In the new book, The Fall of Advertising and The Rise Of PR, author Laura Ries makes the following point: "What's missing in most PR programs is a spokesperson. If you want to make your brand famous, you need to make your CEO famous too. The spokesperson is the face and voice of the brand. The ultimate success of any PR program depends, to a certain extent, on the effectiveness of the spokesperson."
How very true. A compelling spokesperson can make or break a company or product launch. A strong spokesperson can help a company stand apart from the crowd, regardless of the industry. And yet, how often do you find yourself on your feet after listening to someone pitch his or her company, product or service? Probably never.
One prominent American CEO, Cisco's John Chambers, is undeniably one of the most charismatic and inspirational executives currently speaking to audiences or the press. Despite his company's lay-offs and sinking stock price, Chambers continues to dazzle audiences. A New York Times reporter recently wrote, "After [listening to Chambers speak] in Atlanta, many people in attendance remain convinced that Cisco's best days are not behind it." What's Chambers' secret? Simple. He sells a dream, not technology. It's a strategy company spokespeople should be familiar with - they should adopt it, embrace it, use it.
For example, Chambers never starts a talk by saying something like, "The new Cisco Catalyst 6500 serial 1550 10 Gigabit Ethernet Module is targeted for high-speed metro distances connections between POPs, COs, Internet data centers as well as between campuses in Enterprises." Instead, he repeats his company's "mantra" as he sells his audience on the opportunity ahead. His standard pitch, which he uses in virtually every interview or speech, is simple and inspiring: "The Internet is changing the way the world lives, works, learns and plays." That's part of his elevator pitch. It rolls off his tongue effortlessly.
You might be surprised at how few corporate executives or spokespeople take the time to develop and memorize a short description or "attention-grabber" that they can use to kick off any talk - whether speaking to the media, a workshop, or large audience. The vast majority of my media-training clients don't have a standard pitch when I first start working with them. Get one! It's what makes the audience eager to listen to the rest of what you have to say. It should be brief, clear and passionate. A standard elevator pitch should answer the following questions: Who are you? What do you do? How does your product/company/service improve my life or the lives of my readers / listeners / viewers?
Grabbing the attention of your audience is just the start. Over the last decade, I have interviewed the most prominent CEOs, executives, economists, analysts, journalists, authors and experts in their fields. The best have mastered the following 10 traits:
• Brevity: The fewer words, the better.
• Passion: Don't be bland. The best speakers communicate their passion for their product, company or industry in all their appearances.
• Clarity: Lose the jargon.
• Energy: You'd be surprised at how many speakers look and sound as though they'd just rolled out of bed. You will lose your audience in the first 30 seconds if you fail to exhibit enthusiasm, excitement and energy.
• Inspiration: Always remember, you are selling a "dream," not a piece of hardware. The best speakers inspire and motivate, then end with a call to action.
• Cooperation: In other words, do not be "difficult" with journalists or conference organizers. One author I interviewed for CNN made unreasonable demands and refused to go along with anything we needed to make the segment look good. Poor woman - she tried to get back on the show repeatedly. Needless to say, she never did. Another spokesperson, the CEO of a small company, was engaging and went along with everything we requested. He even sent cookies to the crew after his interview! Whenever we needed a spokesperson for his particular industry, whom do you think we turned to first? It is not a coincidence that you see the same familiar faces on CNBC and CNN - they are good spokespeople, they speak in short sound bites and yes, they are cooperative.
• Concise: In 1961, John E Kennedy galvanized a nation with his inaugural address, which was written as a 20minute speech, without pauses for applause. Think about it. Do you really need 50 minutes or more to tell an audience why they need your product or service? If you are addressing the media, don't spend three minutes answering a question when 15 seconds will do. A prominent analyst once told me, "Anything after the first 15 minutes is forgotten."
• Expression: Do not be afraid to smile or show some emotion. It amazes me how often executives appear on television with a stern expression on their faces for the entire interview. Their reason? "Well, I want to come across as professional." Think of Ronald Reagan - endearing, confident, happy. A smile makes it easier to secure that emotional attachment with the audience. Believe it or not, "smiling" also comes across on the radio or over the telephone.
• Varied Tone: A few weeks ago, I was working with the CEO of a computer company as he prepared to present a slideshow to potential investors. I could not tell when one slide ended and the next began, or when he finished a thought. His tone and pitch remained neutral during the entire presentation. Just as you break up thoughts, concepts and slides, vary your tone, pitch and volume. Think of a great preacher. After all, spokespeople "preach the gospel" of their companies.
• Flexibility: Think nonlinear. This is tough for former engineers, programmers or accountants who climb the executive ladder and are suddenly company spokespeople. They think logically, methodically, in a certain order. But the press might want you to start in the middle. Be flexible. Answer the question first, then create a bridge to your central message. If someone in the audience interrupts your workshop with a question you had planned to answer later, just answer it. It might be an important component that you buried in your presentation. You can always refer to it later, or skip it altogether when you get to that point. That's flexibility. Can you end your presentation early if you sense the audience is restless? That's flexibility.
All of us are, in some capacity, our own "spokespeople." We act as spokespeople for ourselves or the products / services we offer - whether or not we speak to the media. Great spokespeople have the ability to sell the message as well as themselves. That trait is vital when addressing any type of audience, but especially the media. Adopting the above rules will transform even the dullest speakers from media bombs to media darlings.