I spend the lion’s share of my time helping clients land great quotes or sound bites with the media, whether they’re prepping for an interview on CNN, an event with local reporters or getting ready for an industry conference. Recently I worked with a group of executives who cross over from mainstream media to the investor community with regularity.
As a longtime media and presentation coach, I know enough about speaking with analysts to be dangerous, but I needed to dig a little deeper before my client session. So, like a good former reporter, I consulted with Hunter Stenback, one of my financial communications colleagues in Edelman’s Chicago office. We were surprised by the similarities—and subtle nuances—between the world of media and investors.
Here are our top takeaways:
1. Be prepared. No matter who’s asking you tough questions, you need a game plan. If you don’t have your organization’s narrative nailed with message points, examples and anecdotes to support your story, you’ll be doomed to fail.
Media may be more interested in the big picture: the overall landscape, where your organization fits in, and how this impacts their audience. What’s in it for the readers and viewers? Is this part of a larger trend? Paint a picture for the reporter by starting with the conclusion (the headline) and then backing that up with proof points and examples.
Investors may be more interested in the financials, but they ultimately want to know that your company is on solid footing and positioned for success. What industry opportunity are you best positioned to capture? What is your company’s track record? Do you have a clear and compelling strategy for growth? Knowing the numbers is important, but so is having a credible investment thesis with strong examples to back it up.
2. Stay in control. Staying in control is essential for success in any exchange with journalists or the investment community. Bridging to your key messages, pivoting to those supporting examples and headlining the takeaways are all strategies that need to be employed for a successful outcome.
No matter your audience, the same best practices apply to avoid “gotcha” moments. Don’t speculate or talk about your competitors. Stop talking after providing your answer. And if you don’t know the answer, bridge to a key message or offer to follow up with more details.
When speaking with investors in a private setting, make sure you know which metrics you can and cannot disclose under SEC guidelines. Investors are looking for any advantage they can get, and many will ask the same question multiple times if they think it will yield a different response (same goes for reporters). Your answer is your answer—don’t be afraid of repetition.
3. Confidence matters. No matter the setting, your personal presence makes a big difference. Facts and figures help tell the story; your body language and voice help sell the story. During my lengthy coaching career, I've found the most common way executives sabotage their story is by lacking passion and getting into way too much detail.
The best way to combat this is to videotape yourself practicing. As painful as it can be to see yourself in action, it's the most effective way to improve your skills. Fumbling tough questions is much more painful than putting in the work to prepare for success.
Hunter and I often encounter executives who feel more comfortable meeting with investors because they “speak the same language,” but worry about journalists twisting their words. When they realize the same tools are effective for both media and analysts, they feel more empowered. That’s the goal: to level the playing field so you have as many weapons answering questions that the other side has in asking them.
Mary Gannon is executive vice president, Media and Presentation Coaching, Chicago.
Hunter Stenback is senior account supervisor, Financial Communications and Investor Relations, Chicago.