When you’re talking to prospects, customers, the press, colleagues, or any stakeholder, it is important to STAY ON MESSAGE. What does that mean? Don’t let yourself get sidetracked; make sure you get your message across.
I learned this years ago when Texas Instruments sent me to media training in advance of my stint as Technology Spokesperson. TI had an impressive television studio in their Dallas headquarters and we were put through the paces. I learned some of the tricks that television and radio personalities use to get the answers they want. These include asking or saying the following:
- “Is it A or B (or C)?” They give you an either/or or a multiple choice question and try to force you to answer with one of their pre-formed answers.
- “What do you think? Yes or No?” Again, they are trying to force you to answer a question one way or the other.
- “So and so person said ‘Blah.’ What do you think about that (or that person)?” Here they are trying to draw you into commenting on something that someone else supposedly said. They also may be trying to create some controversy and to get you to besmear that person.
There are many other tricks, but you get the point. Each of these diverts you from talking about what is important to you.
Want to see someone who is good at staying on message? Watch a polished politician or one of their handlers. Robert Gibbs or David Axelrod come to mind. Neither guy allows himself to be boxed in and rarely says anything negative about anyone or any situation. Each says exactly what he wants to say that will put the president in the best light and STAYS ON MESSAGE.
How do they do that? Let’s say the question (and I picked something silly on purpose) was posed to Robert Gibbs at a press conference: “Is it true that the president made a derogatory comment that growing rutabagas is a waste of money and energy?” Here’s an example of a reporter trying to force a Yes or No answer. Robert Gibbs, not wanting to offend rutabaga farmers, might say “The president supports the struggling farmers and has put together a stimulus plan to provide funding for them during these tough economic times.” Did that answer the original question? No, it didn’t. What is important is that he STAYED ON MESSAGE and said what was important to the White House.
The next time you’re in a situation where you’re handling questions from an audience, are speaking to the press, are in a meeting with a customer, are conducting a meeting, or even are in an interview, you don’t have to take the bait and answer a question as it’s posed. All you have to remember is to STAY ON MESSAGE — your message, not someone else’s.