Jonathan Spencer

Spokespeople – do you have what it takes?

Job descriptions can boast bottomless competencies listed for any role – desired or essential... / By Jonathan Spencer

Job descriptions can boast bottomless competencies listed for any role – desired or essential. In the City of London, I presume a construction worker lists herculean courage and all-round circus performer, as I witness him abseil from a window still missing on the Scalpel’s 30th floor (the city’s newest skyscraper). Whilst a postman doubles as a dog-handler – or lion-tamer – through gated suburbs.

Certainly, a shipmaster juggles shining admin skills to match his or her fire-fighting abilities, on a level with a press officer’s nous in herding cats – or journalists – following any press conference.  

So, what – or rather who – makes a good spokesperson? There’s a tanker-load of potential out there, and much of this still to uncover.

But perhaps I should be putting you at ease by saying very loudly at this point that not all are spokespeople. Turning to jelly in front of a camera, shying away from a microphone thrust in front of your nose – it isn’t for everyone. However, ask not what your company or fleet can do for you, ask what you can do for your fleet.

We remember lines that had impact: I have a dream… We will never surrender. There are known knowns; there are things we know we know... Blessed are the peacemakers… I’m not suggesting we compete, but better to be known for something compelling, something that we know and not a fudged compromise of uncertainty. Attentions are limited – you do have to grab them.

Where is the credibility weighted when a crisis comes? Where is the wealth of technical expertise; that concise, calm and compassionate response? Or simply the gravitas for getting a tough job done.

Er, um, dunno …ask me one on cricket? You don’t say that to a journalist, but taken at face value:

Er, um… You’ve heard this in any broadcast interview – and in every conversation you’ve had ship-to-shore and vice versa. This comes from not knowing how to answer – it is the automated egg-timer response known as thinking time. Much the same as when a politician reaches for the glass of water. Spokespeople are prepared. They know what they are going to say 10 minutes beforehand, even if they didn’t know they were to be a spokesperson when they woke up.

Dunno… Well, that’s not quite true. You would never be put up for a media interview if you didn’t know something informative or helpful to say about an incident. Unable to answer that, but what I can confirm is… Pretty much the same thing. Far better. You don’t know one thing, but you surely know something else. 

Ask me one on cricket? Well, best not try that live, although the camera crew may indulge you. Put simply, we communicate best on the subjects that hold our interest. It’s why we engage with others – those on training courses – on the things that come to mind, recollections of the last 24 hours etc. We might even warm up a spokesperson on a topic left of field – as we build on the key points to get across, coherently framed for the interview itself.

Whether it be a new government minister unsure of the brief, a commander tip-toeing around a sensitive special op, or a football manager off-side on a chat show – I’ve met the best of them… and heard the worst. It’s the practice that is everything, and it’s practice we can give you. We anticipate the toughest questions, ask what you least want to be asked – and then ask you it – so we have an answer banked.

Training can be hard graft, but it does instil confidence: answers rehearsed to really land the point; evasive tactics to help regain the narrative – the story we want to get across – ensuring we reach an audience in very limited time.

Preparedness means you are never left on your own, even if it feels like it.

The skills and attributes come at all levels. It’s sincerity, clarity, and openness; the ability to hold the right tone and resolve for the company. It takes someone who is available, to step up when it’s required of them. A team player, neither under nor overwhelmed by the pressure weighing on the shoulders. At Navigate Response we help carry that weight. 

After all, I would struggle to extinguish a fire on the foredeck, not having drilled for it. And I’ll leave the climbing to cats.

It’s not about saying you had a dream this afternoon – not least if you haven’t – but you might say, I had an update in the last twenty minutes. And if that was direct from the bridge of your tanker on fire, your credibility and transparency will really count. 

Email: jonathan.spencer@navigateresponse.com

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