For a country that prides itself on savoir-faire and style, on manners and being well-dressed, France is sorely lacking in leadership communications directives. You will find few management books written originally in French and virtually NO books on effective communications with the media.
A former Bloomberg journalist-turned-media-consultant, Franco-American Adrian Dearnell has written “Le Media Training: reussir face aux journalists” (roughly “how to succeed in front of journalists”) to be published this month by Eyrolles. In French. It is a compendium of all he’s learned both as a journalist and as founder-CEO of Paris-based EuroBusinessMedia over the past 20 or so years. I’ve competed against Adrian while at CNBC Paris, and collaborated with him since, and have been impressed on both encounters. The book will prove useful to non-native-English-speakers who need to address media, shareholders and a foreign public in the language of business – English. Its common-sense approach will be useful even to Wall Street natives who may think they already know it all.
Communication Can Be Learned
One of the problems in France, at least, is that there is virtually no training in public presentation in schools. While American kids are doing show and tell from the age of six and then seguing into full-blown public speaking, French students are buried in books and focused on getting into the right schools. At work, they’re focused on producing, rather than marketing. Globalization and global stock market listings have forced a change in this cozy scenario. Today, not only is it necessary to communicate, but it is necessary to communicate in English. And merely translating the message isn’t enough. It’s about more than just language; it’s about “ownership.” And it is central to strategy, sales, and marketing today – whether to consumers who will buy your product or to investors, who will buy your stock.
“I helped two executives prepare for an English-language television interview,” Adrian told me in his office recently. “They both had about the same level of proficiency in English; but one was quite concerned with finding the right words, while the other let her enthusiasm come through…and she was the most effective. It’s the overall impression which is important – how people feel about listening to you – not just the vocabulary.“
So it’s not only what you say but how you say it.
“The structure of your ideas is far more important than grammar,” he continues. “And the structure of the presentation itself needs to be clear and simple. If the idea isn’t clear in your head, if you cannot express it in bit-sized chunks, then you are not in control and your message will be confused.” So the mind-mouth connection is paramount. “If you can hold a business meeting and communicate your ideas to your staff, you can conduct a media interview,” he affirms. But if this is so, who needs media training? What is the training all about?
He has developed his own “Anglo-American” communications formula, embodied by eight principles, neatly wrapped up in a package called“Communic8”:
- Understand your audience. People will hear you better if you address their needs.
2. Take ownership. It’s your show, not your slide show. Make your point, not your power point.
3. Delivery is the message. How you say it is more important than what you say.
4. Lead with the conclusion. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.
5. KISS: Keep it short & simple. Clear structure, short sentences, no jargon.
6. Reduce and repeat. The more messages there are, the less likely each will be remembered. Less is more.
7. Rehearse. Practice makes perfect, and shows respect for your audience, which is key to creating engagement.
8. Respond. Q&A time is crucial. The audience will remember their interactions more than your presentation.
As a journalist I’ve run into CEOs who had been media-trained to within an inch of their lives – some of the phrases were obviously the creation of PR consultants and stuck out like a sore thumb (“we didn’t want cash sleeping in our accounts” is a famous one, attempting to justify a shortfall of liquidity). “You don’t want to be doing ‘langue de bois’ (wooden tongue) or ‘blah-blah’,” says Adrian. “This is contrary to good communications. You want to be frank, open, to the point. If you’re thrown a question you cannot handle – or do not want to handle – it is always better to say “let me get back to you on that,’ or ‘that’s confidential,’ or ‘I will find the right person for you to talk to’ .”
The key to effective communications, says Adrian, is to remember your SOCO – an acronym for Single Over-riding Communications Objective, and then stick to it. Focus on simplicity: short, to-the-point central themes, repeated several times so they sink into the audience consciousness – for example, media or shareholders. Finally, Adrian points out that you are in front of your audience communicating for a reason…”You’re the expert, “ he says, “not the victim!”