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Media encounters made easier.

You're standing before a large, unknown audience. You have a microphone but no podium, no oudine, and absolutely no idea what you're supposed to talk about. You're anxious, weak in the knees, and out of breath-and the butterflies in your stomach aren't exactly flying in formation.

Merely a nightmare? Perhaps, but how would you or your association spoke. sperson face the prospect of an impromptu speech before a potentially tinfriendly audience? How would you fare under the hot television lights with reporters quizzing you about association policies on issues that run the gamut from asbestos to zoning?

Without training, even the most poised speaker might have problems. Because media interviews and public speaking are such important parts of an elected leader's job, the National Association of Realtors, Washington, D.C., began a daylong spokesperson training program to teach public communication skills.

Since 1981, thousands of national, state, and local elected association officers and professional staff members have participated in NAR's basic spokesperson training program. As trained spokespeople, they have become links in the association's spokesperson network, which now stretches from Maine to Hawaii. The program is open to all who want to fine-tune their communication skills in both public speaking and media presentation. And with NAR's umbrella theme, "The Voice ibr Real Estate," our members are undertaking a proactive approach in advocating real estate issnes and private property rights through the news media and other public forums.

Like most communication training seminars. NAR's program relies heavily on videotaped role-playing exercises to provide the best assessment of a participant's strengths and weaknesses. Typically, the number of participants is small-only five or six people, plus an instructor providing critiques and guidance. Our program is structured on the premise that these participants already have strong interpersonal skills by virtue of their success in a profession that demands excellent commucation. This holds true if the participant is an association professional or a member-elected officer.

Tackling anxiety

Stage fright, speech anxiety, or, as it is termed by researchers, communication apprehension, can be a serious hurdle for some people to overcome. Those who study this phenomenon estimate that almost 20 percent of Americans arc communication apprehensive.

For most speakers, that shot of adrenaline felt before a presentation helps make the performance sparkle. For the apprehensive speaker, however, it will produce a high level of anxiety that causes even the most competent professional to lose confidence and communicate ineffectively. The audience then becomes uncomfortable, and the speaker loses credibility as the audience wonders why an expert would be frightened in front of a "friendly" group.

NAR's training program uses strategies that not only make the speaker comfortable but also put the audience at ease. Participants learn to cope with varying degrees of communication apprehension by overcoming skill deficits. To overcome skill deficits, they follow this six-step process:

1. Speech creation. Analyze the audience and put the speech together, including an introduction, discussion, and close.

2. Modeling. Watch examples of good speakers on videotape and learn to use their techniques.

3. Goal setting. Make personal realistic objectives, such as eventually being able to speak for 10 minutes instead of 2.

4. Covert rehearsal. Rehearse alone to help overcome anxiety.

5. Behavior rehearsal. Practice before a friendly audience.

6. Live practice. Putting all the elements together, give the speech before an audience.

For individuals experiencing a great deal of anxiety when speaking in public, NAR suggests another method: systematic desensitization. Psychologists have used this therapy to treat individuals with phobias. This method allows participants to overcome apprehension by gradually exposing them to nonthreatening public speaking situations.

Participants first learn a series of muscle-relaxation techniques. Through visualization, they learn to substitute a relaxation response for one that would ordinarily provoke anxiety. The individual's goal is to deliver the speech using the newly mastered techniques. The Speech Communication Association, Annandale, Virginia, sells audiocassettes of the muscle-relaxation exercises used in this therapy.

Another effective therapy for coping with speech anxiety is based on the idea that the perceived pressure of public speaking causes people to think irrationally. Rational emotive therapy, developed by Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, author Albert Ellis, helps speakers identify irrational beliefs related to public speaking. We set ourselves up for failure if we allow unreasonable thoughts to dominate how we judge our performances. Rational emotive therapy aids speakers in putting anxious thoughtssuch as, "What would I do if they all walk out during my speech?"-into perspective and allows for a more positive experience.

Obviously, we can only touch upon these techniques at a one-day seminar, but if a participant needs additional help, the instructor provides the resources to obtain it.

Facing the media

The second half of NAR's program addresses the questions, "What do reporters want from association spokespeople?" and "How do we help spokespeople meet reporters' needs?"

The program stresses being prepared for the inevitable encounter with the media by building rhetorical skills and understanding issues. Participants are videotaped as they role-play a spokesperson in one of three types of television interviews. Participants are given actual association news from which they must glean two to three positive points to be advocated during the interview. Since program instructors were once reporters, the questions are crafted to demonstrate the same substance and technique reporters use.

As in other traditional television training programs, participants are taught to focus on both the verbal and nonverbal clues that allow spokespeople to control an interview.

Participants are often surprised, for example, at how often their nonverbal behavior sends unintentional conflicting messages to the television audience. In the public speaking portion of the program, for example, we underscore the need for eye contact with the audience, suggesting that in order to be an effective speaker, you must look at your audience almost 80-90 percent of the time. In one-on-one interviews, the spokesperson must look at the reporter 100 percent of the time to avoid appearing nervous or evasive. This can be uncomfortable, since the accepted "polite" length of time to look at another person in our society is 3-10 seconds.

There are exceptions to this rule. For example, in a studio interview with a live audience or a panel discussion, you might be told to acknowledge the unseen audience but focus your primary attention on the individual speaking.

Gestures that worked well iu the public speaking exercises must also be refined for television appearances. Through its positioning, the tlvision camera is effective in creating the illusion of movement. Obviously, you have no control over how tight or for what duration a particular shot will be, but assume the camera is focused on you.

Keep any gestures small and close to your body so the camera can focus on the whole movement you're presenting.

Get rid of any idiosyncratic mannerisms that could be distracting to the audience. Program participants have been startled to see themselves clicking a pen, adjusting their glasses, wringing their hands, scratching their noses, or fiddling with their hair when viewing their videotape.

Cross your legs-but not too quicklytoward the interviewer. This is a nonverbal signal that you are open to communication. Don't slouch; maintain good posture to keep alert without looking stiff.

Effective listening is one skill we emphasize. More association positions have been misunderstood aud personal reputations damaged because the spokesperson didn't listen to the reporter's question. Spokespeople must be motivated to listen to remain alert. The best motivator NAR suggests in its training program is that as association spokespeople, they are speaking for all members of the organization and not merely giving an opinion.

Our spokesperson training program equips participants not only in the techniques needed to answer tough media questions, but also stresses the need to be sensitive to the nuances in a reporter's questions.

These strategies are reinforced with written reference materials as well as association "talking points" on current national real estate issues. A recent addition has been a 20-minute videotape that reviews techniques for both public speaking and media interviews. An advanced program is also available for those who have completed the basic program.

And because NAR wants to make its spokesperson training program available to any of its members, its public affairs division has developed a manual to expand the number of qualified instructors throughout the country. The public affairs staff also provides counseling for those states in the process of developing their own spokesperson training programs.

When reporters are out to get a stop?', they will get it. The goal of NAR's spokesperson training program is to ensure that intelligent comments about the real estate industry come from our communicators. Becoming a Better Spokesperson

Here are tips to help prepare your spokesperson for his or her next speech or television interview.

* Channel nervous energy in a positive way, such as using gestures that give a relaxed and competent look and using vocal variety through inflection and pitch.

* Avoid what communication researchers term nonfluencies or voiced pauses-the "ums" and "uhs" that fill time but distract the audience (and you) and damage your image as a speaker.

* Use strong connectors. Instead of "okay" and "you know," use proper transitions, summaries, and signposts to move your presentation along more effectively.

* Make your introduction and conclusion dynamic to make your speech more memorable. Research shows an audience is more likely to remember the first few points and the last points of a presentation. An audience is also more apt to remember points made when tied to an anecdote or visual aid.

* A 1971 study on nonverbal signals by A. Mehrabian entitled Silent Messages found that audiences give the following weight to messages: 7 percent to the verbal component, 38 percent to vocal cues, and 55 percent to facial expressions. So make spontaneous, natural gestures and smile at your audience.

* Don't fall victim to what psychiatrists call the "pride system." As educated, accomplished individuals, we often feel our presentations have to have the same impression as the Gettysburg Address. When we don't meet these expectations, we feel we've failed.

For a television interview

* Prepare two to three points that will serve as your message. When appropriate, bridge back to one of these key points when answering questions.

* Keep your voice at an even pace. Imagine sitting and talking with a friend in your living room.

* Keep gestures small. Avoid gesturing directly toward the camera, because the movement may look distorted.

* Use anecdotes or analogies to dramatize your point. Make sure, however, that the story relates to your point.

* Lean forward and pause to signal to the interviewer that a new point is being introduced.

* Respond to questions with direct answers. People have a tendency to ramble. There is no quicker way to lose a reporter's interest than by straying from the subject.

* Speak well and be positive and upbeat about your industry.

* Provide any background information that may be helpful to the sto|y. Print journalists often use this information as artwork or backup for their files.

* Avoid white, black, or red clothes. Instead, choose vixdd blues, greens, wines, or earth tones. Jewelry should be understated. For men, textured navy or gray suits are best. Be aware of the moire effect, which can cause contrasting stripes to vibrate on television.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles; training of spokespersons
Author:Allridge, Valerie R.
Publication:Association Management
Date:May 1, 1992
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