Dr. Fauci gives a press briefing

By Joe McLeod

The most popular person in the country right now isn’t an entertainer, politician or emerging athlete. It’s the 79-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Serving as the primary spokesperson for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Fauci has become one of the most frequent and recognizable faces on our screens. His interviews have reached a diverse audience and, according to data published by Axios, he has emerged as a highly trusted source for the political right and left in all matters relating to COVID-19.

With multiple interviews and daily press briefings, Fauci has proven himself to be quite an effective communicator. In addition to his expertise as an immunologist, there are other reasons reporters want to speak with him and the public wants to hear from him.

1. He has credibility.

With over 50 years of studying infectious diseases and working with six presidential administrations, Fauci’s resumé is beyond impressive. But credibility can’t be established on credentials alone.

One reason Fauci’s words have weight is because he states what he knows and acknowledges what he doesn’t. He holds firmly to the facts and data presented to him while keeping his opinions in check. When he’s wrong, he’s quick to admit it and move on.

While it might seem counterintuitive that the “expert” doesn’t have all the answers, acknowledging your limitations can in fact bolster your credibility. Credibility is the foundation upon which we can build trust, and trust is vital when attempting to influence people’s actions.

2. He simplifies the complex.

We could see how an infectious disease immunologist could easily confuse listeners with complicated data points, charts and long-winded medical jargon. Instead, in every interview Fauci uses ordinary language to explain a dangerous and mysterious virus. Thank goodness we don’t have to take a graduate-level statistics course to understand what it means to “flatten the curve.”

This is critical in helping the public understand the nature of the crisis while helping fend off rumors and misinformation.

3. He connects with a younger generation.

Fauci has participated in livestreaming events with influencers such as Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Curry and the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah.

It’s also clear that Fauci understands his audience. When referencing the Spring Break crowds gathering on the beaches and violating the CDC recommendations of social distancing, he stated, “I was young once and wanted to do those things.” He then went on to explain that even if young people don’t get sick from the virus, they could carry it to a grandparent unknowingly.

There’s an abundance of books and articles written on how to talk to, manage, understand and identify with millennials. Perhaps the most straightforward way to boost your credibility with young people is to be authentic, show that you genuinely care about them, and offer something of value for everyone.

4. He conveys a calming presence.

People are anxious, and they need reassurance from their leaders. Aside from his expertise in infectious diseases, Fauci’s calm and tempered demeanor is one of the reasons he’s in high demand these days.

Even when the forecast is bleak, as new infections and death tolls continue to rise in many areas of the country, he often reiterates that “we will get through this.” When appropriate, he also injects humor in the conversation with his interviewers—all of whom he addresses by name—which can bring levity to a heavy and stressful situation.

5. He stays on message.

There’s a format to most of Fauci’s interviews, and it’s structured around four points.

  • Here’s what we know based on the current data.
  • Here’s what the models are showing.
  • Here’s what we don’t know and need to find out.
  • Here’s what the public should do.

Regardless of the question, nearly every answer falls under one of those points. When reporters try to take the conversation into partisan waters, he gently steers the conversation back to his original message.

At the risk of sounding redundant, Fauci’s message discipline and consistency is crucial when it comes to providing accurate information in hopes to persuade people to band together (figuratively speaking, of course) to do their role in preventing the spread of the virus.

Joe McLeod is the managing partner at McLeod Communications, and co-host of the PR & Politics podcast.

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By Chad McLeod

Bickering, sniping and contempt for each other aside, there were several moments in last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Nevada that offered lessons for communicators, particularly when it comes to answering questions about a mistake, slip of the tongue or accusation from your past.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for example, was asked about her recent interview where she couldn’t name the president of Mexico. Trying to prove that the slip-up wasn’t a reflection of her foreign policy cred, she cited the number of members in the Israeli Knesset and other random facts while trying to say that she simply forgot President Lopez Obrador’s name.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg similarly struggled when asked about the accusations of his treatment of women and comments he allegedly made to his employees. He led off by saying he had no tolerance for the type of behavior uncovered by the #MeToo movement. He appeared to be setting the stage for more depth — more explanation — to address the questions and skepticism of his record. Instead, Bloomberg cited the number of women in leadership positions under his administration, followed by a defense of the non-disclosure agreements signed by employees of his company. His answers fell flat, felt inadequate and led to fiery criticism from Sen. Warren.

Debates like these are tough for any candidate to get through completely unscathed. It’s particularly difficult when other candidates are in the wings ready to pounce on whatever you say. However, there are lessons we can learn from these exchanges that can help political candidates, company spokespersons and others who find themselves faced with tough questions.

Be ready

I can’t emphasize this enough. If there’s a controversial issue in your or your organization’s past, be prepared to address it. Ignoring the issue or trying to speak past it will only open yourself up to more questions and criticisms. I’m curious if anyone on Bloomberg’s debate prep team heard his answer beforehand about the harassment allegations. Pointing out that he places women in high-level positions could have fit into his answer somewhere, but by ignoring the allegations, he created an opening for his competitors — see Sen. Warren’s response — and left the audience with doubts about his record.

Treat threatening questions as an opportunity

Just because you receive a question that puts you on the defensive doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. Instead of trying to showcase her knowledge of the globe, Sen. Klobuchar could have simply admitted that it wasn’t her best interview moment and then turned her response to her vision for U.S-Latin American relations. Something to the effect of, “I regret that I was unable to recall President Lopez Obrador’s name during that interview, but let me tell you about what I envision for our country’s relationship with Mexico and other Latin American countries.” The best debaters take each question as an opportunity to pivot to their most important messages — messages that resonate with the audience and stand out in the middle of all the noise. 

Remember to relate

There’s often a pressure for politicians, organizations and, well, everyone to appear perfect. We’re not, and the majority of people understand that. I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten my kids’ names before, so is it the end of Sen. Klobuchar’s presidential hopes because she couldn’t remember Lopez Obrador’s name? No. She probably could have injected some humor into her response by relating to the fact that we all forget things from time to time that we shouldn’t. Great communicators seize moments that allow them to relate to what their audience is thinking and feeling. 

Chad McLeod, APR, is the co-host of PR & Politics podcast and the owner of McLeod Communications in Lakeland, Florida.

Aug. 9, 2018 – 2018 may turn out to be the year of the podcast. It seems like everyone is starting – or wants to start – a podcast these days. According to Apple, there are more than 525,000 active podcasts on iTunes. In March, Apple podcasts passed the 50-billion mark for episode downloads. That’s a lot of podcast listening going on out there – which is why everyone from the CEO to your next door neighbor is interested in starting a podcast.

 

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