Capital Program Recap: “Managing Communication in Uncertain Times”

By Leslie Valenza, media and communications consultant

Begin at the end. Tell a story, but don’t bury your message. Tell your audience what they are about to hear – and more importantly – what they are going to gain by hearing it.

On July 13, the Capital Local Group of the LMA Mid-Atlantic Region hosted a program in which senior vice president Victoria Lion Monroe and senior consultant Michael Sigman of CommCore Consulting shared techniques to successfully engage with internal and external audiences on any platform, both in-person and virtually.

During these unprecedented and uncertain times, people are particularly busy and stressed. Monroe cautioned that when people are stressed, they are much less likely to retain information. She urged legal marketers to prepare clear and concise messages with three guiding principles in mind.

  • Communication is more about the audience and less about the speaker
  • It’s less about what the speaker knows and more about what the audience remembers
  • It’s less about quick thinking and more about long-term preparation

And, according to Monroe, preparation is key to “staying out of trouble” when communicating externally and internally. Being unprepared, using negative messages, speculating, speaking outside your area of expertise, and failing to decline media interviews at inopportune times are all ways to quickly land yourself in hot water.

Instead, Monroe advised using common sense, being honest, and acknowledging challenges your audience is facing to communicate effectively and earn trust during uncertain times. But before responding to tough questions, pause, count to 10, and think before you speak. When in doubt, apply the “Washington Post test,” and consider whether you’d want the paper to quote your statement.

“People don’t forgive fibbers easily,” Sigman added.

In presenting one of four communication strategies, Sigman noted a “H.E.R.O.” communicator is “honest, error-free, responsive, on-time, and on-message.”

To be a “persuasive” communicator, he outlined three key components to consider: the audience, the speaker, and the message.

Prepare three important messages, flag and repeat them three times to make them more memorable. When preparing messages, ask yourself, “So what? Who cares? What’s in it for the audience?”

When delivering messages, emphasize them with deliberate gestures, vocal inflections and facial expressions.

But if you are struggling to articulate your messages, P.R.E.P is a useful technique to overcome stubborn writer’s block, Sigman noted.

Using this technique, begin with stating your “position” or main point up front. Expand on it by explaining your “reason,” meaning why the issue or point is important. Provide “examples,” such as supporting statistics, facts, and stories. Conclude by outlining your “plan” for next steps, a call-to-action or restate your argument. But Sigman acknowledged that starting a communication with a “startling statistic” or a colorful story also is an effective way to engage an audience.

“People are hard wired for stories not data,” he said.

The speakers also shared tips for becoming better virtual presenters. Designing a backdrop that complements a virtual presentation is critical to eliminating distractions and creating a professional image. Key considerations to create a polished background include:

  • Lighting – beware of backlighting
  • Camera level – look straight into the camera, use gestures, and make eye contact. Avoid looking down at or up to your audience and avoid swiveling in your chair.
  • Sound – test microphone and earphone quality

Regardless of the technique you use, Sigman advised that you deliver your “bottom line up front.” Tell your audience what they are going to learn or gain from your communication and why they should care about the issue.

As Monroe stated, “Words matter.”

Whether communicating internally or externally, virtually or in-person, crafting messages that are clear, concise, and engaging is essential to making them memorable. And – perhaps the main takeaway from the presentation – preparation is critical for any communication.

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