The Public Relations BlogMedia & PsychologyMedia RelationsHow to Media Train a Spokesperson: Get Your Message Across

How to Media Train a Spokesperson: Get Your Message Across

Roll the camera to bypass biases and force self-correction.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

How to train a spokesperson?

I’ve been train­ing spokes­per­sons and pitch­ing their stor­ies since 2005. As a cam­era-shy intro­vert, I pro­foundly respect any­one pre­pared to enter the spotlight.

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

Here we go:

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. A brand’s unique voice can be established.

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

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 explain 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 say, I don’t both­er about ton­al­ity, gim­micks, per­so­nas, choice of clothes, etc.

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 self-corrects.

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 runs 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) to be able to be them­selves on stage.

When there’s a stage, a micro­phone, and an audi­ence, our nar­ciss­ist­ic biases go 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 who 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.

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 Stoic.

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

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please con­sider shar­ing my pub­lic rela­tions blog with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. If you have ques­tions (or want to retain my PR ser­vices), please con­tact me at jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR: The Stoic PR Professional

Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The Stoic PR Professional

I’m inspired by Stoicism — and intrigued by the idea of trans­lat­ing clas­sic­al Stoic vir­tues (wis­dom, cour­age, justice, tem­per­ance) and apply­ing them to pub­lic relations:

The Wisdom Pitch

A Stoic is someone who trans­forms fear into prudence, pain into trans­form­a­tion, mis­takes into ini­ti­ation, and desires into under­tak­ing.”
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Tell PR stor­ies of how organ­isa­tions can be wise and over­come obstacles that have stopped oth­ers in their tracks. Convey PR mes­sages on how to apply wis­dom, know­ledge, and experience.

The Courage Pitch

We can­not choose our cir­cum­stances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
— Epictetus

Tell PR stor­ies of brands that nev­er back down in the face of hard­ships that would lay waste to oth­er organ­isa­tions. Convey PR mes­sages of how an organ­isa­tion can be right­eous even when storms are raging.

The Justice Pitch

Concentrate every minute on doing what’s in front of you with pre­cise and genu­ine ser­i­ous­ness, ten­derly, will­ingly, with justice.”
— Marcus Aurelius

Tell PR stor­ies of how organ­isa­tions relent­lessly can strive for hon­esty and trans­par­ency — even when uncom­fort­able. Convey PR mes­sages about how all brands, without excep­tion, can rid them­selves of dis­hon­esty and incompetence.

The Temperance Pitch

It’s not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”
— Seneca

Tell PR stor­ies of organ­isa­tions that strive for high­er val­ues in a world where all oth­er organ­isa­tions suf­fer short­sighted­ness. Convey PR mes­sages of organ­isa­tions pre­pared to abstain from short-term gains to make the world bet­ter for all.

Learn more: Stoic Philosophy for PR Professionals

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

PR Resource: The High Road Tonality

Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The High Road Tonality

An organ­isa­tion is the total sum of all its cowork­ers. Imagine tak­ing the most mature traits from each cowork­er and com­bin­ing them into one voice — the High Road Tonality.

  • Openness. A mature organ­isa­tion under­stands that every­one must be allowed to express their thoughts and opinions.
  • Fairness. A mature organ­isa­tion will see (and respect) both sides of a divis­ive argument.
  • Strength. A mature organ­isa­tion is con­fid­ent in its chosen strategies and acquired abil­it­ies, not because they’re per­fect, but because they are grounded.
  • Wisdom. A mature organ­isa­tion will take their time to explain com­plex top­ics without condescending.
  • Humility. A mature organ­isa­tion under­stands that no one can have everything com­pletely figured out and that we all have learn­ing and grow­ing to do.

Learn more: The High Road Tonality: Don’t Be Pushed Around

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

1 Micael Dahlén is a Swedish media fig­ure and Economics Professor.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has


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