The spokesperson and his role in corporate communication

Silvia Albert

Knowing what a spokesperson is and what importance he or she has in the communication of a company or organisation when it comes to transmitting key messages is fundamental to define a correct communication strategy;

What is a spokesperson?

The spokesperson of an organisation, company, association… is the person designated and prepared to transmit its key messages to its internal and external target audiences (journalists, shareholders, employees, investors, suppliers, etc.)….) in a direct, simple and impactful way; It is constituted as the voice of the company and is assumed to always works (or should work) based on the organisation’s business strategy and in coordination with its communications team.

An organisation may have more than one spokesperson, usually related to different specialities within the organisation, but it must always have a spokesperson of reference who is the most representative image of the company;

The main spokesperson is usually the president or CEO of the organisation and his/her charisma and profile should match; In other words, there must be coherence between what the brand says it is and its main representative. The reality does not always coincide with the most advisable and it is not unusual to find spokespersons who do not adequately represent the role that corresponds to them, which will directly affect the perception of the brand;

It is therefore essential that the spokesperson is aware of the role he or she represents, of the responsibility he or she has as the main voice of the organisation and of the importance of taking that role very seriously;

The importance of the spokesperson in corporate communication

The spokesperson is like the captain of a great ship and must be aware that he/she is the highest representative of the ship; Knowing where you are going and which sailors you have, knowing the route to take, the risks you may encounter, weather forecasts and other possible unforeseen events are on your list of responsibilities;

A bad spokesperson can spoil an organisation’s reputation or confuse its target audiences by portraying an image that is inconsistent with the raison d’être of the company he or she represents;

Giving voice to an organisation is essential; What you don’t say about your organisation, others will say for you, so it is essential that the importance of good spokespersonship for brand perception is taken seriously; Everything a spokesperson does, he or she communicates, that also includes what he or she does not do;

Efficient communication

In 1967, anthropologist and psychologist Albert Mehrabian of the University of California (UCLA) presented a study that collected the percentage that each element of communication – words, body and voice – represents in conversation. Although Mehrabian focused on emotional communication, his conclusions are very timely to understand how important the role of a spokesperson is and what must be taken into account in order to communicate effectively;

According to this study, 55% of what we are communicating comes from our non-verbal communication: gestures, clothing, posture… 38% comes from our tone, from our voice; And only 7% comes from the words we speak;

These percentages will be fundamental when preparing ourselves as spokespersons or preparing our managers, and will help to set a clearer line of work;

Spokesperson’s functions;

Being a spokesperson for your organization immediately transforms you, whether you like it or not, into its visible face. On him or her pilots the entire narrative axis of the organisation; But it also humanises and makes the public’s unconscious perception tangible;

The spokesperson is, obviously, the voice of the organisation and, depending on his or her tone, so will be that of the organization. The most advisable thing is that it is capable of championing this tone, being coherent with the tone that the brand wants to transmit as such;

The better a company’s spokesperson is, the more and better he or she will convey pride of belonging. This ability to communicate messages directly, simply and with impact through their body, their tone and their words will favour the creation of a powerful brand image;

He/she will also be responsible for championing the organization’s transparency. A hesitant, elusive or simply unclear spokesperson can undermine any organisation’s desire for transparency and openness;

Society is increasingly demanding opinion leaders who are firm, committed and very close to society and the context in which they carry out their activity.

Characteristics of the spokesperson

History is littered with bad spokespeople who have caused more hilarity than leveraged brand reputations; This is like teachers: knowing a lot about a subject is not a condition for being a good teacher; You have to know how to transmit your knowledge in a simple, coherent, attractive and interesting way;

These are some of the characteristics that spokespersons should have:

  • Strength and security; If you are not convinced of what you are going to say or you feel a lack of confidence, you have to see if you need appropriate training or if the argumentation is unrealistic; Being honest with oneself is fundamental;
  • Deep knowledge of the organisation, its specialisation and the market in which it operates. But it must also be the first representative of the organisation’s purpose, know the organisation’s values, mission and objectives well, and speak accordingly;
  • Safety should not be at odds with humility. There is nothing more counterproductive for an organization than an arrogant, overbearing and unempathetic spokesperson. (minute 37:53)
  • Temperament in crisis contexts: being able to handle a crisis situation and communicate the organisation’s response effectively. This includes the ability to remain calm under pressure, provide accurate information and respond to questions from the media and any other target audiences;
  • Listening skills. In a world surrounded by noise and especially polarised, the active listening allows us to connect with our interlocutor in a more direct and less subjective way.
  • Knowing how to speak in public: the spokesperson must be comfortable speaking in public and have excellent presentation skills; It must be able to capture the audience’s attention and convey the message effectively. This is a skill that many people have innately, but which can be learned with perseverance and a lot of practice.
  • Interpersonal skills: be able to engage with any target audience; This includes, in addition to the active listening skills outlined above, empathising with others and negotiating effectively;

How to be a good spokesperson?

This is where Professor Mehrabian’s 55%-38%-7% rule plays a key role; Keeping these proportions in mind will allow you to be much more effective and efficient in conveying your messages:

    • Preparation. On one occasion, William Churchill said: “I’ve been rehearsing all morning the phrase I’m going to improvise tonight”; It may seem paradoxical, but reality and many years of experience lead me to assure that the best spokespersons are those who have become aware of their responsibility as spokespersons and who dedicate time – a lot of time – to prepare themselves in depth for their requirements to be a good spokesperson.
    • Leave nothing to improvisation. Be clear about what you want to say and why; Don’t be long-winded in your explanations; Short, concise sentences are your best ally; Think about your target audience and tailor your message to their characteristics;
    • Taking care of the external image and corporeality. Remember that 55% of your audience’s attention is diverted to non-verbal communication, i.e.: how you dress; what accessories you wear; how your body posture is; the setting in which it happens… All of this will have a direct impact on the perception of the spokesperson and the entity he/she represents; The non-verbal communication deserves much more attention than it is often given because its impact is so high, but often goes unnoticed until it is analysed how the perception of the message has differed from the message itself. This happens a lot in political debates, for example;
    • If you are appearing before the media, it is important know very well how these work and the work of a journalist. The more you know about the journalist you are going to talk to, the media he or she works for, the topics he or she covers, etc., the better your spokesperson will be; As ‘everything communicates’ and although sometimes we are not aware of it, this demonstration of interest in the professional who is on the other side is fundamental;

Spokesperson training

One of the most important parts of communication consultancy is accompanying spokespersons in their appearances; And one of the commonplaces we face is the trivialisation of the spokesperson’s role; Being the highest representative of a company or an organisation is not synonymous with being a good spokesperson; Having had extensive experience as a spokesperson is no guarantee that you will always get it right;

Each appearance is unique; It doesn’t matter if you give an interview to the same media or the same journalist every year, if you give a speech at the shareholders’ meeting every year or if you present your financial results every six months; Each of these contacts with the organisation’s audiences is unique because the content has changed, the circumstances have changed, the context is not the same, current events influence you in different ways and you have changed;

The preparation of an appearance

It is therefore essential to ALWAYS prepare for any appearance; Spend some time imagining yourself in the moment, in the place, in front of the audience… This preliminary work must be carried out together with your communication team, which will prepare all the strategy and the necessary contents for an optimal work; Key to this will be:

      1. The previous preparation. Be very clear about the message you want to convey, the main idea that your audience will leave with, the headline of the news you would like to read; The structure is very simple: subject – verb – predicate (S+V+P); Prepare it; Repeat.
      2. Be clear about the objetive. Why are you making this appearance? If it is not clear to you, don’t face it; rather, postpone it;
      3. The audiences. Who are you going to address? This is important for the whole communication process because, depending on the audience you are addressing, this is how you should shape your action; Talking to journalists is not the same as talking to your employees or investors; Keep this in mind when preparing;
      4. The message. Remember the rule mentioned above: S+V+P. Construct the message accordingly; Repeat that headline (whether from a meeting with journalists or with other audiences) sometime and insist on it at the end of your presentation, as the most important thing they should not forget;
      5. The channel. An appearance before an audience of 1,000 people is not the same as a face-to-face meeting; Nor answer a journalist’s questions on the phone or on a television set; Being very clear about ‘where’ you are going to speak, shape your performance;
      6. Noise. Before you start speaking, consider whether the noise surrounding the topic is too much or too little; and by noise we don’t just mean other sounds that make listening difficult, but all the infoxication, current affairs, crises, etc. that may surround your presentation; Talking in a calm environment is not the same as talking after a chemical accident;
      7. The strategy. Knowing that what you are doing is part of an organised plan to achieve one or more objectives is essential; It allows you to see your performance from a global and much more coherent perspective;
      8. The action. Once all this groundwork has been organised, all you have to do is get going;

Conclusion;

Corporate spokespersons are the voices of their organisations, their highest representation and must have a thorough understanding of the company’s values, mission and objectives; The most important thing is a conscious preparation in line with the business and therefore communication strategy; They must be able to communicate complex information simply and clearly, deal with questions from their audiences confidently and professionally, respond to difficult questions and deal effectively with disputes;

In short, to professionalise the function of spokesperson as a fundamental element in the management of any company or organisation;

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