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Olympic-Sized Media Gaffes Part II: How to be a Good Spokesperson

Amidst unparalleled worldwide media attention, some of the athletes of the London 2012 Olympic games have been sending misguided Tweets, giving awkward interviews, and appearing on camera totally unprepared. These gold-medal media gaffes have proven that while some people are natural-born athletes, few are natural-born spokespeople.

Last week we took a look at some of the best of the worst media disasters from these games and this week we offer some time-tested methods that athletes, executives, and spokespeople of any kind should use avoid such disasters in the face of high visibility:

1. Remember who you are speaking for

Bottom line: if you are connected to a larger organization you are a representative of that group in the public eye. Be it an athlete on a national Olympic team, or an employee from a particular company, what you say to the press and what you broadcast via social media serves as a reflection of the group you are connected, to weather you intend it to be or not.

2. Be conscious of who you are speaking to

Identify and be sensitive to the needs of your audience. If you’re speaking to international media for instance, assume everyone and anyone will hear what you’re saying. When it comes to social media posts and tweets to the public, think about this – if you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, the head of your company, or a valued customer face-to-face, you should probably avoid saying it on the Internet.

3. Prepare for interviews

Know whom you will be speaking with during an interview with media. Find out how much time is allotted for the interview, and know what subjects will likely be covered.

4. Try to stay confident and composed

Much like animals in the wild, if you’re nervous or confused it will come through loud and clear. Make a good first impression, smile, be polite, and listen carefully to the interviewer’s questions. Anticipate tough questions – they will happen – and if you don’t know the answer admit it and move on to the next topic.

5. Keep comments short and easily understood

Whatever you say at some point likely to be taken out of context one way or another, and in the case of a Tweet, there simply aren’t enough characters to establish context in the first place. So keep comments short and crispDeveloping good sound bites takes time, but it is well worth it.

6. Stay on message

Try to think ahead of time about what you would like your audience to take away from your commentary, interview or social media updates. Focus on those points and avoid distracting from that message.

At the end of the day, remember that what you say in the media can and will be used against you, so choose your words wisely! What other best practices could today’s athletes and other public figures benefit from when speaking through the press or social media?

Dave Gifford can be reached at dgifford@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @david_gifford.

Image from Ryan Lochte.com

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