By Gbenga Adebija
“Catch me if you can” is a multiple Award -winning movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio based on the true-life story of Frank Abagnale, who posed at different types as a Pilot. Lawyer, Doctor and several other guises in the course of his infamous career. Despite being trailed most of the time by the FBI, Frank Abagnale successfully pulled off his schemes and was able to pass himself off as what he was not.
The exhilaration and adrenalized effect of appearing on television or radio has resulted in a bewildering situation of folks who lack the requisite skills and competences gracing (or disgracing) our screens and passing themselves off as spokespersons/talking heads, despite their shambolic and atrocious performance. This situation is especially true in this digital era where the media has a towering influence in shaping opinions, defining narratives and setting discourse.
When I became spokesperson for a blue-chip multi-national company in 1997, one of the first things the CEO of the company did was to impose a gag order on me. Even though I already had almost a decade of significant media experience as a newspaper columnist, radio presenter and several years in the company’s corporate communication’s department, the CEO, Mr. Bunmi Oni, insisted that I first enrolled for a programme at the Lagos Business School. It was only upon completion of that course that the restrictions were lifted and I began to officially function as spokesperson.
Also, over the years in that role, the company sent me to one of the most prestigious universities in the UK and to many capacity development seminars across Europe, the United States, South Africa and North Africa. Mr. Oni’s point which was quite valid then is even more relevant today. The job and role of a spokesperson is not for everyone and requires specific skills and competences which have to be developed and deployed effectively.
Recently, there was a viral video clip of a gentleman who went on television ostensibly to speak on behalf of the government and/or President Tinubu. I watched in horror as the gentleman had a meltdown of spectacular proportions on live television even without the interviewer’s usual savage evisceration of his guest.
All of this begs the question. What was he doing there and why did he go on TV as proxy for the President when he evidently lacked everything required to be an effective spokesperson?
It is vitally imperative that any spokesperson has knowledge, not only of the subject matter but the associated issues. A skilled interviewer immediately knows the depth and scope of your knowledge and if so desirous, would embarrass you by taking you into areas where your knowledge is shallow.
Preparation is very key and in decades of TV and Radio interviews, I have never gone without adequate preparation in terms of familiarizing myself with the subject matter, the interviewer, etc. Mental and physical readiness is also very important so that you appear alert, vibrant, energetic and switched on(pun intended).
The only spontaneous interview I ever did was for MNET in South Africa and minutes before the camera rolled, I still insisted on knowing beforehand what areas the interview would cover. I was very mindful that not only was I representing my company and brand, I was also now representing Nigeria.
Familiarize yourself with the interviewer’s style, personality and methodology. All top interviewers have their individual styles and methodology. Anderson Cooper, Kayode Okikikiolu, Seun Okinbaloye, Ladi Akeredolu- Ale, Maupe Ogun, Adesuwa Onyenokwe, Kadaria Ahmed, Reuben Abati, Christiane Amanpour, Jeremy Paxman, etc.
Seriously, what did the man expect from an interview with Rufai Oseni ? That is territory where even angels would tread carefully. In my very early years as a company spokesperson at a conference in the UK, I was put on the hot seat and grilled by the oyinbo version of Rufai Oseni. It was an exhausting and stressful session but proved to be an enduring lesson in how to maintain an even keel in the face of incessant bombardment. And yes, despite extensive experience in handling adversarial TV interviewers, I would prefer to avoid them if I had a choice!
Temperament, therefore, is very important. If you are easily triggered then you have no business being a spokesperson and you certainly have no business presenting yourself for an interview with Rufai Oseni.
(Let me state very clearly that this article is not an endorsement of Rufai Oseni and/or his political views or his style of journalism.)
Your carriage and posture must at all time convey dignity and self-assuredness. Most people make the mistake of getting too comfortable or try to demonstrate how relaxed they are and, in the process, lose out on the benefits of body languaging. For example, don’t cross your legs just because you want to “pose” or gesticulate wildly because you think it reinforces the points you are making. Every word or gesture must synchronize with the overall objective of the TV interview.
The stress and tension of being a spokesperson requires a brain that is circuited for synonymical output. It is essential that you are lexically resourced enough to have multiple options for words and phrases so that there is always a well of options to draw from even under high pressure situations which may debilitate cognitive functions.
Ironically in contrast with his predecessor, President Tinubu seems to be extremely PR savvy which may be the reason he has assembled a formidable team of skilled experts including Bayo Onanuga, Ajuri Ngelale, Tunde Rahman, Temitope Ajayi, Linda Akhigbe, etc to manage stakeholder communication.
The art of spokesmanship is an ever-evolving journey that demands continuous learning and adaptability. It is a role that extends beyond mere rhetoric and performative theatrics. It requires a unique skill set of knowledge, preparation, temperament, and an unwavering commitment to professionalism and excellence.
This administration should therefore ensure that it’s scorecard on Communication is primarily assessed based on the performance of these communication professionals appointed by the President because of the impact on Brand Nigeria.
Our own role as the electorate would be to try to catch them.
If we can….