Posts Tagged ‘advanced media training technique’
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.
Attend our small-group media training workshop in Washington, D.C. on February 3, 2014! View details here.
Tags: advanced media training technique, advanced media training tips, media training tips
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Most communications experts advise that you should never drown your audience in data. They maintain that audiences are unable to remember raw numbers unless you wrap them in context and meaning first.
They’re right—mostly. But there’s one important exception to the rule I’ve never addressed on this blog.
Before sharing that exception to the rule, it’s worth reviewing the usual best practices advice for conveying statistical information. As a brilliant example, Brian Williams opened the NBC Nightly News with this attention-grabbing statement last month: “The last time the leaders of Iran and the United States spoke to each other directly, half the current population of this country had not yet been born.”
Instead of relying on raw population growth numbers, he synthesized his point into a much more memorable sound bite.
In The Media Training Bible, I offered another example: “If your car company is introducing an updated model, you’d be proud to announce that the improved version gets four miles more per gallon. But you’d get even more traction if you said, ‘That’s enough to get from Maine to Miami once per year—without spending an extra penny on gas.’”
Both of those examples avoid the problem of drowning your audience with the types of numbers that are likely to be forgotten before your interview or presentation even ends.
The Exception To The Rule
Sometimes, drowning your audience with a rapid-fire series of statistics is exactly the right thing to do. Your goal in those moments isn’t to help the audience remember each specific number—you know they won’t—but to create a larger and maybe even dramatic impression.
Imagine a speaker delivering the following information while building to a powerful crescendo—until the very end, when the speaker finishes the last phrase in a virtual whisper:
“Almost one in every 100 adults between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide has HIV. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 1 in every 20 adults is living with the disease. The numbers of people living with HIV in Southern Africa alone are stunning. Namibia, 190,000 people. Swaziland, 190,000. Botswana, 300,000. Lesotho, 320,000. South Africa, 5.6 million.”
Few members of an audience will remember those specific numbers. But if the speaker’s main goal is to leave the audience with an unmistakable impression of the severity of the HIV crisis, the rapid succession of numbers will succeed in conveying it.
Use this approach no more than once per presentation (unless you bookend your speech in the open and close with it.). If you’d like to use additional statistics during your talk, use the “best practice” version described at the beginning of this article.
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*Source: World Health Organization
Tags: advanced media training technique, Advanced Presentation Training Tips, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking, statistics
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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
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Since starting this blog in August 2010, we’ve published dozens of advanced media training tips. Many of them have gotten buried over time, so I’ve gone back and selected the 11 posts that remain as useful today as they were when they were published.
I hope you enjoy this collection of advanced media training tips. If you do, I’d be grateful if you’d consider sharing it through your social media networks.
Without further ado, here are 11 of our best advanced media training tips!
Many companies, nonprofits, and government agencies encounter moments when they think it might be a good idea to place a specific tragedy into a larger context. Here’s a better idea.
Many people representing a cause or political party are so intent on explaining their ideology that they fail to align their messages to their audience. They’d do better if they started with areas of agreement.
Can you survive a tough interview by running out the clock?
When a reporter asks you if you can guarantee that something will happen “every time” or “never again,” you may have a tough time answering the question. Here’s an approach that works.
By reframing an issue and refusing to acknowledge the narrow frame the reporter drew around it, you might be able to get your key quote in the story.
Here’s a technique that will allow you to look open and transparent while limiting your exposure to the press.
Some questions don’t have a great answer. But a lot of the time, the perfect answer has been sitting in front of you the entire time.
Adopting the language of your opponent’s most loaded charge can neutralize their strongest argument.
Most people quote someone who supports their position. Sometimes, it’s even more powerful to quote a source the audience wouldn’t expect you to embrace.
Just because you shouldn’t ever use the words “no comment” doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything you know to every reporter who asks.
11. Be Boring
Should you ever “be boring” on purpose? Can “nice and dull” be a winning media relations strategy?
Want more tips? You’ll find 101 tips to better media interviewing in The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: advanced media training technique, advanced media training tips
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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is no stranger to challenging media situations.
In recent years, he’s had to address his team’s notorious participation in the 2007 “Spygate” scandal, welcome the potentially distracting Tim Tebow to his roster, and, most recently, deal with player Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with first-degree murder earlier this summer.
Belichick’s “be boring” approach is evident in his press conference about the Aaron Hernandez murder charges. (Questions begin at the 7:15 mark.)
Since you’re probably not a football coach, here’s a question of greater relevance for you: Should you ever “be boring” on purpose? Is “nice and dull” a winning media relations strategy?
If you’ve read The Media Training Bible, you know that I generally propose being an engaging media spokesperson who delivers sound bites reporters love and the public remembers. Doing so not only helps to build your brand, but keeps you high on a reporter’s list of sources to call; if you can deliver a great interview, reporters know they’ll get what they need from you and keep calling.
But as Belichick’s press conference points out, there are times you want your presence in a story to be minimized. (Here are four ways to minimize or kill a news story.)
For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to message discipline and “being boring” as two different things. (After all, you can still deliver a memorable media sound bite while being on message.)
Below are three examples of when “being boring” might work.
1. You agree to an interview about a topic you’d prefer not receive a lot of attention.
If you deliver a great media sound bite, that very well may become the headline—which would only serve to magnify the story and make it more memorable. Using purposefully uninteresting language would serve up little to make the story bigger.
2. You’re a politician who is a part of a negative story along with three other politicians of equal rank.
You know that the other three politicians are also speaking to the reporter. If you’re purposefully boring, odds are the reporter will give more ink to one of your other three political peers, one of whom will presumably say something more interesting. The same principle applies if you’re talking about business competitors or a controversy involving three other not-for-profit groups.
3. You work in an unpopular industry.
Some of our clients work in controversial industries. They prefer to do their work under the radar—not because they’re engaged in a nefarious effort, but because the media and/or the public too often misunderstand or mischaracterize the nature of their work. Still, there are times they must speak on the record, and being boring is a great way to help keep the story less dramatic.
In closing, though, I’d advise most clients in most situations not to engage in the “be boring” strategy. For most of us, our goal is to build our brands and reinforce our reputations. And developing positive long-term relationships with reporters and delivering media-friendly responses is usually the best way to accomplish that.
A grateful hat tip to @PatrickCoffee of PRNewser.
Can you think of other situations when the “be boring” strategy might be helpful? Have you ever used it? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Tags: advanced media training technique, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, sports
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This excellent post was written by Warren Weeks, the principal of Toronto-based Eleven PR.
When it comes to media scrums, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that the vast majority of people will make it through their entire careers without finding themselves at the center of one of these stressful, impromptu press conferences.
The bad news is that if you do find yourself suddenly surrounded by a circle of clamoring reporters during a crisis, you will have likely had very little time to prepare.
Handling a scrum definitely falls under the category of advanced media relations. The person tapped to address the media in this situation should have plenty of media training under their belt, as well as a lot of real-world media relations experience. A scrum isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you find yourself in a situation in which the media is descending upon your location and you’re going to need to face them, here are a few tips to help you get through it.
1. Being there is half the battle
Depending on the level of confidence you’re able to convey, just being on the scene of the crisis to address the media can score you some important points. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March of 1989, the company’s chairman, Lawrence G. Rawl, sent a series of lower-ranking executives to Alaska to deal with the situation instead of going there himself and taking the lead on the crisis management front. His was a key absence during a notorious disaster that was the result of human error.
During the Stanley Cup riot in 2011, on the other hand, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson faced the media on-site while the riot was still unfolding. Actions can speak louder than words in some instances. And when the chips are down, the presence of a confident leader can be a key ingredient.
2. Confidence is key
While being there can be half the battle, showing up sans confidence is a recipe for disaster. Letting the media run the show, being visibly nervous, sweating, stammering, etc. are all signs that the situation may be slipping out of the company’s control. When you’re engaging with the circle of reporters, you’ll want to convey confidence, decisiveness and leadership. This is where all that media training and advance preparation come in handy.
3. Frame your story in advance
Even if you only have a few minutes to prepare, jot down the three to five key points you want to convey. Be sure to address the big questions people will want answers to. Were there deaths? Injuries? Is the situation under control? What’s the plan for remediation? Have authorities secured the location? And just as importantly, decide which areas/topics you won’t entertain during the scrum interview and have the appropriate bridging phrases at the ready.
4. Provide an update
The first question will usually be general in nature (e.g. “Can you give us an update on the situation?”) This is often a good opportunity to provide a quick overview of what you know. For example, “At 4:16 pm, one of our employees smelled smoke in the main building. They called 911 and the emergency services personnel arrived four minutes later. The firefighters are in the process of getting the situation under control. We’re pleased to inform you that all company personnel are safe and accounted for. We continue to cooperate fully with officials and will provide further updates as information becomes available.”
This is vital information that the media will want to know about and this ‘mini statement’ can help you build your confidence at the outset of the interview.
5. Answer the question behind the question
Be careful about answering the reporters’ questions in a literal manner. This isn’t about being evasive. It’s about realizing there’s often a more important question behind their question that needs to be addressed. For example, if you’re asked how many firefighters are on the scene, will providing a specific number actually be useful to anyone? Are there five? 23? 119?
The literal question is about how many personnel are on the scene. The question behind the question is, “Are the right people on the scene and is the situation under control?” Imagine you’re watching the spokesperson on TV and they get asked about the number of firefighters on the scene. Which is the better answer when it comes to putting the response in context and setting minds at ease?
“Um, fourteen.” or…”We have a full public safety complement of more than a dozen professionals on hand, who are actively working to get the fire under control. And we have the capacity to call upon more emergency services personnel in the unlikely event they are needed.”
6. Use it as a public service announcement
If it makes sense and if the situation can benefit from enlisting the help of the public, use the scrum as a public service announcement. In his scrum during the Stanley Cup riot, Mayor Robertson asked hockey fans and other members of the public to save any photos they had on their smartphones and to send them to the police. Many of them did just that and hundreds of charges have been laid as a result.
7. Create your exit
This isn’t a five-year-old’s birthday party and you’re not a piñata. Once you’ve delivered the information that you have and you’ve given the reporters a chance to ask questions, let them know you have time for one or two more questions. Or let them know specifically when they can expect another update. You may need to state, “This is all the information we have at this point in time. We will have another update for you at 10:00 pm”. Then wind up the interview.
No two scrums will be exactly alike. But as with any other media interaction, preparation and practice are key. The following is an excerpt of the scrum interview that Vancouver’s Mayor Robertson did during the Stanley Cup riot. In this clip, which is just about two minutes in length, you can see him using a number of the techniques described in this post.
Tags: advanced media training technique, crisis communications, Eleven PR, Gregor Robertson, Lawrence Rawl, media training tips, press conference, Warren Weeks
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Many people, when delivering a speech or media interview, like to present data that support their point of view.
If you’re a conservative politician, for example, you might cite a statistic from the conservative Heritage Foundation to bolster your proposal’s credibility.
But it’s even more powerful to quote a source the audience wouldn’t expect you to embrace.
For example, imagine you’re a liberal politician who supports a health care individual mandate. You might say:
“I’d like to read you a quote. It says, ‘If a young man wrecks his Porsche and has not had the foresight to obtain insurance, we may commiserate, but society feels no obligation to repair his car. But health care is different. If a man is struck down by a heart attack in the street, Americans will care for him whether or not he has insurance.’ I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. (pause) It may surprise you to know that that quote comes from the conservative Heritage Foundation. We thank them for their support. (laughter)”
You don’t have to be a politician to use this device. Many organizations representing a cause or a business can use their opponents’ quotes for their own benefit. And you can use opponent quotes even if they don’t explicitly contradict something they said earlier.
For example, let’s say you represent a gun control organization. If a gun rights organization says, “We all agree that gun safety is critically important,” you can use that line. If an environmental nonprofit says, “Protecting the environment doesn’t have to eat into corporate profits,” a local industry group can use it.
Sure, it can be persuasive to cite sources that support your point of view. But oftentimes, it can be even more persuasive to surprise your audience by selecting sources that don’t.
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Tags: advanced media training technique, presentation training, public speaking
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After finishing a recent media training workshop, one of the attendees approached to ask me a question.
“I know that you usually advise spokespeople to agree to interviews when their company or organization will be mentioned in the story,” he said. “But what about those times when you want to minimize your presence in the story? Aren’t there times you can decrease your presence in the story by refusing to participate?”
The answer is yes. But the risks of employing that approach can be quite high, and decisions to do so should only be made by seasoned pros who can accurately assess them. Either way, use these methods in unusual or extreme circumstances only. These are aggressive techniques that do little to build positive and long-term relationships with the press.
Here are four ways in which you might be able to minimize or kill a story:
1. Respond by Email: A short email statement prevents reporters from being able to say you had “no comment,” but also prevents them from asking follow-up questions that could get you into trouble.
2. Be Boring: Typically, we recommend that media spokespersons help their quotes stand out by using action-oriented and evocative language. (Read “10 Ways to Create Memorable Sound Bites.”) But the opposite is also true; if you don’t want to stand out, using boring and process-oriented language is a good way to do it. For example, if you’re asked about one of your nonprofit organization’s donors—a man who was just arrested for tax evasion—you might just say, “It’s an unfortunate situation for all parties involved.”
3. Let Someone Else Take The Heat: Let’s say there will be a negative story about a project you and two other corporate partners are involved in. If you get wind that one of the other partners has agreed to speak to the reporter (and yes, that happens), it may take some of the pressure off of you to speak. In some situations, you may be able to let the other company do the only full interview—and take most of the heat—while you offer only a short written statement instead.
4. Don’t Participate: There are some cases in which a reporter cannot write a story without your corroboration. They may have gotten a tip from someone about something related to your company or your work—but if you’re the only people who know certain information, the reporter may not be able to write the story unless you confirm it for them. Obviously, this is extremely risky. Reporters may file the story mentioning the allegation while stating that you refused to comment. Or they may be successful in finding a disgruntled employee who agrees to speak on background. Or they may have more information then they’re telling you, allowing them to file the story without your participation. With all of those risks, you may wonder why I’m including this option here at all. The reason? I know several professional communicators who have used this strategy successfully.
Have you ever successfully minimized your presence in a news story—or killed it altogether? What strategies did you use to do it? Please share your stories in the comments section below.
Tags: advanced media training technique, media relations tips, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 5 Comments »