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.
Many of this blog’s readers are news junkies. So in a slight departure from this blog’s usual content today, I’d like to suggest you bookmark a new website that debuted this week called “Retro Report.”
I really like the promise of this site, because it seeks to correct one of the biggest problems with today’s media. Too often, a story dominates the headlines for a few days and then disappears. But what happens after the story disappears? Did more information about the story emerge? Did it ever get reported? Did the original breaking news coverage get parts of the story wrong or omit a key perspective?
Retro Report, a nonprofit documentary news organization, seeks to tell “the truth now about the big stories then.”
The first Retro Report piece takes viewers back to 1987, when “a barge loaded with New York garbage became a sensational fiasco,” but “ended up fueling the modern recycling movement.” The story was big enough for Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Bob Schieffer to report on at the time. Even Johnny Carson couldn’t resist cracking a joke. Here’s the story:
Publisher Taegan Goddard told me he “hopes that Retro Report can become the Wikipedia for news—the place to go to find out what happened to stories that once dominated the news.”
This looks like a great project. I hope you enjoy it as much as I expect to.
Update: Monday, May 13, 2013: Retro Report posted its newest video today. This one, about the Tailhook military sexual harassment scandal, is also excellent.
When you’re giving a speech, is it okay to embellish your humorous anecdotes to make sure they don’t land with a thud?
James C. Humes, author of the popular public speaking book Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, says yes. He argues that humor, when delivered in the third person, can take the audience out of the moment. He writes:
“When you start by saying ‘this salesman’ or ‘this psychiatrist,’ you have already signaled the audience that this is a joke—something that didn’t really happen—and you have already lost them. Lead them by the hand into your story by saying, for example: ‘An old woman in the town I grew up in’ or ‘A lawyer I know once had a client walk in…’”
Humes believes that such stretches of the truth can be considered “humor license,” similar to the “dramatic license” audiences grant to stage actors. During a speech, Humes writes, “You’re not under oath…don’t worry about stretching the truth.”
But is he right? Is stretching the truth during a humorous anecdote a reasonable use of “license,” or is it simply a lie that could threaten a speaker’s credibility?
If “lie” seems like a strong word, consider this piece of advice from Humes: “Once you repeat it a few times in your own style, you begin to believe that it really did happen.”
A quick anecdote (and I swear, this one is true). During my presentations, I used to tell a story about “a client in Georgia.” The client didn’t really exist—it was a composite of several different clients. But after my presentations, a few people came up to me and asked me who that client was. It made me feel dishonest. Since then, I’ve made it clear to audiences that the “client” is a fictional example. And you know what? The story hasn’t lost any of its zip.
Humes is a former speechwriter for five presidents. The men he served—Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford among them—served in an era that allowed more license for humorous anecdotes. Today’s politicians have their speeches fact checked, blogged and tweeted about, and dissected for accuracy by opposition researchers. The license Humes recommends may not be fully dead, but it’s dying. And it could come with a great risk to people’s reputations as straight shooters.
My suggestion? Know your audience. Assess whether “humor license” would be well-received or place your reputation in the hands of nefarious opponents and journalists looking for a sexy headline. And don’t take it at face value that audiences will automatically grant you humor license.
Today’s post looks at three recent media events that are worthy of mention.
1. Congressional Candidate Mark Sanford Plays Deaf
Remember Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina Governor who had to resign as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, after admitting he was having an affair with an Argentinian woman? You may recall that he infamously went missing from his gubernatorial post—even his aides had no clue where he was—and that he claimed he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail,” a unique metaphor for “sleeping with your mistress.”
Well, he’s trying to become a congressman from South Carolina, and his opponent asked him about his indiscretions during a recent debate. Here’s the exchange:
Sanford declined to respond to the charge, and continued his answer as if he really didn’t hear his opponent. By pretending he didn’t hear the question, Sanford only served to create more headlines that reminded people of his misdeeds. He should have offered a nonheadline-worthy answer instead, such as: “I’ve already discussed that matter in detail, and I think the people of this district are much more interested in hearing about how my leadership would be better for their lives…”
2. President Obama on Syria
Last August, President Obama declared during a news conference that, “Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons [in Syria] would cross a ‘red line’ and ‘change my calculus,’” according to The New York Times.
The phrase “red line” appears to have been improvised, according to aides who had attended strategy meetings about Syria. The phase was used “…to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the ‘red line’ came from. With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back.”
“’What the president said in August was unscripted,’” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the ‘nuance got completely dropped.’”
It appears as if the President uttered a seven-second stray, one of those phrases that can define an administration—or at least its foreign policy. Mr. Obama should have known better than to use such loaded language in a press conference, which reminds me of President Bush’s dangerous “Bring ‘em on” quip.
The two words “red line” may haunt him. As The Times said in its lead paragraph, Mr. Obama “now finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.”
3. American Kennel Club In The Doghouse
A couple of readers sent me this recent clip from The Today Show about the American Kennel Club (AKC). The group’s inspection program has come under fire recently, with accusations that several AKC-registered operations are mistreating, malnourishing, and abusing dogs.
Those are the kinds of accusations that can destroy an organization’s reputation—so you’d think that the AKC would have been ready to respond. But watch the AKC’s Communications Director, Lisa Peterson, in action:
She lacked answers to basic questions and looked defensive, likely reassuring few viewers. When asked how many inspectors the AKC has, she said nine. When asked whether that was enough, she avoided the question by unhelpfully saying, “That’s the number that we have.”
She failed to set an adequate frame. She should have repeatedly said something such as: “All of us here are passionate about dogs, and we’re disgusted by these reports. Most of our AKC-registered breeders are as passionate as we are, but we will do everything in our power to make sure that no AKC-registered breeder can ever get away with this type of mistreatment again.”
Join us in New York City on July 8-9, 2013 for our two-day message development, media and crisis training workshop! Early registration discount ends May 31, 2013. Click here for more information.
Disclaimer: From 1999-2001, I served as one of three full-time producers for CNN’s Reliable Sources. I worked with host Howard Kurtz for two years. I left the show on good terms, but have spoken to Howie only once since leaving. During our time on the show together (and when producing a few of his pieces for Inside Politics), he always treated me respectfully. I enjoyed working with him.
When NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay in Sports Illustrated last week, Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, accused him of not being forthright about having been engaged to a woman. Worse, he mocked the player for “playing both sides of the court.”
In fact, Collins had explicitly disclosed his relationship with the woman in the article. When confronted with his error, Kurtz chose to modify the article only slightly. Only after continued criticism did the website The Daily Beast, the site on which his erroneous article appeared, retract the story. (Kurtz left The Daily Beast last week. He says it was amicable; other sources describe it as a “firing.”)
On Sunday, CNN invited two other media reporters to interview Kurtz about this mistake—and others—on his own show. From a crisis communications perspective, how did he do?
Generally speaking, Kurtz did a good job with his on-air mea culpa. He appeared humbled, chastened, and even shaken. He didn’t mince words about his errors, saying:
“The mistake I made was sloppy and inexcusable. I’m not going to offer any extenuating circumstances. I screwed up.”
“I deserve the criticism. I accept it. And I’m determined to learn from this episode.”
But there are at least two things I wish he had done differently.
First, he would have been much better served by acknowledging his original error immediately. As a result of delaying his apology, his eventual mea culpa may be perceived as a reactive necessity rather than a proactive choice.
Second, he didn’t fully answer multiple questions about his workload. During the time I worked with Howie, I wondered whether he was overburdened. At the time we worked together, he was not only writing a weekly column (and other regular articles) for The Washington Post and hosting Reliable Sources, but he was also writing a book called The Fortune Tellers. His workload has only seemingly increased in the digital age, with more columns, tweets, and online videos.
When asked whether he would decrease his workload, he said:
“I’m going to try to be careful not to take on too much.”
“I’ll leave it to others to judge whether I have taken on too much…my kids tell me I work too hard.”
“There are some people who say, ‘Well, maybe you had a little too much on your plate.’ I’ll leave that to others to judge….I’ll be careful from this point on not to take on too much.”
That strikes me as a rather tepid pledge, and Kurtz should have been more specific on this point. If his workload is going to be the exact same, how can he slow down and fact-check more carefully? If he’s going to take on less, what, specifically, does he intend to give up? An unspecific pledge that fails to enumerate specific action steps falls short of an ideal crisis communications approach.
For now, Kurtz is fighting to continue his role on Reliable Sources. As the pointed questions asked of him in the video above show, it won’t be easy.
Photo credit: David Shankbone
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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.
If you follow my Twitter feed (I’m at @MrMediaTraining), you know that I often have critical words to say about CNN. Based on my tweets alone, you might reasonably conclude that I hate the network.
The truth is I don’t. I’m just bitterly disappointed in what the network has become. CNN’s decline has occurred at the exact moment that a solid news—not opinion—network is needed most.
There’s a critical need for a cable news channel that aims down the middle and gets it right. CNN should be the network that meets that need. Instead, it’s too often filled with silly and completely unnecessary graphics of holograms (really), silly and completely unnecessary over-coverage of “breaking” stories (such as the hours-long broadcast following the arrival of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship), and, worst of all, incorrect reporting.
CNN has had its credibility shattered in recent years. Its reputation took a bad hit in 1998, when the network claimed that U.S. troops committed war crimes during Operation Tailwind, a covert incursion that occurred during the Vietnam War. The network retracted the report.
In 2000, the network suffered another black eye by calling the presidential race incorrectly. More recently, CNN said that Gabrielle Giffords had died (she didn’t), that the Supreme Court overturned ObamaCare (it didn’t), and that Ryan Lanza was the Newtown shooter (he wasn’t – it was his brother, Adam).
But CNN’s misreporting this month about the Boston Marathon bombings may have been its lowest moment, compounding the network’s growing reputation for blowing the big story.
At the time of this report, no arrest had been made—Correspondent John King made these comments before the manhunt in Watertown, Massachusetts that led to the death of one suspect and the capture of the other.
King didn’t stop there. He also described the suspect as a “dark-skinned male,” which turned out to a questionable description—and was probably too vague to warrant mention at all.
John King later acknowledged his mistake and described his agony over getting it wrong. But CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker seemed not to care. He sent his staff a tone-deaf and congratulatory statement on their wonderful coverage of the bombing:
“For journalists like each of us, these are the times that define what we do and why we do it. All of you, across every division of CNN Worldwide, have done exceptional work. And when we made a mistake, we moved quickly to acknowledge it and correct it.”
Zucker is right that these are the times that define what they do. It’s just that his rose-colored definition is wrong. Despite the fact that many of CNN’s reporters and correspondents reported parts of the story well, their successes were rightfully drowned out by their mistakes.
It’s true that other news organizations got this story (and some of the others I mentioned in this piece) wrong. But I don’t expect more from many of those outlets. I do expect more from CNN. And for that reason, I’m naming CNN’s misreporting the worst video media disaster of the month.
What do you think? Was I too hard on CNN, or do they deserve being named the worst disaster of the month? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
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.”