Doctor SpinPublic RelationsPublicity WorkGet Your Message Across Loud and Clear: How to Train a Spokesperson

Get Your Message Across Loud and Clear: How to Train a Spokesperson

tl;dr: Roll the camera to bypass biases and force self-correction.

How to train a spokesperson?

I’ve been training spokespersons and pitching their stories since 2005. Being a camera-shy introvert, I’ve got a profound respect for anyone prepared to step out into the spotlight.

Becoming a successful spokesperson can be daunting, but the outcome is valuable for both the organisation and the individual.

In this blog post, I’ll detail my process of how I start training corporate spokespersons (and why I always bring a video recorder).

Table of Contents

    People Connect With People

    We often talk about how people connect with different brands.

    But this kind of talk is usually a bit … off the mark.

    Sure, we know brands.
    But do we connect with brands?

    What we do is that we connect with people. And this is why it’s so important to have decent spokespersons — no matter the size of the organisation.

    Sure, we do have the ability to anthropomorphise (fancy word, hey?). And copywriters do go on about finding a brand’s unique voice.

    But if you want people to connect with your brand, you must populate your external interface with humans.

    ROI - Humans Influence Humans
    Humans influence humans. Image credit: Unknown.

    So, how do you train a spokesperson?

    The First Spokesperson Training

    I love coaching spokespeople.

    I’ll tell you how I do it — and then let you know why it works.

    1. Train for an Actual Appearance

    General practice is pointless.
    There must be an actual appearance coming up.

    The upcoming appearance will sharpen our practice sessions. The reality of the situation will give the choice of words meaning.

    2. Roll the Camera Already

    When we have a rough idea of what the spokesperson should be saying, I don’t bother about tonality, gimmicks, personas, tonality, choice of clothes etcetera.

    Instead, I start the video camera. Go!

    Since there is little to no preparation, the first attempts at conveying any type of message are typically useless.

    That’s fine. It’s supposed to be raw, unedited.
    It’s supposed to be a starting point.

    3. Allow for Self-Correction

    After each attempt, I play the video back. As we watch the footage, I ask the person in training what they think.

    Sometimes there’s nervous laughter. Sometimes there’s uncomfortable squirming. Sometimes, the mood gets serious.

    But without me having to give any notes whatsoever, the spokesperson immediately starts to self-correct.

    After going through a catalogue of emotions that comes from watching oneself deliver cringy corporate messages in an unprepared manner, the spokesperson soon wants to try again.

    So we record another try with a few self-corrections. And we keep doing this until the spokesperson starts to run out of ideas.

    In the meantime, I don’t give any notes at all.

    4. Socratic Questioning (Instead of Notes)

    Instead of giving notes, I practice Socratic Questioning:

    “Did you like or dislike the way you delivered the message? How did it feel when you changed your approach?”

    These types of questions can admittedly be annoying, but the spokesperson is often too engaged in their performance to bother about how I behave.

    Some might seek my approval during the process, but it’s easy to deflect and redirect their questions back at them.

    “What parts did you like? What parts do you want to change?”

    I usually try to keep this going, over and over again, for as long as the spokesperson can stomach this whole process.

    5. Finish by Explaining the Process

    When we’re nearing the end of the training session, either by sheer fatigue or scheduling constraints, some spokespersons start to think about my role in all of this.

    “Why is Jerry not giving me any good notes? Why is Jerry not telling me what to do — or what not to do?”

    Businesspeople want to know that they’re getting their money’s worth.

    So, I typically end the first training session by explaining why this process works:

    Why Camera-Training Works

    In our heads, we have these ideas about ourselves. From a PR coach’s perspective, these ideas are generally too biased to be helpful.

    People with confidence think they’re funny, cool, or good-looking. People without confidence believe they are boring, awkward, or ugly. People in-between tend to over-compensate left and right to find some balance that isn’t there.

    “Wouldn’t it be great if I always used this catchphrase or if I always wore yellow-tinted sunglasses indoors?”

    Well, maybe you can work those things out with your therapist later?

    If I sit down and talk to these people about how they want to be perceived, we enter the world of therapy. Not spokesperson training.

    Think of stand-up comedians who work hard for decades (and sometimes their whole careers) just to be able to be themselves on stage?

    When there’s a stage, a microphone, and an audience, our narcissistic biases goes haywire, and we start acting unnaturally. And this is what hitting the record button on a video camera will simulate.

    This is why I prefer to start working directly, not with biased self-images, but with what’s right then and there — on camera.

    Psychology: “Who Am I?”

    Training to deliver messages to an audience is paired with sometimes conflicting ideas of identity.

    Many fantastic public figures have certain trademarks that allow them to stand out. I know of an excellent Swedish economics professor who often makes public appearances in his t-shirts, his long black hair and black-painted fingernails. 1Micael Dahlén is a Swedish media figure and Economics Professor.

    As PR professionals, we love that stuff.

    But that’s not where it begins. Maybe you’re a person that rocks black fingernails, but those fingernails must be what remains when you’ve removed everything that’s not you.

    Finding your spokesperson persona is a process of elimination, not a method of adding quirky trademarks. 2When I give seminars on stage, I sometimes forget I’m in the public eye. At those moments, what shines through is a down-to-Earth person who is passionate about sharing thoughts and ideas about … Continue reading

    Down the road, trying out creative ideas to spice up public appearances or develop personas can be great fun. But it’s not a good place to start.

    The No. 1 Personality Trait

    Some argue that spokespeople should be charismatic, good-looking, intelligent, knowledgeable, and witty.

    In my experience with coaching spokespeople, those traits are liabilities long before they become assets.

    If we’re in a hurry, I’d prefer someone humble.

    Not just because humility is a good look on camera, but because a humble person is more likely to accept that practice, experience, and rigorous preparedness is the way to go.

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

    1 Micael Dahlén is a Swedish media figure and Economics Professor.
    2 When I give seminars on stage, I sometimes forget I’m in the public eye. At those moments, what shines through is a down-to-Earth person who is passionate about sharing thoughts and ideas about PR. But when I consciously think of myself, I think of myself as a razor-sharp spin doctor in the shadows, wearing a long dark coat and a head full of psychological strategies. As it stands, I’ve never been able to convey this image. However, when I forget about the spotlight, I ease into the role of a kind and patient educator who want to share his passion for PR. Which persona do you think I should be developing?


    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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