Speaking on Television: Top 10 'Communication Tips' for Leaders

Written by: Ian Faria
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A chance to be heard, is a golden opportunity for any leader - who knows what he is doing. But, if a leader is not a competent communicator, then the same opportunity can quickly become a Damocles sword that can cut a leader to bits.

The underlying principles here can be used to create a favourable impact in any setting.... at home.. in the office... or at a social gathering. For the purpose of understanding these principles better, let's analyse how you, (as a politician) could do better in a TV studio.

1. Always Be Prepared

A reasonably confident TV anchor can and will focus on the areas where you are apparently weak. Their job is to try and expose you as much as possible. The more prominent and ambitions anchors will use whatever they have at their disposal to uncover what they think is the truth. You should be able to see through this. Do not get put off, or disoriented by even the toughest onslaught. The more you know about your subject, the better you will be in front of the camera. The less you know... the weaker you are and the more inept you will appear. Be good to yourself. Prepare well.

2. You are your own best friend

The anchor is not going to try and make you look like a star (unless you are being felicitated for some exceptional achievement of yours. Then, they will pander to your ego, and make a hero out of you). In all other cases, they will try to uncover, or discover some hidden titbit that can make headlines for them, and convert you into fodder. However nice they may appear, they can become a predator as soon as they spot a weakness in you. Be kind to yourself. Be firm with the anchor. A tough TV interview is a battle. Don't trust anyone.

3. Be Genuine, and Nice

Underneath the hype, the rhetoric and the posturing, you should have a solid base of niceness... and credibility. Trust is best built on a foundation of likeability. We normally trust only the people we like. It is difficult to trust people we dislike. The more genuine you come across as a person, the more you will be liked and believed. People normally do not change their first impressions of you. (Tip: Likeability is very difficult to fake... so just be genuinely nice.)

4. Build Rapport

Rapport with your anchor/s can be one of your best insurance policies. We have an inherent need to like people who are like us. Remember ... people will find it extremely hard to hurt you if you are like them. If the anchor tends to raise the volume of his voice, then you too should match the increased volume. If they are soft and foxy, then you should try to be the same. We get along better with people who seem to be like us.

5. Construct Bridges

A bridge is one of the most powerful techniques to move from one area of discussion to another. Most of our politicians mess up when trying to out of a weak area. The reason is that they do not construct a proper bridge out of their weak area into their strength area. Take for example a TV anchor who is asking you a question such as "Would you like to apologize today for your party's role in the ABCD massacre?" In this question there is an implied judgement. Only someone who is guilty needs to apologize. If you apologize, it could be perceived as an acceptance of guilt. The way to answer such a question is... "Surely IF there is clear proof of the crime having been committed by our party... an apology would be in order. In fact... (use a temporary bridge) we have done exactly that in the WXYZ matter. However, I feel we are missing out on another point that has even greater significance. (Here is where your main bridge can be used) Let me for a moment refer to....." This move from an area of weakness... to an area of strength.... Is called ‘bridging'. A good leader has to know when and how to bridge.

6. Be Honest

A TV interview will be played back time and time again. Unfortunately they will not play back the parts where you are strong. They will play back the areas where there was a faux pas... or where fact was dubious. Gone are the days where one could say... "I have been misquoted." Today TV replays are instantaneous and can be played back to great effect. An honest mistake will be forgiven. A blatant attempt to lie will come back to haunt you. Bill Clinton became public enemy #1 not because of the Lewinsky episode... but because he lied under oath. If you think your answer will have huge repercussions, then you are within your rights to say "I am not clear about the answer to that question" or you could say "I will need to check the facts before answering that."

7. Be Confident

If the TV anchor thinks that you are a sacrificial lamb, you will be treated exactly like that. If you expect to be treated like a lion, then show confidence and speak slowly. You are on the programme because you have value that the viewers would like to know more about. As an expert, hold your head high, and know that you are there for a reason. The channel will try to see how they can exploit your value or your vulnerability. You should know what you want from the channel. The platform can surely be leveraged once you know how the anchor normally behaves and communicates. Watching past episodes would give you a clear insight into the mind of the anchor. Knowing your adversary is half the battle won.

8. Stall, Ask, Think Ahead

If you are being interrupted, you have a right to ask for time to finish your answer. In the meantime, you should use the power of your mind to work on multiple channels (because we think 7 times faster than we can speak) as you figure out what answer to give to the question being asked. Use general statements. Many of the political spokespersons use this technique. The say general things like... "That is a great question... however... " or "It is not often that I get a chance to answer a question like this.... " or... "I am wondering why you asked me this question... instead of asking... " or... "I really don't see a direct correlation between this issue and.... " Meanwhile, let your mind start to figure out what exactly you would like to say.

9. Be Politically Correct

Even if you have to make a negative point about the opponent, say it in a way that does not lower your brand. Leaders should be role models, not street fighters. Sadly some of our anchors behave like local bullies when they try to outshout the people on a panel. Ideally, one should not speak about someone who is not present, as they do not have the ability to defend themselves. Better to err on the side of caution, than to say something that you may regret.

10. Power of Questions

A leader can use the power of questions to put the anchor (or another panellist) on the defensive. A clarifying or a probing question is also a great way to take the heat of yourself. It also shows that you are paying enough attention to the point being discussed.
All in all, while being on TV is a great opportunity to showcase your cause or your campaign, it is also a high risk place to be. Follow the points made above and you will be in a much better position to create lasting impact. Remember, a leader has to be a good speaker first. I wish you all the very best as you become a leader of stature.

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(Ian Faria is a Leadership Trainer and Executive Coach)

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