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Communicating With Impact: How You Say It

19/10/2011

By Robert Taylor, media trainer & skills specialist.

In my first two articles in this series, I’ve tried to show how the skills needed to do a first-rate media interview help people communicate well generally. And it’s not just a question of what you say. Just as important is how you say it.

Think of some of the world’s great communicators, such as Obama, Reagan, Clinton and Mandela, and then ask yourself what made them so good. I’m sure they all had excellent speechwriters, but what makes them stand out is their ability to connect with people. Bill Clinton delivers speeches to hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at a time – yet many will say afterwards that they felt he was talking to them personally. Of course, what he says needs to be impressive. But what makes him a great communicator is his delivery.

We can’t all be as good as Bill Clinton, but we can all improve our ability to communicate by following some simple techniques. On all my media training courses, I tell my trainees that the perfect tone of voice for any kind of public presentation, including media interviews, has four qualities: sincerity, intelligence, enthusiasm and warmth. (In a crisis you need sympathy in place of enthusiasm.)

People struggle most with warmth. And admittedly, it’s not easy to be warm when you’ve got a stranger firing questions at you and a TV camera a few feet away mercilessly recording everything you say. But anyone can inject warmth into their delivery by doing three simple things.

First, use conversational English, the sort you’d use when talking to a friend over coffee, and cut out anything that sounds like jargon or “corporate-speak”. Also, use simple words in place of longer, pompous alternatives (so say “use” instead of “utilise” and “while” instead of “whilst”). Secondly, talk about people rather than concepts, theories or technology. The essence of “news” is its impact on human beings, so bring as much human life and colour into your content as possible. And thirdly, slow down. Just about the most common mistake people make when they start doing media interviews is to gabble and try to say too much. Try to make a couple of points really well, rather than five or six in a hurry.

Body language is also vital – not just in media interviews but in any form of human interaction – and there is one element that stands out above all others: eye contact. If you’re unconvinced about the importance of eye contact, think about all the times you’ve heard someone say “I just couldn’t look him in the eye”. People say that when they’re feeling guilty or have something to hide. In a media interview, and in life generally, you want to show people that you are open and have nothing to hide. So look people in the eye, and you’ll give a good impression. You can then make sure you’ve got the other body language basics right, such as a firm hand shake and a straight head and back. If you use your hands to talk (making gestures and so on) you should feel free to do so even on camera, because you should aim to come across as naturally as possible.

Finally, your overall appearance. People can get hung up on this, but the best policy is to make sure that your clothes, make-up and hair are consistent with, and do not detract from, the message you’re trying to convey. It’s amazing how little things, like a tie knot slightly off centre, an overly dangly pair of earrings or a badly matched shirt and tie, can completely grip the viewers’ attention, making it impossible for them to concentrate on what you’re actually saying. Or worse, the viewers might think that if you can’t even put your tie on straight or polish your shoes why should they trust your company to make products properly?

To be successful in media interviews – and in business generally – it’s important to show that you’re likeable and trustworthy. My experience of training hundreds of organisations shows me that there are plenty of likeable, trustworthy business executives who struggle to demonstrate those qualities in media interviews, presentations or meetings. But a few simple techniques can transform that impression.