Category Archives: professional development

Spokespersons are Nurtured

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By Katherine Kerr, APR

It is a rare soul who wants to grow up and be a spokesperson. However, many people are thrust into that role by necessity. If you’re fortunate, it’s because something good has happened. If something negative has happened, the experience can be downright awful.

The goal in the latter situation is to do no further harm. In other words, you want to do what is right and do what you can to protect your organization’s reputation and financial standing.

The first step is being prepared, as in the Boy Scout motto. That doesn’t mean you have a contingency plan for every possible situation. Rather it means you have a broad strategy for addressing a variety of negative scenarios.

Recently I spent a day in Washington, D.C., helping train every-day American Muslims on how to speak up for their faith. They know too well how much misinformation has been spread about their religion and how hostile members of the media have been toward people who identify as Muslims. The result has created a deep and unwarranted fear of Muslims and rampant Islamophobia.

During the workshop, I started by discussing about what and who the media are, what they want and how to “feed the beast.” We talked about the importance of responding promptly to media inquiries and about having prepared talking points to address Frequently Asked Questions (and Allegations).

I gave them a six-point rubric for addressing potential crises. We also talked about the need to remain calm, to ask for time to gather thoughts and to prepare. And, since we were in Washington, we discussed and practiced the tactic of pivoting when a question is asked in a way that doesn’t allow for a fair response.

While working through a case study, members of the group quickly realized they need to prepare for potential crises within their own communities. They can’t wait for the news vans to roll up before having a plan in place.

I divided the participants into pairs and assigned them to respond to “what ifs,” based on some real-life scenarios that had been discussed throughout the workshop. At the end of that exercise, they practiced interviewing each other using the tactics I had taught.

When the workshop concluded, each each of the individuals felt empowered to be a more effective spokesperson for their religion.

The same process can be adapted for other organizations and movements. Success depends on nurturing communications skills, personally and as a group.

Are you ready to step up as a spokesperson?


Change Pews (and Perspectives)!

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Every Sunday my curmudgeonly great uncle and my great aunt got up an hour and a half early to get the prime parking space at their church, the handicapped spot right next to the sanctuary entrance. The space one over, or two over, wasn’t good enough (we’re talking 6-8 feet for heaven’s sake!). If someone beat him to “their” space he would grumble all day.

Even worse, though, was if somebody was sitting in “their” place in “their” pew. In most churches, there are no assigned seats or reserved spots. But if you go week after week, you see the same folks sitting in the same places. And if someone new has the audacity to inadvertently sit in someone’s seat, it tends to cause a shift in the universe. Or so you would think.

The same phenomenon happens in the workplace. You see employees occupy the same seats during staff meetings. Occasionally, I would break ranks and sit on the opposite side of the table or room. Or, shift from the front to the back, or a combination of the two. That decision would cause a bit of stir, often accompanied with jokes about going to the “dark side.”

… if someone new has the audacity to inadvertently sit in someone’s seat, it tends to cause a shift in the universe. Or so you would think.

That small change would mean I’d learn that the staff member I thought was diligently responding to emails was really playing Candy Crush on her phone or checking out the latest pics of the grandkids. Or the person scribbling away wasn’t taking notes, but instead was doodling three-dimensional boxes.

Changing places not only gave me a different view in the meetings, it also gave me opportunities to build relationships with colleagues I didn’t usually sit by in these gatherings.

At professional development and networking meetings, people from the same company or agency tend to sit together at a table.

Recently I was at a professional association meeting in which five people from the same department at a company sat together at an eight-top. Other than cursory introductions, I didn’t have a conversation with any of them. Throughout the lunch they talked among themselves, which not only is rude but defeats the primary purpose of such meetings, which is to get to know other colleagues in your field.

When I supervised a staff of three (plus an intern on occasion), I had a rule that we were not to sit together at these outside meetings. We represented a nonprofit agency and our role as communicators was to increase awareness of our brand and the services we provided. Staff members understood that talking up our agency was part of their jobs at the rubber chicken lunches.

As a small business owner, I intentionally look to sit with people I don’t know so I can build my brand and seek out the types of clients I serve. Why pay for an overpriced lunch or a training session if you don’t meet new people? Making quickie introductions and exchanging cards on the way out the door is much less effective than actually getting to know someone during the program.

Why pay for an overpriced lunch or a training session if you don’t meet new people?

I heard of a pastor, who was a disrupter before the label became ubiquitous, preached in one of those multi-functional spaces where there were no pews bolted the floor. Rather, chairs were set up in rows and a pulpit rolled out to the “front” of the worship space.

One day at the beginning of the service, he rolled the pulpit to the back of the room and instructed everyone to turn their chairs around. This provided a new perspective for both the pastor and the congregants. Those who clung to the back row were now nearly face to face with the pastor. People who were normally behind certain parishioners were now in front of them. Instead of being on the right side of the room, they now had a left-side angle on the action.

Not only did the pastor shake things up, he forced people into a new way of seeing the service and created opportunities for new interactions.

I get that it is fun to catch up with your friends and is less threatening to sit with people you know. And, it can be enlightening if you choose to be bold, be smart and, despite what your parents told you, it’s okay to talk to strangers.