Government spokespeople who talk to reporters must speak slowly, as if addressing small children, and avoid facial expressions that look bad on TV. The tips are contained in a fisheries department manual obtained through Access To Information.
“An audience can tell if you’re bored, upset or uncomfortable,” says the department manual Meeting The Media: A Guide For DFO Spokespersons. “Try to remain as neutral as possible in your demeanour no matter how aggressive the questioning may become.”
“Slow down, as if you are addressing a classroom full of students,” the manual says. “This deliberate pacing will help make the delivery clear and allow you time to think in complete and quotable sentences.”
Officials were also instructed to remain stone-faced and keep their hands by the sides, especially on TV: “Crossing your arms can appear defensive; clenched jaws and darting eyes are a sign of nervousness; exaggerated hand movements are a visual distraction; loss of eye contact with the reporter shows discomfort”; “Uncomfortable body language comes through loud and clear to a television viewer,” the manual says.
The federal government spends $229 million a year on “communication services”, according to the Department of Public Works, including money spent on polling; focus group research; advertising; and staffing communications departments with spokespeople.
Guide describes media as puzzling and dangerous: “The world of newspapers, radio and television is a mystery to many people,” the manual explains. “It’s even more confusing today with the addition of web news services, blogs and growing international media focus on department activities.”
“Only a few gifted communicators can met the media with little or no preparation,” Guide continues. “Department spokespersons cannot afford to take that chance”; “Spokespersons are always on their toes.”
Other tips included making frequent use of the word “again” to “add emphasis”; “never run”; never use the pronoun “I”; never speculate; “keep your cool”; “Make clear you have time to take only a few questions”; never use jargon in emails; and never trust reporters who claim a confidence.
“Remember, you are always on the record even before a so-called formal interview has taken place!” the manual warns. “Carefully compose your answers as though every word could end up in a news story, and avoid adding any unnecessary shorthand or chit-chat”.
“‘Off the record’ at one time meant that information could be conveyed to a reporter anonymously,” it says. “Today this practice doesn’t really exist. Assume you are always on the record.”