Sorry, But You’re Not “Better When You Wing It”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 23, 2015 – 2:23 am

Every so often, speakers resist my advice to practice for an interview or presentation, claiming that practice robs their talks of spontaneity and reduces their performance. They insist that they’re “better when they wing it.” It’s tempting to tell them they’re wrong—and they almost always are—but I thought I’d turn this one over to a few familiar names.

 

Men's and Women's Olympic Swimming.  National Aquatics Center

SWIMMER MICHAEL PHELPS

According to Discovery Health, “He’s usually at the pool by 6:30 am where he swims for an average six hours a day or around 8 miles per day. He swims six days per week including holidays.”

 

 

 

Yo-Yo_Ma by Sam FelderCELLIST YO-YO MA

Ma tells The New York Times that: “Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes. Practicing is not only playing your instrument, either by yourself or rehearsing with others — it also includes imagining yourself practicing. Your brain forms the same neural connections and muscle memory whether you are imagining the task or actually doing it.”

 

Roy Halladay by Keith AllisonBASEBALL ALL-STAR ROY HALLADAY

According to Business Insider, “Cy Young award winning pitcher Roy Halladay is one of the hardest working men in baseball. According to Sports Illustrated, he routinely puts in a 90 minute workout before his teammates make to the field.”

 

 

 

I attribute people’s reluctance to practice to one of four things: insecurity, fear, arrogance, or (most typically) a genuine but misguided belief that they’re better without it. I understand why they might have reached that conclusion: practice can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and it’s that very lack of familiarity that convinces people that they’re better off-the-cuff.

But unless you’re a better speaker than Phelps is a swimmer, odds are you can benefit from practice. As Yo-Yo Ma suggested, the goal is to develop muscle memory through practice that automatically guides you when you hit the stage.

 

TigerWoods_thumb.jpgGOLFER TIGER WOODS

“At a tournament, I don’t really spend a whole lot of time there on the range, or even on the putting green or anything like that. When I get to a tournament site, I feel like my game should be ready. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t play as many weeks as a lot of these guys do, because I spend a lot of time practicing at home. I do most of my preparation at home. Once I’m at a tournament site, I’m there just to find my rhythm, tune up a little bit, and get myself ready to go play the next day.” – via Human Kinetics

 

When I watch people practice their presentations, we often uncover a few soft spots. It could be an abstract point without the rich supporting material that makes it more memorable. It might be an awkward transition. It may be a visual that interferes with the spoken delivery. Those gaps cannot be identified without practice, and the “off-the-cuff” speaker usually ends up committing those otherwise preventable errors while standing in front of an audience.

The quality of practice is imperative, though, and too much practice can be a bad thing. This post offers some tips on how to practice for a media interview. How to practice for a speech or presentation while keeping the material fresh for you as a speaker will be the focus of a post soon—but in the meantime, here’s one tip: pay close attention to the transitions between points, as that’s often a place where everything falls apart.

All images from Wikimedia Commons. Michael Phelps in public domain; Yo-Yo Ma by Sam Felder; Roy Halladay by Keith Allison.

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PR Fail: Look Behind You!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 27, 2015 – 9:45 am

Late last week, New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Quarterback Tom Brady (below) tried to take the air out of accusations that they had intentionally deflated game balls during their AFC Championship Game win.

Unfortunately, it looked as if the Patriots’ PR staff didn’t consider the background those two spokespersons would be standing in front of while denying the charge. As both men spoke, an advertisement for Gillette’s “Flexball” razor served as their backdrop, an unfortunate coincidence noted by thousands of people on social media.

(There are two other possible explanations—one, the Patriots were under a legal obligation to use that background, and two, Gillette willingly took the risk to be associated with this controversy in return for the additional exposure.)

Tom Brady Gillette

 

The Patriots are far from alone in using an ill-considered background. In 2010, for example, MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced his network’s new branding strategy in a self-produced video—while CNN played in the background.

Phil Griffin

 

Last year, the former U.S. ambassador to Poland, Lee Feinstein, gave an interview to the BBC with what looked to be a sloppy dorm room behind him. I dubbed this “the worst webcam background I’ve ever seen.” 

Lee Feinstein Background

 

And in one of my all-time favorite clips that readers of this blog have seen before, then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey—while turkeys were being slaughtered behind her.

 

I gave some advice about choosing the right background in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need To Know Before Your Next Interview:

“Company representatives might stand on a bustling factory floor to show their business’s vitality. Marine biologists might remove their shoes and deliver an interview from the water’s edge. A health expert discussing the seriousness of diabetes might choose to do an interview from a local hospital’s emergency room.

Your background is even more important during a crisis. As a general rule of thumb, don’t display your logo during a crisis. Why help the audience remember that your brand is associated with bad news? That means you shouldn’t stand in front of any signs, buildings, or awnings that feature your company’s symbol. Also avoid wearing any clothing, caps, or pins that bear your company’s name.”

It’s easy to understand how these things happen: We become so fixated on the messages we want to deliver that we too often forget about the optics. So before your next interview, take a quick glance around you to make sure nothing in the background could conflict with your message.

Like the blog? Read the book! The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview is available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

 

 


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Reader Question: Can You Clarify Your Advice On Bridging?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 10, 2014 – 3:02 am

I recently received this email from a communications consultant working in Brussels, Belgium. She writes:

“I bought your book a couple of months ago and found it a terrific read. I give a great many media trainings a year and found inspiration for a couple of improvements of the way I train my clients.

I do have one question / remark. You present the proof points of the key messages as messages to bridge to. But should a spokesperson not be bridging to key messages in lieu of proof points? I always tell my trainees to repeat key messages a couple of times during an interview (not word for word of course).

Scientific research shows that a minimum amount of repetition is useful for a message to sink in with an audience (print interviewer) and besides if you repeat a key message a couple of times (A/V interview) you increase the chances of it being selected by the editor for the final cut of the report. What is your take on this?”

Q&A

She is referring to my advice to bridge—or transition—not only to your core messages, but also to “message supports” such as stories, statistics, and sound bites.

First, she is right—repetition increases the likelihood that a message will be used by the media and remembered by the public. Upon reading her email, I quickly concluded that the advice we’re both offering our clients is compatible, not contradictory.

The system I developed for answering questions—described in The Media Training Bible as the “message support stool”—was designed to get around a problem that tends to affect (and afflict) longer interviews.

As I assert in our training sessions, reporters and the public resent a spokesperson who simply regurgitates the same messages repeatedly. Therefore, the problem I wanted to solve was this: How can a spokesperson answer every question in a manner that conveys their main themes but without ever lapsing into the kind of obnoxious repetition that repels an audience?

Book Cover Stacked

The idea behind the message support stool—or “proof points,” as supporting material is sometimes called—is that you can supplement your main messages by occasionally expressing them through a story, statistic, or sound bite. Beyond simply preventing repetition, a well-curated story, statistic, or sound bite can be more memorable than the main message itself, which is often an abstraction or more conceptual idea.

But I agree with her that it’s a good idea to come back to the main messages themselves at least a couple of times throughout the interview, using different words each time, as she suggested. That’s important for the reasons she stated, but I’d add one more reason.

During longer radio interviews, for example, the audience may turn over a few times. In other words, a person listening at the beginning of an interview may not still be listening at the end, and many people may have tuned in sometime during the middle of the interview. Therefore, repeating your message a few times is the only way to ensure that each listener hears your most important points at least once.

Thank you very much for your thoughtful question!

Do you have a question about media interviews or public speaking that you’d like answered in a future blog post? Please email me at Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.

 

 


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Classic Post: Seven Times To Turn Down A Media Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 26, 2014 – 2:04 pm

Editor’s Note: Since August 2010, I’ve written more than 1,000 posts. Some of the most popular posts have gotten buried over time, so I occasionally unbury especially useful older posts to share with readers who missed them the first time. This article was originally published on December 27, 2010.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve seen my regular advice to do almost every media interview you’re offered. But there are times when turning down an interview makes the most sense, and this article will discuss the times when saying “no” is your best move.

Below, you’ll find a list of seven times to turn down an interview.

The original list comes from the IABC (The International Association of Business Communicators). Although it’s a solid list, the tips are overly-generalized, so I’ve added my own commentary to each of the seven suggestions to help make them more complete.

Hand No

1. Employees Have Not Yet Been Notified About a Specific Issue

As a general piece of advice, this is fine. But if a reporter is about to run a story with or without your input – and if you lack the logistical ability to inform your employees directly before it runs – it might make sense to participate in the story to ensure you provide the necessary context. Plus, what is the “specific issue” at play here? Announcing a new product before all employees have been notified (e.g. the iPad) might be strategically sound, while announcing employee layoffs through the press would not be.

2. Employee, Client or Patient Privacy Is Never Breached For Any Reason

Client confidentiality might be waived, for example, if you’re subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit or before Congress, especially if no confidentiality agreement was signed between the parties.

3. An Emergency Has Occurred; Next-of-Kin Have Not Been Notified

I agree you should not be the first party to announce any deaths before next-of-kin has been notified, but what happens if the media has already announced the names? Do you confirm them then, or continue to wait hours – or days – before next-of-kin has been notified? These cases aren’t always cut and dried, and sometimes confirming the names is the more humane choice.

4. Sensitive Competitive Information Would Be Divulged

In a reputational crisis, there are times you might lose more by NOT divulging a proprietary piece of information. As with any crisis, you have to analyze all possibilities, including divulging competitive information.

No Thank You

5. Security Legislation Would Be Breached

Whistleblowers aside, this is probably good advice. I assume this refers to laws already passed, not pending legislation.

6. Union Negotiations are Underway; An Information Blackout is in Effect

If both sides are honoring the agreement, this is good advice. But what about when one party breaks the agreement and is killing you in the press? You should talk to the media – if not to offer specifics, at least to remind the public that you’ve agreed to an information blackout, that you’re not going to talk for that reason, but that there’s more to the story than they’re hearing from the other side.

7. Legal Counsel Has Advised Against Communications

If there’s one thing on this list that makes me bristle, it’s this one. First, even if counsel has advised against “communications,” you can still communicate. You can almost always offer a generic statement such as, “We can’t offer specifics in this case since it’s in litigation, but I would like to remind everyone that there are two sides to this story, and we’re confident that our side will come out in court.”

Second, legal counsel often advises against communications as a kneejerk reaction, even when communicating makes the most sense. Executives would be wise to consult their attorneys and their communications professionals prior to making such decisions. Sometimes the reputational damage caused by your silence is greater than the financial damage of future lawsuits.

Editor’s Note: A grateful hat tip to a good marketing blog called IMC Intuition by Beth Ryan, on which I originally saw this list.

Like the blog? Read the book! The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview is available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

 


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Five Less Common Media Formats

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 6, 2014 – 6:02 am

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in soft cover here and for the Kindle here.

Spokespersons may encounter a few additional media formats. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these five possibilities:

1. Editorial-Board Meetings

Many newspapers have editorial boards, which are composed of a small group of editors who write the editorials, or “official viewpoints,” that appear in each morning’s paper. The editors who pen them are typically not news reporters (whose reporting is supposed to avoid expressing personal viewpoints). Editorials are different than “op-eds,” which are usually written by members of the community.

Meetings with editorial boards are opportunities to influence the editors to adopt your viewpoint. Treat these meetings the same way you would a news interview: anything you say can be quoted, and some editorial board meetings may be audio- and/or videotaped. Some editors ask aggressive questions, especially of spokespersons who represent a controversial brand or idea, so prepare thoroughly for your meeting.

Book Cover Stacked

2. Deskside Briefings

Deskside briefings are similar to meetings with editorial boards, but are usually one-on-one exchanges with an individual journalist at his or her office (hence the name “deskside”) rather than with larger groups. The casual and often friendly nature of deskside briefings can lead spokespersons to stray off their messages, so remember to treat everything you say as a quotable comment.

3. Walk and Talks

Have you ever seen a television interviewer conduct an interview while walking down a street or hallway with the interviewee? Some reporters are fond of conducting interviews as “walk and talks,” since they tend to relax the person being interviewed and are more visually interesting than a typical in-studio interview.

This can be a difficult format, since you have to focus on where you’re walking in addition to relaying your message. Walk slowly—and if you find yourself getting distracted, stop walking for a moment and turn toward the interviewer while making a key point.

4. Demos

Some talk shows, including daytime chat programs, ask guests to do a demonstration, or “demo.” Chefs show viewers how to cook lasagna, home decorators demonstrate how to inexpensively design a living room, and physicians teach people how to perform a self-examination.

Delivering a demo in just a few short minutes can be a major challenge. Do several on-camera practice rounds in advance to get your timing and delivery down, and be prepared to handle any unexpected moments that occur.

5. Comedy Shows

One thing I’ve learned through the years is that almost everyone thinks they’re funny. So when they appear on a late-night talk show such as The Tonight Show or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their inclination is to try to crack a joke or two. It’s usually a bad idea.

Unless you’re a comedian, it’s usually best to avoid competing for punch lines. Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, even tells his guests beforehand to play it straight. Let the comedian do the jokes—comedy isn’t as easy as it looks. Just bring your good humor, a warm smile, and a willingness to go along with the joke.

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

 


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Should You Use A Reporter’s Name During An Interview?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 28, 2014 – 4:02 am

I recently received this email from the communications director for a major league sports team:

“What is your opinion on a speaker (in our case it’s usually the head coach after games) addressing questions by naming each reporter before the answer or finding a spot within the answer to name the questioner? I hear writers talk about it, how it shows the speaker cares about the media or is making an effort to connect with them more than just spewing a quick answer. Do you think a speaker receives better coverage when naming the reporter in his answer than just to answer the question? I’m torn on it because:

1. My head coach will have to learn each reporter’s name (meaning the non-beat writers), and the reporters who cover us change quite often.

2. It distracts from the answer sometimes. Fans might think, “As a viewer, do I really care that Joe from the local newspaper asked the question? I’m a fan of the team, he should address me too.”

 

I’ve always been conflicted about this topic for the reasons the emailer stated. In The Media Training Bible, I wrote that:

“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.”

Although I believe that advice is generally sound, does it always apply?

It definitely applies to taped sound bite interviews, in which the person conducting the interview may be a behind-the-scenes producer. If you say that person’s name during the interview, the news station will probably be forced to edit it out—or drop that quote altogether.

But does it apply to a live press conference?

Press Conference Microphones

On one hand, naming reporters might help make the reporter feel valued. Reporters may even want to edit their name into the piece to show that they’re the one who asked the question (and let’s face it—hearing their name may also satisfy their ego).

But on the other hand, if the head coach doesn’t know a few people, it will become abundantly clear to everyone watching that they don’t know the reporter. In addition, reporters from competitive outlets may not want to use otherwise great quotes that name their competitors. Plus, as the emailer suggested, it may interfere with the connection the coach should be making with the viewers and fans outside of the room.

Should This Head Coach Call Reporters By Name?

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The emailer and I would both like to learn from you on this one. Please select an option from the poll above—and leave your more complete thoughts in the comments section below.  

 


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Seven Great Media Sound Bites

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 24, 2014 – 6:02 am

If you want to virtually guarantee that reporters will use the quote you want them to, you need to master the art of the media sound bite.

Reporters love sound bites because they make for lively copy. The public enjoys them because they’re memorable. And you’ll benefit from them because they can serve as a perfect delivery vehicle for your messages.

I always try to look out for particularly clever and well-phrased media sound bites. In this post, you’ll find seven of my recent favorites.

Related: 10 Ways To Create Memorable Media Sound Bites

Cameras at Press Conference

 

1. This sound bite has a clear political point of view—but ignore the politics and look at the structure. If you’re on the other side of the aisle, you can simply replace the name “Sarah Palin” with a different name. I was unable to find the source of this sound bite.

“Getting a history lesson from Sarah Palin is like getting your teeth cleaned by a proctologist.”

 

2. During the 2012 election season, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was briefly discussed as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. Huckabee dismissed the buzz with this clever sound bite:

“I think there’s a greater likelihood that I’ll be asked by Madonna to go on tour as her bass player.”

 

3. While promoting her book about women in the workplace, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, offered this memorable quip:

“Men still run the world. And I’m not sure that’s going that well.”

 

Sheryl Sandberg

 

4. Knocking her opponent for what she maintained was his lack of political action, Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes said this:

“If the doctors told Sen. [Mitch] McConnell he had a kidney stone, he wouldn’t pass it.”

 

5. Congressman Hal Rodgers (R-KY), speaking about the challenge his party’s Speaker of the House faces in running his caucus, quipped:  

“It’s a little bit like being the head caretaker of the cemetery. There are a lot of people under you, but nobody listens.”

 

6. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV), who was accused of a conflict of interest for supporting medical procedures that helped her physician-husband, used this analogy: 

“I won’t stop fighting to give Nevadans access to affordable health care just because my husband is a doctor, just like I won’t stop standing up for veterans just because my father served in World War II.”

 

7. Finally, here’s a sound bite that any parent will appreciate:

“Cleaning a house with a toddler is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.”

 

For more tips on how to develop your own media sound bites, check out my video below. 

 

Like the blog? Read the book! The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview is available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.


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How Much Energy Is Appropriate For Media Interviews?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 3, 2014 – 12:05 am

After concluding on-camera practice interviews with our clients, I often ask them to rate how much energy they thought they had, on a scale of 1 to 10. “Oh, around an eight or nine,” the trainees usually guess. “That was probably a bit over-the-top, right?”

I then ask the other people in the room to rate their colleagues’ energy during the interview. They usually rate it a 4 or 5. The trainee is always shocked.

It turns out we’re not great judges of the amount of energy we convey during media interviews. What feels right to clients in the training room often looks flat on television—which makes sense when you consider that television tends to make people appear more muted than they do in person.

You’ve seen that dynamic play out if you’ve ever sat down in front of your television, watched an entire interview, and completely zoned out—realizing later that you can’t remember a single thing the spokesperson said. It happens all the time, and it’s usually the result of a “blah” spokesperson who doesn’t reach out of the television and grab you.

 

Apple Founder Steve Jobs was known for his energetic delivery.

Apple Founder Steve Jobs was known for his energetic delivery.

 

A media interview delivered without energy is like a steak cooked over low heat: dull, uninspiring, and lacking “sizzle.” Great spokespersons know they need to inject passion and energy into their delivery to fully reach their audience.

Some of our clients get nervous about displaying too much energy or passion during their interviews. They protest that they’re mild mannered or soft-spoken in everyday life and that speaking loudly wouldn’t feel authentic to them. That’s fine. Passionate need not be loud.

But what may feel like yelling to you usually doesn’t come across as yelling to the rest of us. In fact, when I ask trainees to “go bigger” by speaking in a comically loud voice, they’re almost always surprised to find that it goes over great on TV.

Therefore, focus on being the most energetic and passionate version of you. Think about when you’re sitting in your living room with an old friend, reliving memories of your schooldays. You’re probably a bit louder than usual, a little more demonstrative, and a lot more interesting.

In order to bring that more enthusiastic version of yourself out, try speaking 10—15 percent louder. Many people fear that will make them come across with too much volume. And sure, we need to dial back the occasional trainee who goes too far. But that’s rare. The vast majority of the time, spokespersons can hit the gas and be even more energetic.

So don’t hold back. If you care about your topic, make sure the audience can tell just by looking at you.

This is an excerpt from The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in paperback, for Kindle, and iPad.

 

 

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    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.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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