As the head media relations person at ComBlu, I am responsible for securing appropriate media interviews for a variety of clients looking to generate buzz and broaden awareness in their industry. The thought leadership programs we develop are tailored to each individual client and their overarching business objectives, and are completely unique in every way…but one. The common program element is the need to prepare executives to give a great interview. This is key to getting the best placements for their firm and to help their executives build deeper long-term relationships with the media so they come back for additional commentary over time.
For many years, ComBlu has turned to Jennifer Ladek and the team at The Coaching Group to structure and deliver media training programs for our clients. They go above and beyond to customize training sessions to address both customer interactions and the media. They dig deep to fully understand the industry of each client and the related communication issues. These unique attributes are applied in a real-world training situation where clients participate in role playing exercises to learn and develop communication skills. They are experts at broaching bad habits in a constructive and meaningful manner. They build on the skills that executives bring in, add to it and polish those skills in a positive way.
I recently caught up with Jennifer to hear how her business has evolved in today’s digital age. Here is a recap of our conversation.
Q. What’s the latest at The Coaching Group?
A. All of our trainings and coaching sessions focus on building on and improving communication skills. Regardless of who our client is communicating with, we create a customized program to connect to their audiences. Audiences are typically reporters, legislators, employees, leadership, shareholders, analysts, direct reports, investors, boards, consumers and the general public.
Our current offerings include: media spokesperson training, presentation skills, executive presence, networking skills, messaging sessions, reinventing your business with intention and purpose, spokesperson skills, crisis communication, executive coaching and handling crucial or difficult communications.
We provide all of these in one-on-one coaching settings, in small groups and larger workshops. Each session is customized based around the needs and goals of the specific participant or group.
Q. What trends are you experiencing in your industry?
A. In the last three to five years we’ve seen a focus shift from media based trainings to programs that focus on broader spokesperson skills (to address more audiences), presentation skills (public speaking), executive presence and programs that teach executives how to handle day-to-day crucial communications such as getting your points across in difficult meetings or managing antagonistic questions. These day-to-day interactions don’t usually come in the form of formal presentation or media interview, but they are interactions we all face with more regularity and can sometimes be contentious. The crucial communication skill set teaches how to professionally handle yourself in realistic business situations in a positive way, whether as a company spokesperson or even in a meeting with colleagues and leadership. Role playing specific realistic situations to practice using the newly learned skills are also a component with our facilitator offering constructive feedback. The goal behind every coaching or training we develop and present is to build confidence around communication skills. That’s the reason we teach and polish skills, then give participants a chance to practice and improve while we’re with them so we can offer feedback and encouragement. To see the growth and confidence our participants have in themselves, regardless of the skill we’re tackling or the audience they’re practicing to address, is what is motivates us every day.
Executives today are held at higher standards for how they present themselves, their business area and their organization. There is also a much stronger emphasis put on personal brand, in addition to the company brand. The bar is higher on what’s expected from personal performance and communication skill levels across the board. We see this increasingly every year. The development and benefits of these skills are not just reserved for the C-suite inclusive group that needs media or spokesperson training. Everyone is held to higher effective and quality communication standards. Your dedicated front desk person or your interns are always spokespeople for your company and your brand. Their communication skills should be just as effective as your C-suite executives, if not more. They are on the front lines, making first impressions as company ambassadors every single day. Your CEO or CFO may do a media interview once a quarter, if that, which is also important and involves a specific set of communication skills but we can lose sight of the day-to-day interactions and communications that have the capacity to create impressions good or bad. With a little practice and intention we can make the most of every opportunity, in a formal setting or not.
Q. You mentioned that you are doing more “networking skills training.” This is new to me – what’s that all about?
A. Because more emphasis is placed on personal performance and enhanced overall communication skills, we’ve seen more of a demand for networking skills, in addition to presentation skills coaching. Let’s face it we’re always “networking” and we’re always creating a “presence.” We are all walking commercials for our brand and the work we do. If we polish what we say and how we say something, it will only us and our organization. It can be intimidating to introduce yourself at an industry luncheon, to represent your organization or ask good questions. In-person conversations can feel vulnerable. With our networking workshop we talk about the value of real conversation.
Effective networking is not a numbers game. Networking can be authentic and involve meaningful dialogue instead of the old school, aggressive approach. A lot of people don’t know what to say or how to describe what they do in a concise, succinct way when they meet someone new. We develop elevator speeches and practice until it feels natural. We translate body language, what others read from us and how to create positive perceptions.
Although these may seem like essential business skills, the truth is, most people are not comfortable networking and shy away from opportunities to meet others face-to-face. In these cases, they are not only doing themselves a disservice, but the company they represent as well. These skills are the cornerstone of all business and life communication skills. Once people have confidence around these skills they’re quickly able to add to their communication arsenal.
Q. Do you think the ongoing digital evolution contributes to this shift?
A. Absolutely! This is clearly evident especially with the younger demographic, and visible with the student populations we work with. We see that younger audiences and growing numbers of even more experienced professionals are so drawn to anything and everything digital. The human connection of networking, having a conversation, let alone speaking in public has become a terrifying notion. In-person communication is a skill we don’t use as much as we used to and it’s clear.
The constant need for social media is almost a direct opposite skill set and surprisingly, having an in-person conversation is daunting to many. The number one fear most people face is public speaking. Believe it or not, public speaking ranks as more terrifying than death for most people. This personifies why the work we do is beneficial and necessary.
Our verbal communication, what we say, is only one side of the coin. Non-verbal communication, managing our body language, is equally important. Our body language speaks as loud, if not louder than our verbal communication. People need to be aware that their body is always speaking for them, consciously or not. To be most effective what we say needs to align with how we say it – so we’re believable, knowledgeable, and confident – whatever our perception goals are when addressing our audience.
Jennifer ended our conversation with one final piece of sage advice. She said, “We need to be aware of what we’re communicating, but more importantly need to own and drive our own communication because it represents us in every way. We have to be in control of how we communicate and use it to our best advantage. I always tell my clients ‘Perception is Reality’ – so you better have the wheel!”