Why You Need to Know What You're Going to Say
As I watched the news coverage on Monday of Prime Minister Trudeau's visit to Washington to meet with US President Donald Trump, I counted the number of "ahs" that Trudeau was uttering as he made his post-meeting remarks at a news conference. I can report that seems to be getting better.
That's right. As everyone else was critiquing the handshake between the two leaders, reading between the lines of what was said and even whether Trump really liked Trudeau, I was counting the number of "ahs" as Trudeau was speaking. It's been an issue for him since he's been elected and I'm sure his people have been working on it with him.
There's an easy way to remove the "ahs" and "umms" from your vocabulary. Just know what you're going to say before you say it.
It's 3am - Where Were You?
When I do media training, I illustrate importance of knowing what you’re going to say before you say it by telling the group “If I came home at 3:00 in the morning and my wife said, where in the hell have you been, I had better know what to say before I said it or I would be in big trouble”. If I would pause, stumble or mumble, my wife would know I was doing something I shouldn’t have been. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never done this in almost 33 years of marriage, but the example depicts the point quite well.
If you want to be an effective communicator, whether it’s to the news media in an interview, or speaking to others at work, you have to learn how to know what you’re going to say before you say it.
What tends to happen is, when we don’t know what our next words will be, we fill the space with words and sounds including “well, umm, ahh, like” and others. We feel forced not to create what we used to call in the radio business “dead air”, which basically means silence.
People need to get over the belief that dead air in a conversation is a bad thing. It’s not. It can also show you’re choosing your words correctly to say the right thing because the conversation is important to you and it’s a sign of respect for the person you’re speaking to.
I often tell people during media training that when they speak to reporters, there are no gold stars for quick answers, there are only gold stars for good answers. People feel if they can spew out an answer to a reporter’s question immediately it shows they know what to say and they’re prepared. The problem is, most interviews are recorded and nobody watching, or listening to the interview will know how quickly the answer was given, so take a moment, think about what you want to say and then deliver the answer with impact.
Talking Slower Gives You More Presence
I always tell my training sessions that people speaking to the media can have far more impact if they slow down and try to ensure their words have meaning and impact. I usually then speak very quickly to remind everyone of how people comprehend less when the other person speaks quickly. If you speak a little slower it gives your words added meaning and provides more presence.
I suggest people who normally speak at a fast pace try to over-emphasize syllables when they prepare for, and do media interviews. That’s because when the adrenalin is pumping like it is during a media interview, people normally speak faster, and as a result their speech pattern tends to be too fast for most people listening to the interview to follow.
When you watch people speak on television, forget about what they’re saying and concentrate on how they’re saying it. Do they speak too quickly and as a result their words lose impact? You’ll find there aren’t many people who speak too slowly.
Media Interview Tips
Don’t forget that although it may seem like you’re having a conversation with a reporter when being interviewed, it really isn’t. The questions from the reporter are just triggers for you to talk about what you want to talk about, allowing you to get your key messages in and sound bites used.
You really are talking through the reporter to the reporter’s audience, so that’s another reason you don’t need to give a quick response, or speak too slowly. The reporter is only going to want to pull a sound bite or two from the interview, so make sure you speak slow enough to allow him or her to use the ones they want.
If you’re doing a recorded interview and make a mistake or stumble, ask the reporter if he or she can ask the question again so you can give a better response. Remember they only want a couple of good sound bites and they won’t mind asking the question again.
Preparation For a Great Media Interview
So how do you figure out what you’re going to say before you say it? It really gets down to practicing before you do the actual interview. Figure out the questions you’ll be asked and what you’ll say in response and then practice your answers. Get a friend or a co-worker to play reporter and do a couple of mock interviews before you do the actual interview.
This allows you to work out the kinks and get used to saying certain words and phrases. Everyone has words that present challenges for them to say. For me it’s the word “regularly”, so I’ve leaned never to use it. Instead I’ll always say “On a regular basis.” It’s longer but I know I can say it. If certain words trip you up, find a way around them. That’s all part of good preparation.
Speaking With Impact
The most important thing to understand about the need to know what you’ll say before you say it is that chances are you’ll say it better. As an example, let’s say you’re talking about what your industry trade association is forecasting for an improvement in business in 2017 and you expect to see a 5.7 percent increase. If you’re struggling to remember what the exact percentage increase will be, chances are you’ll start to use an “umm” or an “ahh” as you try to buy time to remember what the percentage increase is. If you’ve prepared properly and know it’s 5.7 percent, chances are you’ll provide the response with confidence, no hesitation and no stumbles.
A good tip is, when you’re preparing for an interview and want to increase your chances of remembering numbers, write them by hand before the interview. You’ll likely remember them better.
Of course knowing what to say before you say it is a skill that’s vitally important in workplace conversation too. A great way to practice this is to force yourself not to immediately respond when you’re talking to someone at work. Take an extra second or two to respond, giving yourself time to think about what you’ll say.
As you do this, also try to answer with statements. I hear so many people in the media starting a response to another person with the word “Yeah”, as in “Yeah you really have to wonder why the team has been playing so poorly.” They would sound so much stronger if they would eliminate the word “yeah”, along with any other throw away words before they start making their statement.
It’s another example to show why effective communication isn’t necessarily about normal conversation. Regardless of the situation, if you can learn what to say before you say it, you’ll sound much more credible.