Communications Training: The Three Vital Elements

Some communications and government relations pros labor under a false impression when it comes to training their C-suite to reach out to reporters, policymakers, and other audiences. They believe that their consultant’s sole duty is to make their executives talk pretty. Guess again.

Any worthwhile training endeavor consists of three core elements:

  1. Message development
  2. Skills enhancement
  3. A sustained professional development plan

1 2 3

Message Development

Message development is the one area where many training programs fall apart. This applies to media training, presentation skills schooling, and legislative testimony preparation.

Some companies do take messaging seriously and have crafted magnetic messages. In my experience, however, they are a distinct minority. Sadly, this same truth exists if you employ a public relations or public affairs agency to help with message development. Some are quite skilled, but too many fail to grasp the difference between airtight messaging and a laundry list of disjointed bullet points.

You have a choice regarding message development. Option one involves hammering out your messages in advance of the workshop. This is by far the most effective approach for it allows your executives to begin to internalize the material before the practice interviews take place.

It is important that you share your messages with your consultant as soon as practical. I like to get them from my clients early in the planning process, even if in draft form. Odds are there is no one on your staff as experienced at message development as a veteran communications strategy consultant. You are paying good money for that service. Get all you can from it.

Be sure your senior internal communications staffer sits in on the workshop. This not only adds to the quality of the learning experience, it boosts credibility with your C-suite.

Option two is to create messages during your training. Just understand that this will result in a lengthier session and stands to drain time from the experiential exercises. One way around this is to call in your consultant to lead a separate messaging session before your training occurs.

Remain open to sensible changes as you go through the messaging process. It is a dynamic procedure. Nothing is ever etched in stone.

Skills Development

Alright, let’s get to the “talking pretty” part. Your consultant should ask about the types of interview situations the participants are likely to face. Effective simulations involve more than simply trotting your executives willy-nilly in front of a camera.

All simulations – or practice interviews – should be recorded to video. This applies even if your executives are not expected to appear on television. Why? Viewing and critiquing the video immediately after the fact represents the most powerful learning moments participants are likely to encounter.

Even print reporters are watching for nonverbal signals. A video critique demonstrates vividly body language pluses and minuses. And remember to insist on a professional videographer to capture the interviews.

Setting up a practice interview for a satellite media tour opportunity, for example, involves different parameters than a telephone interview by a print reporter or a podcast. Your training consultant and videographer need to be adept at creating as closely as possible the atmosphere of the real thing.

Sustained Professional Development

Neglect the value of post-session feedback at your peril. Remember, this is not a one-off proposition. Rather, it is a single step in your C-suite’s professional development.

I admit to being stubborn about this, but I have witnessed too many organizations content to say their spokespeople have been “media trained” just because they have gone through one session.

Smart businesses comprehend the learning continuum and embrace it. Assuming you fall into that category, be sure to ask your consultant about his commitment to sustained learning at the very beginning of your professional relationship. Does he offer post-training consultation via telephone or email? Follow-up workshops? What lifelong learning materials does he leave with his students?

Presuming your consultant is a thought leader in his field, does he leave your executives with a copy of his books or training guide? (Note: Ask some detailed questions about the materials he offers. Some organizations will settle for a handful of quick copied sheets stapled together; others prefer a publication that can advance learning in stages over time).

Never Neglect the Three Crucial Elements

As you begin planning for your next communications training program, bear in mind these three vital elements: Messaging, skills advancement, and sustained professional development. Neglect even one of them and your project — and your C-suite — is likely to fall flat on its face.

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