Seven Characteristics of a Great Spokesperson

By Sam Brune

This week, TREW Marketing is on the road, conducting a press tour with a client who recently introduced a new product. As we prepped, we were reminded of the factors behind a successful technical press meeting, and one of the most important: a great spokesperson.

Seven Characteristics of a Great SpokespersonDuring a press meeting, your technical spokesperson becomes the voice of your company as he or she shares with the press a story and message that will be written and later read by your target audience. While often the person is an expert on the product or technology, they are less often comfortable or experienced telling that story to an external media audience. However, the strength of your spokesperson makes a significant difference in how your company is covered by the press, and in some instances, whether it’s covered at all.

So, if you, or someone you know, may be called on to serve as a technical spokesperson for your company, here are seven traits that can transform a technical expert into a great spokesperson.

Transform a technical expert into a great spokesperson

A great technical spokesperson:

1. Knows the Audience

When speaking to products, technologies and your expertise, it is important that you keep the audience in mind. While your wealth of knowledge is a key strength, it must be communicated effectively to be impactful.

Members of the technical/engineering press come from both technical and non-technical backgrounds, and their readers represent a variety of knowledge levels. Editors also are expected to cover a lot of topics in any given week, so even if they are engineers themselves, their knowledge is often very wide, but not very deep. Because of this, it is important that you tailor discussion based on their knowledge level and don’t assume they know what you are talking about.

Some ways that you can tailor your messages include:

  • For editors with a nontechnical/journalism background: Spend more time explaining why a product specification or feature will be important to users, how it (product, approach, application, etc.) has been done before, and why your new way is better
  • For editors with strong technical background: Prepare for more questions about competitors, product specifications and comparisons to alternatives
  • For publications that reach key verticals (energy, machine, etc.): Share customer examples from the industry covered that are relevant to their reader (e.g., if you’re talking to a mil/aero editor, don’t lead with an energy example). 

2. Captures Attention

Companies (including your competitors) approach editors everyday with coverage ideas, and editors must choose which ideas appeal most to their readers. To receive coverage in a publication, effective technical spokespeople must first capture the attention of the editor and draw them in to the story you’d like to tell.

capture the attention of the editor

Some ways to capture editor attention include:

  • Start out by telling the editor exactly what you will cover in the next 30 min (don’t have more than 30 min of content)
  • Get to a product demo (if applicable) within about 5 min of your presentation – less powerpoint and more demonstration/discussion
  • Use case studies (or real-world example use cases if you can’t mention real customers) to illustrate your points versus just stating them
  • Demonstrate your own passion for the topic
  • Involve the editor by asking questions about their knowledge or thoughts on the topic

3. Helps the Editor Draft His or Her Article

As an editor conducts a press meeting, they’re gathering information and often deciding if and how they’d like to cover it. Because of this, the way that you present information can have a huge impact on what is written, and how your story is presented. A great spokesperson crafts and presents his or her story in a way so the editor has written the headline and outlined the article by the end of the meeting.

Some tips to help the editor draft his/her article outline through your press meeting include:

  • Tell the editor what you’re going to say and then say it.
    • Lead with your main message or what you would like the headline to be. Then, validate it with examples. End the conversation by restating your main message (i.e. your dream headline).
  • Create article sections by using numbered lists.
    • If there are three key benefits of your new product, state this. Then, address each benefit individually in more detail.
  • Use customer applications (or example use cases) to illustrate the benefits.
    • A story is already baked into a case study. Take advantage of this, and use your customer’s success story to help you tell yours.

4. Adjusts

As much as you think your story is great, sometimes people aren’t interested. At TREW, we have had editors be so uninterested, they have fall asleep! In this case, it is your challenge to adjust to make it even more interesting.

A great spokesperson doesn’t just run through their presentation with an editor, but is also aware and listens. When an editor becomes disinterested, a great spokesperson adjusts.

Some tips for adjusting include:

  • Ask the editor if they’ve had experience with the product/technology/application you’re discussing
  • Ask the editor what they’re seeing in industry
  • Relate what you’re talking about to past articles the editor has written (this requires researching his or her past related articles, which is always a smart idea)
  • Ask the editor if he or she working on any article ideas related to your topic

5. Speaks to the Industry

Editors serve as a trusted, third-party source of information to their readers, and they take this seriously. They want to create content that is helpful and impactful to their readers, and this often means addressing industry challenges from a broad viewpoint.

To build trust with editors and establish your company as a trusted resource, it is important to communicate that you understand the challenges that readers face and can speak to it beyond the specific interest of promoting your company.

Some tips for speaking to industry trends include:

  • Know – and have an opinion – about the trends in your industry
  • Be aware of what your competitors are doing and don’t be afraid to acknowledge it, if their activity supports your message
    • It is OK to talk about your competitors – the editors are following them too; you can speak about competitors and differentiate your offerings or stance on trends without bad-mouthing them, which is never a good idea
    • Avoid jargon or terms that are specific to your company, unless your company is working to emphasize a specific term to assert thought leadership
6. Use Real-World Examples

One of the best ways to validate your main message is by providing real-world examples. An example can be used as a bullet point in a story or as the meat. A great spokesperson comes prepared with real-world examples that support their key messages and are relevant to the audience.

Real-world examples can be sourced from:

  • Your customers
  • Big companies or “media darlings” – companies often covered by the press
  • Industry trends
  • Un-named, generic example use cases based on real customer examples
  • Other vendors

7. Closes

Finally, a great spokesperson closes. After you’ve captured the attention of your press audience, outlined the article, provided examples and proven yourself to be a trusted resource, you should restate your key messages and secure interest.

A great spokesperson isn’t afraid to end a meeting by asking:

  • Was this information helpful? Which news shared was most interesting to you?
  • Is this something you think you will cover?
  • Are there any additional materials we can supply for your article, such as product or application images?
  • Will you be at XYZ trade show? If so, can we set up a time for you to come by the booth?

 

Cheers to the great spokespeople

From all PR people, we say cheers to the great spokespeople out there and to the works in progress. If you can stick to these 7 tips, you’ll surely be a success. If you have any of your own suggestions, please let us know!

Learn more about developing your skills as a spokesperson along with how to improve your brand positioning and messaging by downloading our free ebook, Smart Messaging for Engineers.

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