3 tactful ways to help top executives improve their communications skills
How often do you think a CEO will admit discomfort when dealing with press? Not often, given that successful executives want to project their keen knowledge and experience in business or leadership. But frequently, they are not communications experts. Because of this, many public relations professionals will find themselves frustrated when CEOs or key executives decline media coaching. CEOs often wrongly believe that speaking with the media is akin to delivering a keynote address. Media coaching is not speaker training or public speaking. Rather, it’s a specific discipline comprised of techniques and strategies for media engagement.
When CEOs say no thank you to media coaching, PR professionals are placed in a position to convince their CEOs of its value. To assist, we’ve provided a few useful tips to help adjust their perspectives.
- Explain how media coaching provides a competitive edge. Highly confident executives understand their business better than most and will therefore dismiss the need for media coaching. Remind them that media engagement is not a keynote address or boardroom presentation; it’s a dynamic, two-way conversation often requiring quick-thinking and strategically crafted responses. Media coaching prepares executives for this environment, while also teaching useful techniques for responding to a reporter’s questions. Consider professional athletes who already maintain both an underlying knowledge of and superior skill for a particular sport. They don’t stop training because they’ve mastered something. They train and repeat to fine tune and further improve their skills to gain a greater competitive edge. Media coaching is no different. To be as effective with the media as possible, spokespeople need to train for both easy and difficult media questions, while also learning how to efficiently insert key points or pivot off of topics.
- Prove that practice makes perfect. Standing in front of a bank of microphones, voice recorders and cameras can quickly upend a spokesperson’s confidence if unpracticed. A subset of media coaching is the mock interview, in which spokespeople are pressed with real-world situations and media questions in front of a rolling camera. Plenty of CEOs and executives will recognize the need for training and practice should they see themselves flailing on screen. To easily prove this point, pull out your smart phone and ask your CEO about the company, sales or industry. Then, play it back for them to see. Most will quickly see how unprepared and unrehearsed they appear, providing a perfect foray to highlight the value of media coaching and how it can help them become a highly effective media maven, even when unprepared.
- Exemplify the craftiness of the media. Contrary to what some CEOs believe, the media does not readily accept “no comment” as an answer to a question. Media members are excavators of truth, fact checkers and chronologists. If your CEO or key spokesperson doesn’t provide satisfactory answers, reporters fall back on their own skills to root up dangerous details. Media coaching explores the lengths the media will go to in order to get answers should those in leadership roles fail to respond. They may depend on input from former employees, vendors, analysts or even competitors, which could result in much larger-scale headaches. Learning to respond in both an efficient and nimble manner will avoid pitfalls and instead, turn your CEO into a media maven.
Media coaching can be an invaluable tool for high-profile businesses. It is something that the Axia Public Relations team has mastered, as many team members began their communications careers as reporters and editors. To support an ongoing public relations program, businesses should employ media coaching regularly to make certain CEOs are constantly fine-tuning their media skills. To learn more about media coaching and strategies to ensure media success, download Axia’s guide to maximizing your PR investment today.
Wendy Bulawa Agudelo has nearly 20 years of experience in technology, business, consumer and nonprofit public relations. She serves on the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress PR Task Force and is a culinary enthusiast and champion for the special needs community. Wendy has worked for Axia Public Relations since September 2014. Learn more about Wendy Bulawa Agudelo. Connect with Axia on Twitter @axiapr or tell us what you think in the comments below.