By Jennigay Coetzer

When being interviewed by the media, spokespeople should have some key statistics up their sleeve to support their viewpoints. Journalists love statistics, because they give them and their target audiences a reference point or measure, for example by which to judge the importance and credibility of what the spokesperson is saying.

When I am running media training workshops with three to seven spokespeople, I always ask them what statistic comes to mind when I say the word “most,” and I sometimes get a different answer from each of them, ranging anywhere from 51% to 99%. Interestingly, many people think “majority” and “most” are interchangeable – it’s all about perception.

If a spokesperson makes a vague comment like “Most companies are moving in this direction……” the audience will interpret it in their own way. Meanwhile, the spokesperson had a definite statistic in his mind as to what he meant by “most,” but he omitted to share it, and clarity was lost.

There are plenty of statistics available today on just about every topic one can think of, and the number of analysts that provide them are increasing. In the media training workshops I run, I always suggest it is a good idea to look at several analysts figures and views on each specific point, because they often vary from one to another, and it is important to weigh this up.

There is nothing wrong with saying during a media interview that market statistics on the point in question vary from one analyst to another and give the range of figures. After all, the objective is to be seen as an authority on the topic being discussed. On the other hand spokespeople working for multinationals should be able to gather statistics from their company’s global information base.

I have found when interviewing spokespeople for articles I am writing or during media training sessions that a lot of spokespeople have little confidence in their own ability to quantify their statements. When prompted to do so, they will often say, “There are no local statistics on this,” or will regurgitate figures provided by their favourite local research company.

Company spokespeople should be able to gather local statistics from their own customer base, but when I suggest this in media training workshops the attendees often see this as a massive task they don’t have time to tackle. But if 7 out of a sample of ten customers are making similar business decisions or facing the same issues, or looking for the same type of opportunities, this will provide a useful statistic, even if the spokesperson qualifies the figure he or she gives the journalist as an estimate.

While statistics are important, spokespeople will gain even more credibility if they can discuss the underlying messages in the figures they are providing. For example, what does this statistic say about what is happening in the market? What are the market influences driving the growth or causing the decline in the figures over the past few years?

Why are these figures significant? Given these statistics, what is likely to happen in the future? If spokespeople can discuss the how? when? why? what, who? behind the statistics, and keep feeding their knowledge base with the latest trends and figures they will provide more value in a media interview.

The more value they provide the more sort-after they will be by the media and the more recognition they will receive for themselves and their companies.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist and is author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing press releases. She also runs media spokesperson training workshops and one-on-one sessions, and article writing skills courses. Other spokesperson and writing tips can be found on her website: http://www.jennigay.co.za Articles containing writing tips and media spokesperson tips can also be found on her website.

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