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?


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