The Importance of Being Understood

Earlier in my career, my boss asked me to teach an in-house class on writing.  While I was discussing the importance of using clearly understood words and phrases, one man questioned the entire premise of the class, saying that in order to impress others, it was imperative to use the same terminology used in his profession.  “Otherwise, it’s too simplistic,” he said.

Today, with multiple forms of communication available, attitudes have changed.   Most business people realize the importance of communicating clearly in both writing and speaking.  Unfortunately, it’s easier for some than for others, and one of the main barriers to clear communication is the prevalence of jargon.

JargonJargon – defined as the specialized language of a profession or other group of people – is not all bad.  It can be a handy shorthand within the specific group of people for whom it was intended.   The problem arises when you are speaking to an outside group or even to a group of newcomers within your profession.  That’s when jargon can cause confusion or misunderstandings.  Ultimately, it can have a negative effect on your audience, who may think you are either trying to impress them or are being evasive by hiding behind expressions and acronyms they don’t understand.

Rarely will anyone say anything, however, and this is the real problem.  While you are chattering away, dropping an acronym here and a technical term there, your audience is probably not going to be listening to you.  After the first acronym, they will be drifting away, trying to determine what that stands for, and after a stream of unintelligible jargon, they will often become irritated or lose interest completely.

The use of jargon is not always intentional.  At our firm, we often train clients for media interviews or presentations, and in most cases they don’t even realize they are using jargon.  They have been in a profession or job for so long they think everyone understands their special language.  They have to spend some time untangling their jargon in order to connect with the audiences they want to reach.

Making the effort to remove jargon from your presentations is worth the effort.  When you communicate clearly in everyday language, you are more – not less – likely to impress people.  They will be impressed with your sincerity, thoughtfulness and leadership, and, most important, they will understand you.

Learn to Speak Layman with Lisa Dimond Vasquez.

YouTube ScreenshotPosted by Margot Dimond


Is Media Training Worth My Time?

iStock_000018418047MediumI’m a university professor, and our dean has decided that all of our faculty should sign up for an on-campus media training, since our new media relations person has been getting us a lot of media interviews.  With teaching, writing, researching and serving on committees, I really don’t have time.  After all, I’m speaking publicly all of the time – to my students and at various conferences.  I see that you write a lot about media training on your blog and offer it at your firm.  Can you tell me why someone in my position should bother with this?

Thank you for asking because we have heard this question quite often in the past, although not as much recently.  Increasingly, chief executives and others who are called upon to represent their organizations are realizing that being interviewed by a member of the news media is not the same as doing a sales presentation, speech or classroom lecture.  It’s a special skill in and of itself.

The rise of social media has played a big part in this transformation by making media gaffes more damaging to reputations than had previously been the case.  Something said in an interview in Cleveland can now be broadcast around the globe in a matter of minutes.  Even on a smaller scale, the rapid spread of information is daunting.

Most people who do media interviews do not have to worry about responding to a negative situation; they are more concerned with promoting their organization and its products or services.  A media interview is a great opportunity to do so.  Unfortunately, many people don’t take full advantage of that opportunity and are disappointed with the results.

That’s where media training can help. The important thing to remember is that when you are being interviewed by a member of the news media, you are not just talking to that person; you are conveying information to the people who are reading or listening to his or her report.

Keeping that in mind, here are some things to think about before you decide whether or not to participate in media training:

  1. When you speak in class and at conferences, how much time do you have to get your point across?  15 minutes?  30 minutes?  50 minutes?  Can you do it in 10 seconds?
  2. If someone asks you about an award you won for a research project, do you:              a.  Start by describing your research process and how you finally came to the conclusion that won you the award?  This can work for a conference speech where everyone is interested in the details of your project.                                                    b.  Tell them what the award was for and what it will mean to the audience reading – or listening to – your answer?  This is what the public is interested in.
  3. When an interviewer asks what you consider a “dumb” question, do you:                                                                                                                              a.  Get irritated that they haven’t done their homework?  Be careful not to talk down to the interviewer – and the public he or she represents.                                               b.  Realize you haven’t been doing a very good job of communicating and try a different way of explaining yourself?  The clear explanation is the one that will be quoted.
  4. What kind of preparation do you do before an interview?                                             a.  You feel you know your subject area, so you plan to just answer the interviewer’s questions.  This could present a problem, especially if the interviewer is not familiar with your work.                                                                                                               b.  You come prepared with messages to work into the interview so you can get the most important information out to the public.  This is the path to a successful interview.

In short, giving media training a chance.  You may be surprised at how much you learn.

Posted by Margot Dimond


Your Crisis Communication Plan

Do you have a crisis communication plan?  Crisis planning is essential for any company or organization – but especially for one providing products or services directly to consumers.  With social media, small incidents can go viral, making company reputations one step away from shattering.

Sometimes it’s the response – or lack of response – to a real or perceived problem that causes the crisis.  Any delay in responding, or even a tepid response, can add fuel to the fire.  It’s important to show concern for those affected – whether they are employees, customers, or bystanders.  (Think of what happened to Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP, after his initial response to the Gulf oil spill.)

Having a plan already in place makes damage control much easier.  With the understanding that specifics will change with each type of crisis, here is a basic overview of the essential elements of a crisis communication plan:

1.  Have a Crisis Communication Team.  The team should include key people in the organization who can develop a plan of action and decide on the spokespersons in case of an event.  Everyone on the team should have – and regularly update – a management roster with every type of contact information.  The crisis team should meet on a regular basis to keep everyone in a state of readiness.

2.  Identify Designated Spokespersons.  The main spokesperson should always include the CEO or someone of equal authority, plus anyone in a management position in the area where the crisis occurred.  All designated spokespersons should have media training with an emphasis on crisis communication.  Sending someone in front of a bank of television cameras without this type of preparation can backfire – even with the best of intentions.

3.  Establish a System of Communicating with Employees, Clients and Other Stakeholders.  The system could include email alerts, an online social network platform for web-based crisis communication or even a special crisis web page.

4. Designate a Media Center.  The site for media interviews should be some distance from the crisis communication office, which may be a hub of activity.  Depending on the nature of the crisis, policies and procedures should be set for media access to people involved in the crisis.

5.  Gather the Facts.  As soon as possible, the team should gather all of the facts surrounding the crisis and issue a prepared statement to the media.  They should also release new facts as they are confirmed.

6.  Establish the Message and Key Talking Points and Prepare the Spokespersons. A crisis situation is stressful; this is not the time to “wing it” with the media. Before doing interviews, spokespersons should be rehearsed on the message, key talking points and  questions that could be asked.  There will always be information that cannot be rehearsed, but it is important to be as prepared as possible.

7.  Monitor Media coverage.  Consistently monitor both online and offline media coverage throughout the crisis to make sure your message is being communicated accurately.  If not, you may have to adjust your strategy and messaging.Posted by Margot Dimond


Your TV Interview: Make Every Word Count!

TV InterviewWhat is your media message?  In other words, what is the main thing you want your target audience to know about you or your organization?

Now – Can you say it in under 9 seconds? That’s about all the time you have in a typical TV interview sound bite.  So it’s important to make every word count.

Sound impossible?  Not if you practice.  Like most everything else, being good at media interviews is a skill that you acquire through training and practice.  And practice is especially important if you want to distill your company message into a usable sound bite.

One of the main challenges in being interviewed by the news media is learning how to tell your story in a clear and concise way.  You can complain that you aren’t given enough time to do your message justice, but you aren’t going to change the medium.  It is what it is, and if you want media coverage, you will have to adjust your communication style to be compatible with media time constructions.

Most television news shows are 30 minutes.  Take out commercial time, weather and sports, and the reporters don’t have much time at all to tell their audience the news of the day.  Brevity is essential.

So let’s say you are fortunate enough to have attracted the attention of the media, and a TV interview is scheduled.  This is your opportunity to get your message out to a large number of people at once.

You will be interviewed by a reporter (or in some cases, a camera operator), and he or she may have background information on you and your organization, but that’s not your audience.  Your audience is the person at home watching.  You must be able to clearly explain your point of view to that person – the one with very little background information – in 9 seconds or less.

You must make every word count.  And that takes practice.

Posted by Margot Dimond