blink excessively. Learn not to nod or shake your head without thinking. Use these non-verbal signals cautiously and deliberately.

Get rid of meaningless verbal habits such as adding, "You know?" Think in silence. Omit all 'umms' and 'ahhhs.' And limit any mouth habits such as pursing, chewing or biting your lips. Keep your hands away from your face and hair. Learn some hand gestures that have positive connotation. Use your hands sparingly.

Consistency is crucial. You've heard politicians be accused of waffling. It's bad. Being inconsistent can mean you don't know what you are talking about--or worse, that you're lying. While as a personal quality consistency may be desirable, to the company consistency of message, position and ultimately values is even more important. Since the company is essentially putting words in the spokespersons mouth, it is the company that needs to have a consistent policy that can be adapted to various situations.

Nervousness can also be interpreted as a sign of dishonesty. There are a number of things one can do to calm oneself as well as tricks to hide the obvious signs of nervousness.

A spokesperson will appear more knowledgeable and authoritative if they learn to read well out loud. When you need to read a speech it is best if you appear to be working off your own notes, not reading words that are unfamiliar. Don't use a teleprompter with out training and plenty of rehearsal with the actual operator. The 'prompter is like any other machine. Things can go wrong and/or you may get a bad operator. Using it is more than a skill. It involves rehearsal so you and the operator work smoothly together.

In picking an employee from the company to be your on-camera spokesperson your best bet is finding someone who is a natural at most of this. Every good actor will tell you that the camera reveals the truth. This is not to say that you can't learn or develop the skills and traits necessary to be a good on-camera spokesperson. But the impact of this position as the face of the company is too important for on-the-job training in most cases. In fact, it-s recommended that every spokesperson (including any high level executive who may occasionally find themselves giving a speech or an interview) take some training on personal presentation.

Over the years I've helped more than a few corporate executives and people in the public eye prepare for events and media exposure, dealing with both press and public. I've done training that involves everything from body language, speech inflection and pacing to wardrobe, makeup and using a teleprompter. Most important is preparing executives and spokespeople to think on their feet and deal with the unexpected. It's a good idea to role-play different situations before you get caught up in one. I've also taught how to give a non-answer and when to be straight-forward.

So, WHO should you pick as your on-camera spokesperson? That's what I'll discuss next, in Part Five.

John Coleman

copyright 2010 John W. Coleman Twin Oaks Communications, inc.