Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day Two – Can We Talk?

Your executives will be talking more in 2009 and so will your employees. With the economic issues we all face, the media and employees will be asking tough questions… perhaps the toughest your executives have ever been asked. And when times are tough, employee morale can go down and employee talk can turn negative, further hurting the organization’s reputation, image and productivity.

That’s why in the first quarter of 2009, I’d recommend 3 types of training within your organization: Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training.

We’ll talk about all 3 in a minute, but first let’s look at some typical speaking styles to understand why you need these training programs, even if you’ve done them before.

If we look at the 2008 election cycle, we see 5 dominant spokespeople and see 5 distinct styles that you will likely see in your spokespeople. Look at President Bush, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Sarah Palin and John McCain… and to understand my point of view, please put your political views aside and just look at their styles.

Bush is the top guy… like many CEOs he’s very knowledgeable, but is a horrible speaker. His inability to communicate well undermines the confidence people have in him. This happens to many CEOs.

Obama has the natural gift of speaking with great rhythm and style, and he has the ability to inspire and motivate. He could read a grocery list and get a standing ovation. Few people have this natural gift.

Joe Biden is the unfiltered speaker. Like many executives, he’s prone to say something stupid at anytime. He is the proverbial loose cannon on deck. Many executives think this is the proper way to be honest. Boy are they wrong.

John McCain is the classic humble spokesperson. He has an incredible story to tell, but refuses to tell it because of humility. His skills as an orator are good, but could be better. Great stories are a part of great communications. Many executives fail to use stories effectively.

Sarah Palin, like many female executives, has a lot of pizzazz and spunk. She, like Obama, has some great natural gifts as a speaker in front of a crowd. But while her spunk and pizzazz are appealing to many, it also rubs many people the wrong way. Female speakers may also face sexist preconceptions and prejudices that male speakers don’t have to deal with.

Chances are in your organization you have people who can’t put 2 words together, people who are naturally gifted, people who are too humble to tell a great story, people who make you cringe because you never know what kind of stupid or inappropriate thing they will say, and people, who while gifted, might rub some people the wrong way.

Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training can help you conquer the challenges of all 5 of these communications styles.

Media Training is, of course, designed to help with those difficult media interviews. In a time like this, they can help executives communicate honestly and teach them how to handle negative questions.

Presentation Training is needed to help executives communicate challenges in small group meetings, as well as in meetings with large groups of employees. You’ll certainly need these skills if layoffs are in the cards. Regardless of your challenges, regular face-to-face communications with employees provides a high degree of comfort in uncertain times.

Ambassador Training is a program I designed for mid-level managers and ordinary employees, to help them communicate positively, rather than constantly repeating negatives. It combines some of the skill sets you find in both Media Training and Presentation Training, especially the ability to speak positively and answer tough questions honestly, without repeating negatives.

As an example, imagine this: Your company lays of 500 people and an employee wearing your company logo on their shirt is in a grocery store line. Let’s imagine the person in front of them in line sees the logo, has heard the bad news, and says, “Wow, things must be bad where you work?” Most employees would instinctively respond, “Oh, it’s bad and getting worse.” This type of negative response then fuels the continuation of a negative conversation.

Most employee have told me over the years that they do not want to be a part of that negative conversation, but in their awkwardness and embarrassment, they don’t know how to get out of it. The proper way to get out of it is with a positive response. But the fact is, a negative response is easier and it is more in line with human nature.

If we return to that grocery store scene, a positive response might be, “Well, your heart has to go out to the people who have left, but that means the rest of us need to double our effort so we can be profitable and bring them all back.” If an employee said that, what would happen to the conversation in the grocery store? It would either turn positive or end right there. Negative comments are like throwing gasoline on a fire; it makes it more volatile. Positive comments are like a fire extinguisher; they’ll put an end to the negative fire quickly.

As you propose training for 2009, realize many people may be resistant. Some think if they’ve trained once they know it all. But the fact is, media training and presentation training are not skills that a person masters in a single session. It needs to be an annual program with refreshers.

Also realize that some people will be resistant because they fear they will perform poorly or because they are embarrassed to fail either on a personal level or in front of colleagues, during training. Many will even say that they would rather wing it. Your trainer needs to make sure that training is done in a safe environment, that each participant can see some improvement, and that each participant is predisposed to the idea that training is not a one-time event, but should be part of an ongoing program for personal improvement.

A good analogy to make to your participants is to compare it to sports. Every great athletic performer has coaches and every great executive needs personal coaches as well. Likewise, great athletes don’t become great after a single practice; they become great because they practice daily and constantly try to improve.

And on the topic of practice, your participants in Media Training, Presentation Training and Ambassador Training need to be reminded that they must practice their skills in daily conversations in order to master the techniques of speaking positively, keeping information jargon free and simple, and knowing how to respond positively to negative questions.

Finally, in tight economic times, PR budgets get cut quickly. Be ready to make your case that, whether speaking to the media, to a group of employees, or even in informal public situations, the things your executives say can have a direct impact on your profits and the performance of your workforce. The cost of training can be miniscule compared to its financial benefits.

If you or your executives would like to begin the learning process, they can sign up for my 29-day online Media Training program at www.braudcommunications.com Everyday for 29 days you’ll receive a 3-6 minute audio lesson that you can listen to on your computer or i-pod.

If you have questions about how to deal with executives who may be resistant or embarrassed to train, send an e-mail to me or call me via my contact information at www.braudcommunications.com

In our next lesson, we’ll look at the role you need to play as a writer in 2009.

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