WhatsCred, the name of this blog, is about thinking and behaving in a way that builds trust and maintains credibility. Everyone spins. Every time we put our sunny side up we’re spinning. All of us want the world to see our shiny side, our best profile and our most credible self. In today’s 24/7 social media world the word authenticity has become central. When every utterance can so very quickly be broadcast worldwide through Twitter, Facebook and You Tube, the need to communicate authentically has never been more important. Old public relations tools that controlled what people see, read or hear are out the window. More than ever, everyone who chooses or is forced to live their lives in the public realm must take charge of their own credibility.
For companies and governments it’s just as important. Their behaviors and the spokespeople that express their moral code are more central now to the credibility of their reputations than ever. Just as a serious misstep can undermine all corporate goodwill instantly, a good spokesperson can build trust in meetings with stakeholders and in interviews with the news media if they know how. Many do, many do not.
Anyone can be a credible spokesperson. Sure, some speak better than others, some look better on TV, some even have that hard to define personal charisma. But, if unencumbered by the pressures of a job, personal self-doubt, or the challenge of articulating complex thoughts in simple language, no one should doubt their capacity to speak credibly. And yet, many of us do primarily because most of us are encumbered by doubt, pressure, complexity. Working with the News Media amplifies these doubts and pressures.
To be a Credible Spokesperson you must have the consistent capacity to deliver a reported message as closely as possible to your original intent. It’s not rocket science, assuming of course that you have a credible message, are telling the truth, are clear on what your story is and do not have a history of gouging the public. Pretty straightforward really. Why is it then that for most it seems like such a difficult task? For some just managing the stress of speaking publicly is challenge enough. There’s much at stake in an interview with a reporter and the pressure to do well on behalf of the organization you are speaking for can be overwhelming. But the good news is there are tools and a straightforward framework to think through answers on your feet to almost all challenging questions a reporter might throw you and there’s a simple way to anticipate what they’ll be.
At the beginning of many workshops I ask the question “does the news media do a good job?” It’s a useful question because it starts a conversation about the perception workshop participants have about the nature of news, a conversation that helps people start to come to terms with their generally low level of trust in the news media as an institution. I recently sampled some 1000 answers and about 70% say no, 20 % say it depends and 10 % say yes. In fact, I’ve found the key challenge a majority of my clients face in being effective spokespeople is their mistrust of the news media. Expecting the worst they’ll tend to deliver the worst. Not a good place to be for an aspiring credible spokesperson.
It’s my job as a coach to help people manage these misgivings and to give them the tools to ensure the reporters they encounter get it right, even if it’s just one lonely six second sound bite arising from a 20 minute interview. I’ve spent enough time in the news media to know first hand how, why and when reporters tell their stories. I’ve now spent an equal amount of time showing people a successful and systematic way of delivering messages reporters will use. And while the News Media has changed a lot in that time, the basic premise of message delivery hasn’t changed a whit. Credible spokespeople build credible reputations. That’s where we’ll start.