Communications 101

by Marta Countess

Making your Message the Best it Can Be

I’ve recently had the pleasure of being a media trainer at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  It was the world’s first collegiate business school and is arguably the best MBA program in the country.  These students are some of the brightest and most ambitious business minds I’ve ever encountered.  They intrinsically know why making your message the best it can be, matters at all levels of business. Thus, all Wharton MBA students, even those in the Executive Level program, must take a management communication course. For some, it comes naturally.  For others, it’s a learned skill. We test their speech making skills, both with and without a teleprompter, then grill them on questions they could potentially get from reporters.  It’s always entertaining and enlightening.

Good leaders need to be confident public speakers and know the essentials of persuasive speech.  How you organize and deliver a presentation to your peer’s matters. Delivering a speech at a conference matters. How you defend your views matter. An interview with a reporter matters.
A reporter wants your opinion on the topic you’ve been asked to talk about, but you have to remember it’s a chance to communicate with the audience and let them hear your expertise.  It’s an opportunity to shine and let your organization shine. You’re talking to more than just the reporter holding the microphone or the reporter’s notebook.

I’ve interviewed thousands of business owners, doctors, and other professionals during my years in television. After I make you say your name and spell it for me, my first question is almost always the same: “Tell me about your job or your company.”

Often, I get a regurgitation of the company mission statement.  Something like:

“(Company Name) is one of the leading companies in the Lehigh Valley making high-quality (product) in an affordable and sustainable manner.”
The short, sound bite friendly answer is good time-wise but it could have been better if you’d given me an animated, example filled answer like:

“Whenever you buy (competitor’s product), you know how they always seem to cost too much and break within weeks of opening the box? My company (name) makes (product) that aren’t going to break after you open the package – we guarantee it – and we’ve even figured out a way to make a high-quality (product) affordable and environmentally-friendly.”
Both are practiced responses, but the second is far more engaging.

Engagement is the key to being asked to be a regular TV interview subject or guest speaker.

Here are my top 5 tips for business communication:

1 Have a clear message.  Get to the point!  Use examples that back up your position.

2 Don’t speak above your audience.  Leave the technical jargon for your next professional meeting.

3 Speak to your audience, not an individual reporter.  By avoiding names, it’s clear that you’re addressing the larger audience.  You want your message to be broadly accepted. Don’t thank someone for their question or compliment them and say “that’s a good question.”  Most reporters are practiced pros.  Their questions are usually good. If you compliment one, you have to compliment them all!

4 Be prepared for tough questions.  As mentioned, reporters are pros. They aren’t there to grill you, but they should ask tough questions.   Address the inquiry and bring it back to your message.  Never say “No comment.”  It’s okay to say, “I don’t know the answer to that” and then bridge it back to what you want to talk about. No comment just triggers your audience to think you’re guilty of something. Say things like “looking at the big picture” or “what I do know.” It allows you to bridge back to where you started to rephrase and repeat your major points.

5 Work on your nerves.  Practice your talking points, so you don’t find yourself “umming” and “ahhing” throughout your presentation.  Pause when you need to make a point.  It’s great for pacing and lets your brain catch up.  Smile in appropriate places. Take it slow and communicate your message with authority and ease. Breathe!

Communication is one of the most basics things we do in business…and in life.  Becoming a good communicator takes practice.  It’s a skill to nurture.  Don’t overlook how practice can make perfect.

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