If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know that I generally advise spokespersons to return a call well before a reporter’s deadline.
Returning calls from reporters on the early side—before they begin writing their stories—can give you influence over the way they view your topic. Your early conversations may lead them to examine angles they hadn’t previously considered and speak with other sources you mentioned. All of that, in turn, may lead to more favorable coverage.
If, on the other hand, you wait to return a reporter’s call until just before his or her deadline, you may reduce your ability to shape the story. By that late point, the journalist has probably already completed 95 percent of the story and will just plug your quote into a small hole left open for you.
But here’s a question: Are there times when you might want to reduce your role in the story—and strategically return a call for a 5:00 p.m. deadline at 4:58 p.m.?
Waiting to return a journalist’s call until just before the deadline could help you in at least two ways: Depending on the circumstance, it could minimize your role in an unfavorable story; and it prevents reporters from being able to write or say that you had “no comment,” a damning phrase that makes you look guilty.
Here are my questions for you:
Have you ever used this tactic? If so, what were the circumstances? Did it work? If you haven’t, would you consider doing so?
I’ll compile a few of your responses for an upcoming article—so if you’d like some free publicity, please leave a web address along with your comment.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Ellen Page—the actress best known for roles in Juno and Hard Candy—came out yesterday during an emotional speech to a group of LGBT teens at a Human Rights Campaign conference in Las Vegas.
The speech has received a lot of buzz since she delivered it last night, and it’s easy to see why. It’s magnificent.
Ms. Page struck the perfect tone with her speech. Yes, this platform served as her public coming out—but even so, she made sure that the focus of her comments remained on the audience. This easily could have become an indulgent, self-focused speech, but she repeatedly returned the spotlight to the people in the audience who have already come out and are dealing with the issues that involves.
It was impossible to watch Page’s speech without noticing her fear. She spoke for five minutes before coming out—and because she knew what she was leading up to, she appeared vulnerable the entire time. But that was a good thing. Audiences often perceive authentic vulnerability as a gift from the speaker, and Page served as a perfect demonstration of that.
“I’m tired of hiding, and I’m tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationship suffered. And I’m standing here today with all of you on the other side of that pain.”
Even with her vulnerability, or perhaps because of it, Ms. Page was fully connected with the audience the entire time. She remained conversational but intense, nervous but focused.
And that leads me to a technical point. Ms. Page read her speech off of a teleprompter. But unlike the 99 percent of people who sound like they’re reading off a teleprompter, she didn’t. She infused each line with meaning, punching certain words and phrases for emphasis. Her acting background certainly helped there; she knows how to communicate the emotion behind each word. That’s a critical lesson for all public speakers who use a teleprompter.
Finally, she used a wonderful speaking device that bookended her speech. It involved the word “weird.” I won’t spoil it for you, but it was a delightful moment.
To the LGBT community, for whom these coming out speeches offer hope, Ms. Page’s speech served as a wonderful moment of inspiration. I only hope we’re nearing the point when these speeches become unnecessary, anachronisms from a less-accepting time.
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I recently received a letter from Dale Dixon, the author of a new public speaking book called Sweating Bullets: A Story about Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking.
Until I received his note, which was accompanied by a copy of his book, Dale and I had never communicated. But the tone of his pitch letter was perfect—and a great example of the right way to pitch a stranger.
1. He was familiar with my work
Any journalist or blogger can tell you stories about being pitched by PR professionals who had absolutely no familiarity with their product. I’ve been pitched to do stories on food, sports, and outdoor clothing.
Even people who are familiar with my work sometimes come across as perfunctory. But Dale didn’t. In his letter, he made a sincere effort to convey his familiarity with my coverage area. And as a result, I felt that he deserved my attention.
2. His pitch looked good
Dale’s letterhead, which included an image of his book cover along with testimonials, looked good. His letter was professionally designed, attractively spaced, and uncluttered by an overabundance of words. Those may seem like small details—but in a business in which appearances matter, he made the most of his sheet of paper. As a result, he persuaded me to put his book toward the top of my “books to read” pile.
3. He made a soft pitch
More than anything, I appreciated how subtle and respectful his pitch was. His motive for sending me the book—unless he’s the rare altruist—must be for me to read and review it. But in reading his letter, you’d never know it. He let the quality of his approach do the work for him and didn’t feel the need to deliver a blunt call to action. I found that understated approach rare and refreshing. As a result, I decided to reach out to him for permission to reprint his letter and help publicize his book.
I haven’t read Dale’s book yet, so I can’t offer a personal review of it. But if it’s anywhere as thoughtful as his perfect pitch, I’ll be in for a treat when I finally crack the spine.
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Please join me in New York City on April 8-9, 2014 for our only small-group media and presentation training workshop of the year!
Our workshops are fun, fast moving, and content rich. You’ll leave with practical techniques that you can begin implementing immediately. You won’t have to wait long to see the payoff — your audiences will see your dramatic improvement during your next interview or presentation.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what our past clients have said.
Our sessions are restricted to the first 12 people to enroll. That allows each participant to receive individualized coaching, on-camera practice and personalized feedback.
This session is perfect for spokespersons of companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies; book authors and marketers; and any other subject-matter expert or individual who interacts with the media or delivers presentations.
During the two-day interactive workshop, you will learn how to:
- Master the rules of working with the media
- Develop winning media messages and “message supports”
- Confidently interview for print, radio, television, and online media
- Take control of an interview
- Answer the tough questions
- Focus on non-verbal communication
- Grab the audience with a powerful opening
- Organize your presentation so it’s remembered long after you finish
- Forge a connection with energy, eye contact, movement, and your voice
- Speak with open gestures and confident posture
- Reduce your fear—and use it to your advantage
- Use (not abuse) PowerPoint
- …And much more
About the workshop
Although we teach you the dos and don’ts of media interviewing and delivering presentations, we also teach the rationale behind our advice. We believe it’s important for you to know not just what to do but why you should do it. Therefore, our recommendations are rooted in the latest social science.
Our workshops are interactive, dynamic, fast-moving, and information-packed. They’re also fun. We believe that people learn better when they enjoy the experience.
Testimonials from previous clients
Before investing in this class, you probably want to know what our clients have said about our work. Click here to read what our past clients have said about us.
About your trainer
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City. He is the founder of the Mr. Media Training Blog, the world’s most-visited media training website. He is also the author of the Amazon #1 PR bestseller, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN’s Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.
Click here to see videos of Brad in action.
Two-Day Media and Presentation Training
New York City
April 8-9, 2014
Jibberwocky. Molaquin. Pretirific.
Those are made-up words. And believe it or not, nonsense words have something to do with the need to create media messages. I’ll explain how in the video below.
In this video media training tip, you’ll not only learn why you should have a message—but how to deliver an entire “on message” interview without ever repeating the same sentence twice.
Come join us for one of fun, fast-moving, and content-rich media and presentation training workshops! Click here to see our upcoming sessions.
Wikipedia tells us that “in partner dancing, the two dancers are sometimes not equal. One takes the Lead and the other is the Follow.” As you might have expected, gender often plays a role:
“The Lead (conventionally the male in a mixed-sex couple) is responsible for choosing appropriate steps to suit the music (if it is an improvised dance), and leading the Follow by using subtle signals to complete the chosen steps smoothly and safely.”
The majority of interview subjects approach media interviews as a dance. In their view—conscious or not—the reporter leads the dance through his or her questioning while the interviewee gamely goes in whichever conversational direction the journalist decides.
But good media interviews are not a dance. You are equal to reporters—not a companion who follows their lead.
We see this dynamic in our training sessions often. We might begin with a short lecture about the importance of remaining on message—and for the first few practice interview questions we ask the trainees, they remember to transition back to their main points.
But within a few questions, they forget about their messages entirely and just start answering our questions. We, the reporters, are leading the dance again, and the trainee has abandoned their interview strategy entirely.
It’s easy to understand why that happens. In everyday conversation, we have a more natural give and take, with each party switching turns taking the lead and follow roles. If someone asks us a question, we answer the question.
But media interviews aren’t conversations. They are strategic forms of communication intended to reach and appeal to a specific target audience. Spokespersons who forget that—and who lapse back into conversation mode—are turning the lead role back over to the reporter, voluntarily surrendering their right to be an equal.
Come join us for one of our fast-moving and content-rich media and presentation training workshops! Click here to see our upcoming sessions.
Let’s say you’ve been invited to be a guest on a local radio show for a 30-minute segment.
The show airs weekdays at 6pm, so you know that many people will be tuning in during their commutes home. Some will get in their cars a few minutes after your interview begins, others will get home before it ends, and others will take a phone call from their child halfway through.
Since you can’t count on having the audience’s rapt attention for the full half-hour, you need to get your main messages out numerous times. If you don’t—say you only get them out at the beginning of the interview—you’re going to miss all of those people who tuned in while your interview was in progress.
The challenge is to repeat your main themes without being redundant. Ideally, you’ll repeat your main ideas throughout the interview to reach the people who only hear portions of it, but in different ways so you don’t wear out the people who have been tuned in the entire time. (A few years ago, I published a free series to help you do that and expanded upon that technique in my book, The Media Training Bible.)
But lately, I’ve noticed that there’s one big hole in my advice. Many people listen to “radio” broadcasts in the form of podcasts. And people who listen to podcasts tend to do so chronologically—from beginning to end. If they start listening to the podcast in their car and reach their destination before it ends, they’ll resume the podcast from the spot at which they left off.
By listening to the “radio” from beginning to end, podcast listeners have changed the rules.
For podcast-only interviews, unlike terrestrial radio interviews, you can assume that the listeners heard your message at the beginning of the interview. I’d still advise you to prepare for interviews in the same way and repeat your major themes—in the forms of messages, stories, statistics, and sound bites—throughout the interview.
But for podcasts, you can use a somewhat lighter touch than you would for more traditional terrestrial radio, where the “drop-in/drop-out rates” are of more significance for you as a spokesperson.
Practically speaking, what does that mean? Well, let’s assume that you repeated your main message five times (using slightly different words) in your 30-minute terrestrial radio interview. For a podcast, you might only repeat it two or three times and increase your diversity of stories and statistics to reinforce the same basic themes.
Finally, it’s true that some shows (NPR’s programming, for example) air on both terrestrial radio and in the form of downloaded podcasts. In those cases, I tend to strike a balance somewhere in between the two, but err slightly on the side of messaging for terrestrial radio.
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