The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management (where I serve on the faculty) was kind enough to publish an article of mine recently. In case you missed it, here it is.
Some association and chamber executives are enthusiastic when it comes to improving their communications skills. Others? Well, not so much.
What can you do to motivate those reluctant leaders? During my 18 years as a communications training consultant, I’ve encountered a question from public affairs and communications officers seeking media training for their top executives. They ask, “What can I do to get my leadership to take their communications responsibilities seriously?”
Let’s examine two facets to this quandary, one internal, the other external. On the internal front, it boils down to a matter of trust between your C-level officers and your communications and public affairs staff. Providing firm and accurate guidance in both routine and crisis conditions helps establish that stature. Yes, some communicators already have an enhanced status thanks to years in the trenches and a parade of accomplishments. For many, however, it takes time to develop trusted bonds. As they gain the reputation as the go-to experts, their opinions, including those concerning media training, will be more immediately accepted.
Now let us turn to the external angle. When seeking outside expertise, it is imperative that you choose a true communications training consultant—an expert who has dedicated himself over many years to the art of training, messaging, and strategy. One sure way to lose face with your C-level executives is to settle for a generalist just out to make a quick buck off your association or chamber.
Additionally, let your leaders know how and why you arrived at your decision, and give them some concise biographical information on your consultant. Include information about books, research reports, position papers, and other thought leadership materials he or she has published. Also forward his or her web site address to those he or she will be working with, along with any relevant new media channels.
Another point that will solidify both your choice of consultant and your standing in your executives’ eyes: Work with a consultant who is fearless about speaking truth to power. Quivering while doling out important messaging and communications advice fails to inspire confidence. In most cases, you don’t need an in-your-face approach (politeness matters). All the same, your communications training consultant must be willing to lay the cards on the table if your organization wants to win in the court of public opinion.
My clients often smile when I tell them of my standing deal: Let me know ahead of time about specific issues you are having with particular executives. These issues can range from a failure to internalize your messages to a tendency to berate reporters to a myriad of other shortfalls. Learning about these idiosyncrasies ahead of time allows me to shine a light on them during our work together (with none of the communications staffer’s fingerprints evident), raise them in the normal course of our engagement, and deal with them successfully.
You also get a two-fold benefit when you opt for the consultant who fits your needs best. Of course, it fulfills your main goal of fortifying your organization’s messaging and your executives’ communications skills. It also gives you a real career boost, strengthening your reputation as the internal communications expert.
And here’s an extra bonus tip: Pick your communications training consultant’s brain at every step of your project. The true pros want to help fellow communicators learn and to help them along in their careers.
That’s admittedly a quick review to the touchy question, “What can I do to get my leadership to take media training seriously?”
Your turn. What other ideas do you have when trying to persuade your executives to look at media training as a positive experience, both for them and for your business?