Shut up and listen

by David Harris on February 16, 2011

Too many PIOs think that somehow their job is about them. That mistake often manifests in a PIO who talks too much. They talk too much to sources and they talk too much to journalists. That isn’t to say have fewer conversations, just spend more of each conversation shutting up and listening.

We all have an urge at times to show that we actually know something. When we talk with a source we need to show them what we have some knowledge so they’ll take us seriously. The danger is to talk so much about technical matters that they slip into jargon and talk as if they are chatting with their colleagues. 

Many of the best color stories I’ve found have come from just staying quiet when a source is explaining something. People want to fill a silence in conversation–let the source fill that quiet. In many cases, you’ll find out something extra that they didn’t think was important but is a sort of second-level information, that we as PIOs actually find invaluable in writing or pitching a story. They are the stories that make sources human and that make research come to life.

When it comes to speaking with journalists, we still talk to much, even though they are coming to us to get information. To properly give a journalist what they need, we need to understand what they need and the only way to do that is to allow the journalist to talk enough about what they need instead of us talking and giving them what we think they need.

Journalists play the same game of staying quiet so you could run into a conversation with blank spots. That’s OK! But if you feel the need to fill a blank spot, try to fill it by asking a question. That will help you get at how you can best serve the journalist.

PIOs are information sponges, soaking in massive amounts of information and carefully selecting out what we then pass along–just the highest value information. This means we ought to be spending most of our time letting others speak. There’s always a need for us to just shut up and listen.

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