By Lindsay Marcaccio

Having the right person represent a company in times of crisis or celebration is essential for any organization. This person becomes the face of the company, communicating key messages, personifying values and building the company’s reputation. It can be a lot of responsibility for anyone to handle. Luckily, Shael Gelfand of Peak Communicators, and Kurt Kadatz of ATCO Group, shared what it takes to develop a successful spokesperson during IABC/Calgary’s February speaker event. 

Rehearsing your messages can help ease anxiety and improve your performance.

Authenticity and numbers count

Shael and Kadatz agreed that people want authenticity and credibility. “Above all else, it’s important for spokespeople to be genuine and their true selves, even if they’re a little rough around the edges,” says Gelfand. Audiences will also assess a spokesperson’s credibility factors like age, level of experience and decision-making power. 

They also suggest having more than one spokesperson or subject matter expert to be able to appeal to different audiences, and speak about different issues such as labour, safety, community, good news and bad news. “Subject matter experts can be engaged because they are credible – they have expertise and they’re hands-on decision makers,” says Kadatz.

Preparing key messages 

Now that you have a spokesperson (or two) selected, it’s time to draft the messages. According to a BostonDigital article, our attention span has decreased to eight seconds so speeches need to be to the point. Kadatz suggests using Message Maps, developed by Dr. Vincent Covello, founder of the Centre for Risk Communications, to craft concise messages. Message Maps are based on determining three main points followed by a maximum of three supporting points; there are several templates to choose from.

Along with shortened messages, there is a move towards using a less formal tone to appear more relatable and less corporate. Kadatz and Gelfand prefer using the Caring Action Perspective message map template to create this type of messaging.  Gelfand also encourages the use of literary tools such as similes, the rule of three and metaphors to craft less corporate sounding and quotable messages. Remember to have your spokespeople practice what they are going to say to increase their confidence. 

Inserting your spokesperson into the conversation

With the messaging complete, Gelfand and Kadatz suggest thinking about where are the conversations about relevant (to your company) topics happening that you would want to contribute to. Social media platforms offer opportunities for companies to engage in conversations about relevant topics to build credibility and rapport. They referenced WestJet weighing in on COVID-19 and air travel as a good example. 

Current trends

With the recent shift to online interview platforms, media expect spokespeople to be available at any time. This is another reason why you might train more than one media person – availability. 

Online platforms have also eliminated the concept of “off the record.”  “More important now than ever, is to consider ourselves live and everything we say as on the record because we don’t know when the record button has been pushed,” says Gelfand. 

Also, coach your spokespeople to be on guard for what is said after the interview – reporters might make a comment about the interview topic to see how the spokesperson will respond. That response can and has been used as the story’s headline. 

It seems in today’s uncertain and tense social and political climate, audiences are looking for genuine, authentic and credible spokespeople. Companies are encouraged to train multiple subject matter experts to deliver key messaging in a personable and concise manner. And most importantly, companies and their spokespeople should not stray far from who they really are.  

The next IABC/YYC event is on March 5, “Inside and Outside the Box – Crisis Communications.” To register and find out about more amazing IABC events click here.

Kurt Kadatz is senior manager, corporate communications, ATCO Group.

Shael Gelfand is vice president, Peak Communicators (Alberta) Ltd. 

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