Archive for the ‘Media Training Tips’ Category
What if there was an almost foolproof way to ensure that reporters ask you the exact question you want them to ask?
There is. Often times, you can “tee up” the next question a reporter will ask you simply by placing it right in front of them.
As an example, imagine that the question you’re asked is slightly off topic. You answer the question, followed by this phrase: “But that’s not even the most fascinating thing we’ve seen.” Any reporter worth his or her paycheck will immediately ask: “Oh? What is?”
Think of this technique as analogous to golf, where players “tee up” their next shot by placing the ball carefully onto a small stand (the “tee”) before striking it.
Other phrases that might help you tee up the next question include:
- “But that’s not even the most interesting discovery we’ve made.”
- “And I heard something more surprising than that along the way.”
- “That’s only the second most frequently asked question we hear from visitors.”
- “There’s an even greater risk to tourists that most people aren’t aware of.”
- “What most people don’t realize is that there’s a more effective way to treat this ailment.”
Now, go back to those five phrases and play the role of a journalist. What would the follow-up questions be? The answer is pretty obvious, right? Each of those phrases should elicit an obvious follow-up question.
When should you use these phrases? You can use them at any time, but I find them of particular use during a live radio or television interview. Let’s say you’ve been booked for a five-minute radio segment. You have limited time in which to make your key points. The host’s first few questions are a bit off topic, so you want to gently and subtly steer her back to the more important parts of the story. These “tee up” phrases help you do that—and allow the host to look good by asking you the “smart” question.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering why you shouldn’t simply use those phrases to transition to your message instead of depending on the reporter to ask the follow-up question (e.g. “But that’s not even the most interesting discovery we’ve made. The most interesting discovery was when we found…”).
That approach is certainly sound and is usually preferable. But let’s say you feel like your answer has already gone on too long and you need to hand the ball back to the reporter. This is a perfect way to accomplish that — the host will be able to jump back in to ask the next question, but will probably ask you the one you want.
As usual, a little goes a long way here. Using this technique once or twice in an interview is probably sufficient. But it’s worth adding this technique to your media arsenal and deploying it when the reporter is just a little off in the questioning and you want to gently nudge them back to a relevant topic.
Come join us for one of our fun, fast-moving and content-rich media and presentation training workshops! Click here to see our upcoming sessions.
Tags: advanced media training technique, advanced media training tips, media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | Please Comment »
Many sports coaches hate it when their players “talk smack” about a team they’re about to play.
Those incendiary comments often serve as motivation for their opponents, who relish the chance to defeat the team that insulted them. Some opposing coaches even post the quote in the locker room to help rally their players.
So it caught my eye yesterday when one of my tweeps, @adam_myrick, tweeted this out:
The Associated Press story he links to is about Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer, who got into trouble with his coach this week for trash talking his opponents. As the AP reports:
“Coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that Spencer wouldn’t speak with the media for ‘a long, long time’ after saying a day earlier that Ohio State would ‘wipe the field’ with Alabama and whoever is No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
‘I guess I’m a little biased, but I think we’d, uh, we’d wipe the field with both of them,’ Spencer said, chuckling.”
To the AP’s credit, they reported the full context of Spencer’s comments:
“It was a statement that Spencer…concluded with a laugh. It was clear he was half-joking. But sarcasm, humor and nuance seldom can be sensed between the lines of cold, hard print or on a monitor or screen.”
Many news organizations wouldn’t have done Spencer the favor of writing that he had been half-joking. They would have just included his comments verbatim without mentioning the humorous context in which he made them.
And that’s the problem with humor. Without the context, comments intended as humorous, silly, or ironic can be portrayed literally—and often are.
You might wonder whether you can afford to make more humorous comments during a live radio or television interview, since the audience will see your full exchange and be able to discern your meaning in its proper context. That’s safer, yes, but it’s still not entirely safe. That’s because your comments may later be transcribed by the wires, blogs, and newspapers—and the “proper” context may not be reflected in their stories about your interview.
With all of that, you may reasonably conclude that I’m advising you never to be humorous during a media interview. But that’s not quite it. It’s not that you can’t be humorous at all, but rather that your humor must reflect your actual, literal meaning.
If your humor, when transcribed, says exactly what you mean and can’t be interpreted in a harmful manner, you’re probably on safe ground.
Tags: Evan Spencer, humor, media training tips, sports, Urban Meyer
Posted in Media Training Tips | Please Comment »
At the beginning of a media interview, many spokespersons remember to answer questions using their messages and message supports. But as the interview progresses and begins to resemble a normal, everyday conversation, they suddenly forget to include their messages.
That’s dangerous not only for the reasons you’ve already read, but also because it usually means they’re directing their answers to the reporter, not their audience.
A media interview is not a conversation with a reporter. It is a highly focused form of communication aimed squarely at your audience. The reporter is merely the conduit through which you reach it. That doesn’t mean you should ignore reporters, but rather that you should focus your communication on the people you’re trying to reach.
As an example, I occasionally receive a negative comment on our blog from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written. If I’m nasty in my response, the entire audience will hold it against me. If I treat the person with respect (in some cases, more than they deserve), readers are more likely to be impressed with the tone of my reply—even if they, too, disagree.
Therefore, I try to remember that the writer of that letter is not my target audience. Sure, my response is addressed to the commenter, but my communication is really intended for the rest of the blog’s readers. So beware of slipping into a conversation with the reporter. If you do, you’ll be speaking with the commenter rather than to the readers.
Here are three ways to make sure you’re directing your communication to your audience:
1. Visualize a member of your audience.
Most people find the idea of speaking to 100,000 people through a reporter absolutely terrifying. The good news is that you never have to fear a large audience again. Instead, visualize one specific person in your target audience that you need to reach in order to be successful. Be specific. Focus your answers on that one individual. If that person understands what you’re saying, odds are the rest of your audience will too.
For one interview, one of our clients visualized that his “target person” was a retired 78-year-old African American woman living by herself in rural Nevada. He further defined her by saying she retired nine years ago after working as a trauma nurse for 40 years. By being that specific, he was able to visualize that woman during his entire interview, helping him reach the entire audience more effectively.
Before reading further, take a moment to identify and visualize your target person.
2. Base your interview on the audience’s level of knowledge.
If you’re speaking about climate change with a reporter who has covered that issue for a decade, you might be tempted to speak at a higher level by using acronyms or technical jargon. Don’t. The reporter isn’t your audience; the person you visualized is. Speak to the reporter as you would to your target person.
3. Don’t call reporters by name.
Many media trainers teach their trainees to call reporters by their names, arguing that doing so helps forge a warm connection with the interviewer. Perhaps that’s true. But it comes at too high of a price. When you call reporters by name, it makes it clear to the audience that you’re speaking to the reporter, not with them.
Tags: media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | 1 Comment »
When most people think of ambush interviews, they think of a television interviewer chasing after a scandal-tarred executive with camera and microphone in tow.
Those types of ambushes do occur occasionally, but they’re rare. More typically, an ambush occurs in one of two ways:
- When a reporter shows up without notice.
- When a reporter deviates from the agreed-upon topic to blindside a source with something totally unexpected.
In both cases, the reporter is after one thing: a great visual that makes you look guilty. If you respond with defensiveness, anger, or shock, the news outlet will run the tape of your bad reaction repeatedly, perhaps for days. You win an ambush by denying the reporter a great visual. If you’re ever ambushed, remember the advice offered in that old deodorant ad: never let ‘em see you sweat. By remaining calm, you prevent reporters from getting the compelling “money shot” they desire.
1. When a Reporter Shows Up Without Notice
What should you say when a reporter shows up without warning? Try something like this:
“Thank you for coming. I’d be happy to speak with you. I wish I knew you were coming—I have a meeting scheduled that I’m already running late for. Please contact my office so we can set up a time to talk.”
Then walk to your destination. If you only have a short distance to walk, continue facing the reporter and restate your message as you walk backward to avoid the “back to camera” shot. And whatever you do, don’t block the camera by placing your hand over the lens! Deny them the defensive-looking visual.
2. When a Reporter Blindsides You During an Interview
What do you do when you’ve agreed to an interview about your organization’s work to save endangered tigers but the reporter suddenly asks about your lavish compensation package? If you refuse to answer, you look guilty. If you answer badly, the results could be even worse.
You have two choices:
- Answer the question. Doing so usually plays better to the audience, and good media training should prepare you in advance to anticipate the “unexpected” questions.
- Deflect the question. Tell the reporter that this interview was supposed to be about your work to save tigers, but that you’d be happy to schedule a future interview to discuss other issues. This might be your best option if the question is about a topic the audience wouldn’t expect you to know much about, and may be your best approach if answering the question badly would do even more harm than not answering it at all.
CASE STUDY: PRESIDENT REAGAN: “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
President Reagan, a master of good visuals, was subject to an ambush of sorts every time he exited the White House to board Marine One.
Sam Donaldson, ABC News’ aggressive White House Correspondent, would shout tough questions at him as he walked across the lawn.
As the blades of the helicopter whirred, Reagan pretended he couldn’t hear Donaldson’s questions by cupping a hand to his ear, shrugging, and offering a mile-wide smile.
Tags: media training tips, Ronald Reagan, Sam Donaldson
Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »
When musician Terence Trent D’Arby released his debut album in the late 1980s, he had immediate success with two top-ten hits: Wishing Well and Sign Your Name. It didn’t take long before his instant stardom went to his head: “My album is better than [The Beatles’] Sgt. Pepper’s,” he declared. The public disagreed; those were the only top-ten hits D’Arby ever had.
When Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show in 1992, competitor Arsenio Hall didn’t mince words: “I’m going to…kick Leno’s ass.” He didn’t. Leno soon became the undisputed king of late night and Hall was off the air within two years. (He returned to late night earlier this fall after a 19-year hiatus.)
In late 2011, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told ABC’s Jake Tapper, “I’m going to be the nominee.” He wasn’t; he won only two states. (His bombastic personality did help him land a co-hosting seat on CNN’s resurrected Crossfire, however.)
As these three examples illustrate, making bold proclamations can backfire, sometimes badly.
“But wait…didn’t you previously advise us to use declarative language?”
It’s true, I did. In The Media Training Bible, I gave the following three examples of times when spokespersons could—and should—use declarative language:
- 1. You might not be able to say that a new drug will work, but you could say it’s the most promising new drug you’ve seen in your career.
- 2. You might not be able to say that your company has never had a safety violation, but you could say you’ve never had a major incident at your plant.
- 3. You might not be able to say that your nonprofit’s fundraising drive will solve the problem, but you could say that more people in your community have volunteered to help than ever before.
There’s a big difference between the three statements above and the three examples that opened this article. The three statements above are based solidly in fact—but stop short of bold predictions and hyperbole.
So yes, be bold. Make strong assertions. Go as far as the facts allow. But only go as far as the facts allow. If you go past that magic mark, your words will likely be used against you in future news stories—and the tone of those stories may not be particularly kind.
You’re going to sign up for my email list right this second! (Okay, that declarative sentence probably went too far.) But if you’d like to, here’s the link.
Tags: media training tips
Posted in Media Training: Message | 2 Comments »
Many news programs use Skype (or similar technologies) to interview spokespersons. Doing so makes sense for cash-strapped news organizations—instead of sending a camera crew to your home or office at great expense, they can save money by asking you to remain at your desk and conduct the interview via Skype.
In addition to saving money, Skype can help save time on breaking news stories (news organizations can put you on the air now instead of waiting for you to drive to the studio) and bridge insurmountable geographical distances.
And then, of course, there are all of the non-news uses for webcams: conversations with clients and potential clients, business meetings, and conference calls.
Skype and webcam interviews offer some obvious advantages, but they also require you to consider other factors. Here are six things to remember before your next webcam interview.
1. Set up your shot: Since your webcam interview may be viewed in a small box on someone else’s computer, simplify the background by removing small items that will be difficult to see. I use a banner with the “Mr. Media Training” logo behind me, but a minimally decorated wall with a framed print, a lamp, and/or a large house plant can also look good on camera.
2. Avoid distractions: In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Tom Cibrowski, the executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America, advised guests to “angle the camera to avoid any movement behind you, such as traffic going by the window.”
3. Place the camera at eye level: Most people place their laptops on their desk, meaning they have to look down slightly at the camera’s lens. Instead, place a small platform beneath your computer to bring the camera to eye level, which gives you a straight-on shot.
4. Turn on the lights: More lights are better than fewer. According to The Wall Street Journal article, “the ones in front of you will light up your face, and the ones behind you will set the stage.”
5. Buy a quality headset and/or webcam: These are important investments if you’re likely to be doing such interviews. Don’t settle for the cheapest options; quality matters. Look for a more discreet earpiece rather than an over-sized headset.
6. Limit your movements: Depending on your computer’s bandwidth, you might look “jumpy.” Whereas television has 30 frames per second, which the eye reads as constant movement, a slow Internet connection only has 10-15, which the eye reads as separate frames. Therefore, limit your head, hand, and arm movements unless you have a good camera and fast connection. Webcam interviews are the only format in which gesturing can hurt your performance.
For more tips to help you rock your next media interview, read The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in paperback, for the Kindle, and the iPad.
Tags: media training tips, Skype, webcam
Posted in Media Training Tips | 4 Comments »
My firm has offices in New York City and Washington, DC, so I frequently take the train between the two cities. On one such trip, I overheard a PR professional speaking to a colleague.
“The reporter from the Philadelphia Daily News completely blew the story,” she said, clearly infuriated. “I talked to him forever, and he totally missed the point!”
I immediately wondered whether the problem was that she had said too much—and by doing so, might have obscured her message.
Too often, media spokespersons fall victim to the “tell them everything you know” syndrome. They wrongly believe that their primary role in an interview is to provide the reporter with an in-depth education instead of remembering that their main goal is to influence the story and get the quotes they want.
Sure, providing reporters with the information they need in order to file a story is an important part of your job as a spokesperson. But the more detail you provide, the more likely a secondary or tertiary point will make its way into the story instead of a primary one.
Put another way, a media interview isn’t about downloading your knowledge—it’s about prioritizing your knowledge. As we tell our clients, the more you say, the more you stray.
I’ll be even a bit more provocative here: Your main task as a spokesperson isn’t to give the reporter facts. If you merely spout facts, you’ll be no more valuable than a Wikipedia entry. Your job is to give those facts context and meaning.
When speaking to print reporters in person, you’ll probably observe them furiously scribbling notes in a small notepad. In order to capture everything, they usually write in big, barely legible characters and flip the pages at an almost manic pace. By the end of the interview, reporters may have dozens of pages of notes.
If you remain focused on your most critical points, you will help reporters prioritize. They may walk away with 12 pages of notes, but your clarity will make it easy for them to immediately identify your three most important themes. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll use them—but it dramatically increases the probability they will.
Alternatively, if you’re not focused enough, you will give the reporter 12 pages’ worth of random, unprioritized thoughts from which to choose. If you’re fortunate enough to get the quote you wanted, it would be due more to luck than design.
There’s an easy way to know if you’re abandoning your main messages. If you ever say the following phrases during an interview (or anything similar), you’ve probably wandered pretty far off message:
- “Oh, by the way…”
- “As an aside…”
- “That reminds me of something else…”
I suspect that’s where the woman on the train went wrong. As she said, she “talked to him forever,” almost certainly meaning her answers were unprioritized. She likely gave the reporter 12 pages’ worth of unfocused notes, forcing him to choose what to include. And, as usually happens in that circumstance, she was unhappy with the result.
She forgot that her primary job was not to educate but to prioritize.
Tags: media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | 4 Comments »
I’ve trained thousands of media spokespersons over the past decade, and there’s one thing that unites almost all of them: when they’re accused of something, they become defensive.
Their defensive reactions may be subtle, indicated by a slight shift in body language, or more severe, conveyed through a frozen “deer-in-headlights” expression. Either way, the audience can spot the defensive reactions and interpret meaning from them, undermining the impressions the spokespersons had hoped to make.
It’s perfectly understandable to become defensive when challenged. It’s a natural tendency for most of us. But in many cases, there’s a better way to handle accusations.
Stop defending yourself against them. Start running toward them. Embrace them. Lean into them.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a local politician who is confronted by an angry constituent at a town hall meeting.
Angry Question: “Why did you spend $52 million to rebuild this park? Our community has so many other needs!”
Your “Lean Into” Response: “Our community does have a lot of other needs—and that’s exactly why we spent what we did on this park. We spent only as much as necessary to build a park that was done the right way, right from the start. That way, we knew we wouldn’t have to waste taxpayer dollars a few years from now on repairs that shouldn’t be necessary. As a result of doing this project right, we will have more taxpayer dollars available for all of those other important needs you alluded to.”
For another example of leaning into a charge, watch this clip from a 2012 Republican debate. Rick Santorum accused Newt Gingrich of being too “grandiose” in his thinking (he had recently proposed a moon colony). But instead of ducking the charge, Gingrich went with it.
Obviously, you can’t lean into every accusation that’s ever made of you (this strategy would work badly if you were accused of a crime, for example). But deployed at the right times, this technique can help you eliminate defensiveness and communicate a sense of utter confidence to your audiences.
Enjoy this post? You’ll learn a lot more in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in paperback, for the Kindle, and the iPad.
Tags: advanced media training technique, advanced media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | 1 Comment »