Archive for the ‘Media Training Tips’ Category
Editor’s Note: This post was written by David Shuster, a former MSNBC and Current TV anchor who currently serves as the managing editor for Take Action News. In this post, he responds to a reader who asked for tips on how to read from a Teleprompter and use an “IFB” earpiece, into which a producer speaks while you’re on the air.
Prompters and IFBs can be quite confusing, particularly if you are trying to master both simultaneously. So I would start by working on one at a time before bringing them together. Although in both cases, the learning process is the same.
- 1. Meet and communicate your expectations. This means advising him/her on where in the prompter (high, middle, or low) you want to see the words you are speaking at the instant you are saying them. Generally, you will want those words in the middle. This way, you can speed up or slow down your pacing and have the prompter operator only have to make minor adjustments to follow you.
- 2. Practice and make deliberate mistakes. This means adding words that aren’t in the copy to make sure the operator gets used to following you and stopping/starting as you change things.
- 3. Review the practice session. Provide feedback and discuss any adjustments either of you wants or needs to make.
In working with a producer/IFB, follow the same steps:
- 1. Communicate your expectations. This means identifying in advance what the producer needs to tell you over IFB and what words/phrases you should expect to hear. Will he/she give you cues on when to start speaking? If so, agree on what the exact wording will be said in your ear, such as “go,” “now,” “cue,” or etc. Does the producer want to tell you how much time is left in the segment? Agree on how often you need to hear it. Generally, you will want a cue that there is “one minute” left, then “30 seconds,” then “ten seconds,” and “five.” Also, determine what other information the producer may need to tell you, and agree on what words/phrases the producer will say to communicate it. If the words are expected or familiar, you won’t be thrown off when you hear them.
- 2. During your practice session with the producer, have him/her deliberately try to throw you off or distract you. It’s important that you learn how to deal with it and tune things out. Once you realize that you can keep talking even when something unexpected gets said in your ear, the fear of being thrown off will diminish. The likelihood of being thrown off will diminish too.
- 3. Review the IFB practice session. Provide feedback to the producer and discuss any adjustments.
After the separate practice sessions, do one with the prompter operator and IFB/producer at the same time. Then, have a feedback session all together, in case there are any adjustments that any one of you needs/wants to make in conjunction with the other.
Good luck and have fun!
David Shuster is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news anchor and former correspondent for Current TV and MSNBC. He is the Host and Managing Editor of “Take Action News,” a nationally syndicated radio show. You can see more of his work here.
Tags: guest posts, IFB, media training performance, presentation training, reader e-mails, teleprompter
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A local reporter is scheduled to visit your office in a few days to conduct an interview with you.
It’s a critical interview for your company, one that will impact your growth, your reputation, and your bottom line. You prepare for it carefully, huddling with your leadership team and preparing highly memorable media messages that will gain the audience’s attention—and trust. You may even conduct a mock interviewing session to gain comfort when answering challenging questions.
When the interview date arrives, you feel well-prepared. But you forgot one critical fact, one that threatens to undermine all of your efforts. Having a well-trained management team isn’t enough.
Journalists know that many executives and managers have received media training, so they occasionally circumvent the official chain of command in order to speak with a less trained (and more candid) junior staffer. With just a few careless words, those subordinates can undermine all of your media training and carefully plotted communications strategy.
As an example, check out the jaw-dropping words uttered by a young professional in this video:
When reporters visit your office, any interaction they have with employees, interns, and receptionists are considered “on the record.” Unless you reach an agreement otherwise, reporters can use their comments—and they will, especially if the quotes your employees utter are more colorful than anything a well-trained manager said. Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure your staff knows what to do and say when they’re in the presence of reporters.
This article will arm you with six specific things to do next time you’re expecting a visit from a journalist.
1. Assign an Escort
Assign an escort whenever journalists visit your office. That will help prevent reporters from “accidentally getting lost” on the way to the restroom, wandering the hallways, and striking up a conversation with the wrong person.
If the reporter is visiting your office to interview your Chief Executive Officer, for example, you can assign the CEO’s assistant as the escort. But if that assistant hasn’t received media training and isn’t familiar with your company’s main talking points, you might consider assigning an experienced media representative from your communications department instead.
2. Forge an Agreement With The Reporter
To help prevent the problem of “wandering reporters,” some organizations negotiate the terms of the interview prior to the reporter’s visit. You might consider restricting their access to personnel by asking them to agree to speak only with the previously agreed upon subject(s) of the interview.
You can also negotiate what reporters are allowed to film prior to visiting your company. For example, you might ask them not to shoot employees’ computer screens or papers on their desks.
Although many reporters are happy to comply with such terms, some may bristle at your request and disclose those agreements (or requests for those agreements) to their audience.
3. Notify Your Staff
One week before the reporter visits—and again on the day of the visit—send an email to staff alerting them to the impending visit and reminding them of your media policy.
Your media policy might allow only authorized spokespersons to speak to the press, especially when dealing with a hostile reporter or a particularly challenging subject. In those cases, instruct unauthorized employees who are approached by reporters to say that they’re not the best person to answer their questions and offer to connect them with a member of the communications department.
Although that approach may be best in some circumstances, keep in mind that reporters may note in their stories that your employees seemed “nervous” and refused to speak with them. Plus, as a practical matter, it may be difficult to prevent journalists from speaking to someone they encounter in a hallway or common area, especially if the interaction is being filmed (your on-camera intrusion would be noteworthy and could become part of the story).
4. Brief Staff with Key Messages
In some circumstances, it’s better to allow your staff to answer basic questions about their work and your organization. That’s especially true if the reporter doesn’t typically write hostile stories and the focus of the interview with your company is about an uncontroversial topic.
If you plan on allowing your employees to speak with a reporter who approaches them in a hallway or during a tour of the office, you should prepare basic media guidelines for your staff, and provide them with your key messages so they know what the “company line” is.
It’s also a good idea to remind employees to “stay in their lanes.” It’s okay for engineers to discuss the technical details of your company’s new software, for example, but they should refuse questions that are “outside their lanes,” such as those about global marketing strategy.
5. Remind Them to Avoid The “Seven-Second Stray”
Some reporters put their subjects at ease with a warm smile, friendly demeanor, and conversational style. So if you’re going to allow staff to speak with reporters, remind them to avoid the “seven-second stray.”
The “seven-second stray” occurs when a spokesperson who is “on message” for nine minutes and 53 seconds of a ten-minute interview delivers an “off-message” quote that lasts just a few seconds. Journalists recognize those unplanned moments as newsworthy, and often use them in their news stories. So if your employee shares a wacky anecdote, disparages a competitor, or criticizes a management decision, you can bet it will make its way into the segment.
6. Ask Them to Tidy Up
Instruct your staff to remove any confidential or sensitive papers from their desktops and to avoid displaying sensitive documents on their computer screens. Ask them to remove overtly political messages from their work areas (e.g. posters and bumper stickers) that, in some cases, can endanger an organization’s tax-exempt status. You might even ask them to do a little housekeeping to leave a neat appearance.
In order to add “color” to their stories, good reporters pay attention to interesting details within eyesight or earshot. As an example, I know of one executive who decorated his office rather lavishly, largely at taxpayer expense. When a scandal erupted at his organization, reporters were quick to note the expensive rug and antique chair in his office. So before a journalist visits your office, walk through the entire office space, try to see the workspace through the eyes of a skeptical journalist, and make any necessary adjustments.
This article was originally published in the American Management Association’s monthly e-newsletter, Leader’s Edge. Brad Phillips is the author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: media relations tips, Public Relations
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I once watched a libertarian conduct a question and answer session with a group of high school students.
The libertarian began the session by sharing his belief that the federal government should have no role in helping a person who is poor. State governments could help that person if they chose to, but it would be even better for private citizens, charitable organizations, and local communities to band together to help that person instead.
It was clear from the students’ reactions that they had never heard such an idea before, and they didn’t like it. Their questions to the libertarian became increasingly hostile, with one even telling him that she thought he was “selfish.”
The mistake he made that day is a mistake I regularly see spokespersons make—especially those representing ideas or causes.
In this case, the libertarian was so intent on explaining his ideology, that he failed to align his message to his audience at all. Imagine how different he would have been perceived had he started his presentation this way:
“How many of you believe that someone who is poor—a man or woman who can’t afford enough food to eat or sufficient medical care—deserves help?
[Show of hands]
“How many of you think the federal government should help? [Show of hands] “How many of you think charities or religious organizations should help?” [Show of hands] “Anyone believe that people in the community should also donate some money?”
“Well, I think we all agree about something. None of us in this room want that poor man or woman to starve to death. Is that a reasonable conclusion?” [Show of hands or head nods]
“There’s also one place I disagree with some of you. I don’t believe that the federal government should help that person, but that the help should come from community groups, charitable organizations, and private citizens. I’d like to spend some time today sharing my views on why I believe that’s so important.”
That introduction would have changed the entire tenor of his talk. By articulating common ground from the start (“None of us in this room want that poor man or woman to starve to death.”), he would have let the students know that they share a similar hope, even if their solutions might differ.
Instead, he forgot to align his views to those of the audience. And because his views seemed so shocking to the students and challenged their belief systems too much, they shut down and closed him out before he had even begun.
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Tags: advanced media training technique, media training tips
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My husband and I recently attended a wedding during which I was reminded of an important lesson in communications: Ditch the jargon. Always.
In communications training, this is an obvious rule. When you speak in complicated terms, most audiences don’t get the message. Even if the average person could understand it, the more effort he or she has to put into decoding your message, the less chance that person will either remember it or put in the work to understand it in the first place.
However, some of my clients deal with very technical, complicated issues. The primary outlets for which they interview tend to be trade magazines and blogs with the occasional appearance in a more mainstream publication. When I talk about how important it is for them to ditch their jargon, they argue that they are speaking to a more sophisticated customer and don’t want to sound “dumb.” I understand the inclination, but it’s still a bad idea.
Take, for example, that recent experience at a friend’s wedding I mentioned above. My husband is an engineer who understands a lot of technical jargon. So when we were chatting at our friend’s wedding with an executive in his same industry who was excited about the implementation of some new technology at his company, my husband started asking him questions about it. Even though this executive oversaw the process, it was no surprise to me when he wasn’t sure what my husband was talking about. He knew the results and he knew why the technology was important for his organization but he didn’t understand the specifics of exactly how it worked.
That can be the case with executives at any company. But clients often tell me that since they mostly speak to niche industry outlets with generally knowledgeable readers, they can use the industry jargon that their readers will understand. That’s a mistake. I tell them it’s still a good idea to speak at a more accessible level in case someone else who may be a potential target audience member or customer is reading the publication as well.
Isn’t it possible that same type of executive from the wedding could be your target customer?
That doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but it does mean simplifying your language and making sure you define acronyms every time you use them. Then, you’ll avoid alienating your target audience–in addition to the people you may not have known were in your audience to begin with.
Tags: media training tips
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This is an excerpt fromThe Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in soft cover and all major e-book formats.
In lesson 2, I mentioned that you shouldn’t conduct an interview the moment reporters call. Instead, I advised that you should offer to return their calls promptly, and for you to take at least a few minutes to prepare for the interview before you speak.
But before you hang up from that initial phone call, take a few minutes to “interview” the reporter. Many journalists are willing to share the basics about the stories they’re working on, and any insight they offer will help you better prepare.
Below are eight questions you might consider asking reporters. I typically don’t ask all of these for every interview, since journalists don’t appreciate being grilled. But they’ll probably offer some of this information on their own anyway, so just fill in any gaps by asking the most relevant of these questions:
- 1. Who are you? No, you shouldn’t ask that question verbatim, but collect the basics—their name, the name of the news organization for which they work, and whether they cover a particular topic.
- 2. Can you tell me about the story you’re working on? Keep this question open-ended and remain quiet while the reporter speaks (the more they say, the more you’ll learn). Feel free to ask follow-up questions and to clarify any points you don’t fully understand.
- 3. Are you approaching this story from any particular perspective? Some reporters will bristle if you ask, “What’s your angle?” This question aims to elicit the same information in a more subtle manner.
- 4. Who else are you interviewing? Reporters often play it close to the vest on this one, but it’s worth asking. You’ll be able to get a sense of the story’s tone by learning whether the other sources in the story are friendly or antagonistic toward your cause.
- 5. What’s the format? For print interviews, this question will help you determine whether reporters just need a quick quote from you or whether they’re writing an in-depth piece that will focus extensively on your work. For broadcast interviews, you’ll be able to learn whether the interview will be live, live-to-tape, or edited. For television, you might also ask if the format will be a remote, on-set, or sound-bites interview.
- 6. What do you need from me? Ask the reporter how much time the interview will last and where the reporter wants to conduct the interview. Also, ask if you can provide any press releases, graphics, photos, videos, or other supplementary documents. You can often expand your presence in a news story—and influence the narrative—if the reporter chooses to use your supporting materials.
- 7. Who will be doing the interview? For many radio and television interviews, you will be contacted initially by an off-air producer rather than by an on-air personality. Ask for the name of the person conducting the interview.
- 8. When are you publishing or airing the story? Review the story as soon as it comes out. If it’s a positive story, share it with your online and off-line networks. If it’s a negative story, consider issuing a response or contacting the reporter or editor to discuss the coverage.
One final note: Before an interview, tell reporters how you prefer to be identified. Include your title and company name, and spell your full name. Nothing is worse than seeing your name or company’s name mangled in front of millions of viewers!
Click here for more information about The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: media relations tips, working with reporters
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We all know our voice is an important tool in communicating — and now a new study says it could also make a difference in your salary.
Your voice telegraphs not only your energy, enthusiasm, and authority but, when used properly, can also be a powerful signal that something you’re about to say or have just said is important. So can you do anything about what you actually sound like? And should you?
A study from Duke University and the University of California San Diego, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, says that answer is a resounding “yes.”
The study analyzed speech samples from 792 CEOs from the Standard and Poor’s 1500 stock index based on their vocal pitch. Researchers found that CEOs with deeper voices managed larger companies and made more money, in some cases to the tune of $187,000 more. Previous voice studies have even shown that voters preferred candidates with deeper voices.
So what does this mean for you? Well, there may not be much you can do to have a deeper voice — but there are some steps you can take to improve your vocal delivery. Here are three tips:
- 1. Learn to Breathe Correctly. Take a deep breath. If your chest expands, you aren’t breathing correctly. Try it again, but as you breathe in, push your stomach out. Make sure your chest doesn’t move. Now begin talking and expending that air you’ve taken in. Your stomach should be moving in. That’s “diaphragmatic breathing,” and the benefits are enormous for the spoken word. Breathing properly makes your voice fuller, more resonant, and less nasal — and it gives you better breath control, meaning you won’t have to gasp for air as often.
- 2. End Your Sentences as Statements, Not Questions. Be careful to avoid vocal “upticks,” which occur when your pitch gets higher at the end of every sentence. An uptick makes you sound as if you’re seeing permission rather than making a statement — and too many of them will diminish your credibility.
- 3. Vary Your Volume to Suit Your Purpose. Speaking loudly adds energy and excitement to your delivery, while speaking softly increases intimacy and drama. But don’t do one or the other. Do both, choosing the right moments based on your content.
One more note about this study: It only applied to male CEOs. A separate, smaller study by Quantified Impressions released earlier this month analyzed the voices of female CEOs. Researchers found that the same pattern didn’t hold for women as it did for men, finding that “The voices of 10 top female executives are closer in pitch to the average for all women.” Instead, the study said:
“Female leaders stand out for the “vocal energy,” or variations in loudness, they use to drive home their points. An energetic voice comes across as authentic, inspiring trust.”
Christina Mozaffari is the Washington, D.C. Vice President of Phillips Media Relations. Follow her on Twitter at @PMRChristina.
Tags: media training performance, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking, voice
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Yesterday, I reviewed Joe Navarro’s excellent book What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People.
Today, I’m going to highlight five things I learned about body language from his book. The excerpts I’ve selected will offer you some fascinating insights into what the eyes, shoulders, hands, thumbs, and legs communicate to others, often without our knowledge.
And thank you, Joe, for generously granting me permission to use these excerpts,
“When we like something we see, our pupils dilate; when we don’t, they constrict. We have no conscious control over our pupils, and they respond both to external stimuli (for example, changes in light) and internal stimuli (such as thoughts) in fractions of a second.”
“When we become aroused, are surprised, or are suddenly confronted, our eyes open up—not only do they widen, but the pupils also quickly dilate to let in the maximum amount of available light, thus sending the maximum amount of visual information to the brain…Once we have a moment to process the information and if it is perceived negatively…in a fraction of a second the pupils will constrict.”
“Any decrease in the size of the eyes, whether through squinting or pupillary constriction, is a form of subconscious blocking behavior. And all blocking behaviors are indicative of concern, dislike, disagreement, or the perception of a potential threat.”
“We use shoulder shrugs to indicate lack of knowledge or doubt. Look for both shoulders to rise; when only one side rises, the message is dubious.”
“Partial shoulder shrugs indicate lack of commitment or insecurity.”
“If you see a person’s shoulders only partially rise or if only one shoulder rises, chance are the individual is not limbically committed to what he or she is saying and is probably being evasive or even deceptive.”
“Hand steepling may well be the most powerful high-confidence tell. It involves touching the spread fingertips of both hands, in a gesture similar to “praying hands,” but the fingers are not interlocked and the palms may not be touching.”
“I see women steepling under the table or very low, undermining the confidence they genuinely possess. I hope that as they recognize the power of the steeple as an indicator of self-assurance, competence, and confidence—traits most individuals would want to be recognized as possessing—more women will embrace this gesture and display it above the table.”
“Often seen with high-status individuals, the thumb sticking out of the pocket is a high-confidence display.”
“When individuals carry their thumbs high, it is a sign that they think highly of themselves and/or are confident in their thoughts or present circumstances. Thumbs up is another example of a gravity-defying gesture, a type of nonverbal behavior normally associated with comfort and high confidence.”
“Feelings of low confidence can be evidenced when a person (usually a male) puts his hands in his pocket and lets the fingers hang out on the side…this signal says, ‘I am very unsure of myself.’”
“Leg crossing is a particularly accurate barometer of how comfortable we feel around another person…We normally cross our legs when we feel comfortable. The sudden presence of someone we don’t like will cause us to uncross our legs.”
“When people sit side-by-side, the direction of their leg crosses becomes significant.”
“Here’s an interesting feature of leg crossing. We usually do it subconsciously in favor of the person we like the most.”
Tags: body language, Joe Navarro, public speaking, What Every BODY Is Saying
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This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in soft cover and all major eBook formats.
Most people don’t know how to use a telephone. Sure, they talk on the phone with their family, friends, and business contacts every day. But the telephone habits they use during those calls are radically different from the ones they need for print or radio interviews conducted by phone, known as “phoners.”
So forget everything you (think) you know and remember these eight tips the next time you have a phoner.
- 1. Get out of your office: Don’t sit at your desk, where you can become easily distracted by incoming emails, phone calls, and office visitors. Find an empty conference room with no distractions, and tape a “Do Not Disturb—Interview in Progress” sign on the door.
- 2. Bring your notes: It’s okay to have notes in front of you during phone interviews. Be careful not to “read” them to the reporter but to use them only as memory triggers. (See lesson 94 for more about the best way to prepare notes for an interview.)
- 3. Get a headset: Telephone headsets are terrific gadgets for phone interviews. They allow you to use both of your hands to gesture, which adds emphasis to your voice, and they free you from cradling a phone to your neck in case you need to jot down a few notes during your call.
- 4. Stand: When our trainees stand, they literally “think faster on their feet.” They also tend to project more authority, likely because pacing helps them use their nervous energy in a more productive manner.
- 5. Smile: Smile when appropriate. The reporter (and audience, for radio interviews) can hear your warmth radiating through the phone.
- 6. Prioritize audio quality: Speaker and cell phones have inferior sound quality and can be a barrier to easy communication. Plus, reporters may conclude, “He thinks he’s too important to pick up the damn phone?” It’s best to use a landline with a high-quality headset.
- 7. Click, clack, repeat: During print interviews, listen for the sound of typing on the other end—you’ll hear it when you say something that intrigues the reporter. That’s your cue to slow down and repeat what you’ve just said to make sure the reporter has time to capture every word. Also, don’t hesitate to check in with the reporter by asking whether your explanation made sense.
- 8. Now, what did I just say? If you think you may have mangled a key quote, you can ask the reporter to read it back to you (some reporters will oblige, others won’t). Reporters may not be willing to change something you said if you don’t like the way you said it—but they usually will if you said something factually inaccurate.
Case Study: Toronto Mayor’s Disastrous Phone Interview
In 2010, Toronto Mayor-Elect Rob Ford agreed to an interview with As It Happens, a national radio program that airs on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
But when the reporter called at the scheduled time, Mr. Ford was busy coaching a youth football game. He proceeded with the interview anyway.
Unsurprisingly, he was unfocused, simultaneously yelling at children and telling the reporter about fiscal restraint. He interrupted the interview numerous times and made his points inarticulately, until finally admitting he was “being distracted.”
The interview ran unedited, creating an embarrassing—and self-inflicted—public relations disaster for the incoming mayor.
Tags: media training tips, working with reporters
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