What PR and Commencement Speeches Have in Common

This is the time of year when papers are full of recaps and transcripts of the most notable commencement speeches. From President Obama’s urging not to lose hope in the face of a roadblock, to Sheryl’s Sandberg’s heartfelt discussion of resilience, to Senator Warren discussion on the importance of ‘shaking it off’ a la Taylor Swift, each speech — and the many others that took place across the country– was full of insight, perspective and life lessons. From a PR perspective, it was interesting to watch how the speeches played out in the media after each event, and how full-length addresses were boiled down to a few media bullet points that were broadly distributed and recycled. In many ways, this process was a case study in high-impact media relations and the importance of thoughtfully and consistently highlighting key points, each and every time you interact with the media.

For those contScreen Shot 2016-06-02 at 10.28.50 AMemplating how to best represent themselves or their company in the media, here are a few things we can learn:

  • Identify Your Key Messages. In giving a speech or address, the speaker is completely in control of the content. Not so when it comes to doing a media interview. Reporters have their own set of questions that they are trying to explore as it relates to company news or your expert opinion. The opportunity? Make a list of those messages that you want to convey, no matter where the interview takes you, plus your strategy for staying on point, no matter where the interview takes you.
  • Know Your Audience. The audience is clear to a commencement speaker– thousands of young minds who are on the verge of a major life change. This makes it fairly easy to predict what might resonate. It’s important to approach a media interview with the same level of confidence. Research and understand the reporter demographic, plus look for previous stories written by the journalists about your topic (or company). This insight will help you shape your approach, including the technicality of the language you should use.
  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. Many powerful and inspirational commencement addresses pick a few themes and repeat them throughout the course of the talk. This repetition helps the speaker drive home the importance of the message at hand and increases the likelihood that the audience will remember what is being communicated. When it comes to media interviews, interviewees should not be afraid to repeat their key messages, perhaps varying the language slightly, to help ensure that this information makes it into the final news story and beyond.

While commencement addresses afford speakers a longer window of time to deliver their messages than media interviews do, the principles between the two are very similar. Both can be challenging for even the most gifted of speakers. But with ample preparation and strategy around message development and delivery, you will be able to drive home your key points and make sure that any resulting “sound bites” are truly representative of your point of view.

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