Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Can you say no to an expert?

A long time ago, on the eve of a big announcement, I got a phone call at 5 p.m. from the chairman of the board of the nonprofit I worked for. He was on a speaker phone in my boss's office. "I just wanted you to know my expectations for the news coverage tomorrow," he said.

"Sure, go ahead," I said. Like I could do anything about it now.

"I want a story on the front page of the New York Times, above the fold, with my photo, in color," he said.

And I said, "Well, I'll have to grab some crayons and meet you down at the printing plant, since the last I looked, the Times was still printing in black and white." (I did say this was a long time ago, dear readers.)

Fortunately, he laughed. (And he did get coverage in the Times the next day, thankyouverymuch.) But in that moment, even if he was joking, he was putting me in a corner, asking for something he knew was impossible. Would I say no to a person of power, even if his expertise--Nobel-laureate-level expertise--didn't extend to what goes into an announcement getting coverage by a newspaper?

It's a situation that happens every day in communications operations. But if you're afraid to say no to the experts you work with, you'll never be as effective as you could be as a communicator. You can learn to understand the experts you work with--and how to work with them more effectively--in my upcoming workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. Whether you put them in front of reporters, donors, legislatures or public audiences, the workshop's designed to help you learn:

  • How to anticipate your experts' default communications style, how to help them see it, and how to show them what public and media audiences want instead;
  • Why they don't need to "dumb down" their information to communicate clearly (and how to handle other common objections they raise);
  • How to assess your experts' skills and training needs, to help you approach coaching in savvy ways;
  • Handling hands-on training, giving feedback to smart people, pushback and Q-and-A.
This workshop, set for August 24 in Washington, DC, will work for communicators, fundraisers and government relations pros who work with smart people of any description, from scientists and engineers to policy wonks and other subject-matter experts. It's an interactive, small-group session where you can focus on your particular experts and get concrete tactics for working with them more effectively. And if you register by August 5, you'll save $50 per person on registration. I hope you'll sign up today, and share this opportunity with your colleagues--or register your team.

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