Posts Tagged ‘media training tips’
This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
This lesson will teach you how to conduct an effective practice session and rate your performance. Even if the reporter has a particularly bruising deadline, try to do a quick “shortcut” version of this exercise.
Record a Practice Interview
- 1. Ask colleagues, friends, or family members to interview you. Give them your Q&A document so that they can ask you the questions you developed, but encourage them to ask any relevant follow-up questions they can think of. That will force you to practice answering unanticipated questions by transitioning back to your messages.
- Supplement your Q&A document with a few open-ended questions (say, “Can you tell me about your company?”) and a few of the trap questions you learned earlier in the book.
- 2. Get your equipment ready. If you’re preparing for a television interview, record your practice run with a video camera, if possible. For radio or print interviews, you may use an audio recorder (most smartphones have a built-in audio recording device).
- 3. Adjust to the format of your upcoming interview. If you’re preparing for a standing television “bites” interview, for example, stand up and maintain eye contact with your friend or family member, not the camera. (Your interviewer should stand just to the side of the camera.)
- 4. When the interview begins, try not to break character. If you make a mistake, keep going. It’s important to learn how to recover from your mistakes, so stay in the moment and do your best to get back to surer ground.
Rate Your Performance
- 1. Watch or listen to the tape. Pause the playback after every answer.
- 2. Begin your self-critique by commenting on the things you did well—positive feedback is important—and then move on to the things you could have done better. Make sure you comment on both the quality of your message and the manner in which you delivered it.
- 3. After you analyze an answer, ask your colleagues, friends, and/or family members for their feedback. Proceed through the entire interview, one answer at a time, using this formula.
- 4. Be kind to yourself. Most people are much more critical of themselves than they should be. In media training workshops, people most frequently comment on their age, their looks, or their voice—but the audience is less likely to be distracted by such matters. There’s a reason many Academy Award—winning actors refuse to watch their own films—they are painfully self-critical and see only the flaws in their performances. The reality is that their performances were brilliant—and similarly, your performance was likely better than you think.
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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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Many sports coaches hate it when their players “talk smack” about a team they’re about to play.
Those incendiary comments often serve as motivation for their opponents, who relish the chance to defeat the team that insulted them. Some opposing coaches even post the quote in the locker room to help rally their players.
So it caught my eye yesterday when one of my tweeps, @adam_myrick, tweeted this out:
The Associated Press story he links to is about Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer, who got into trouble with his coach this week for trash talking his opponents. As the AP reports:
“Coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that Spencer wouldn’t speak with the media for ‘a long, long time’ after saying a day earlier that Ohio State would ‘wipe the field’ with Alabama and whoever is No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
‘I guess I’m a little biased, but I think we’d, uh, we’d wipe the field with both of them,’ Spencer said, chuckling.”
To the AP’s credit, they reported the full context of Spencer’s comments:
“It was a statement that Spencer…concluded with a laugh. It was clear he was half-joking. But sarcasm, humor and nuance seldom can be sensed between the lines of cold, hard print or on a monitor or screen.”
Many news organizations wouldn’t have done Spencer the favor of writing that he had been half-joking. They would have just included his comments verbatim without mentioning the humorous context in which he made them.
And that’s the problem with humor. Without the context, comments intended as humorous, silly, or ironic can be portrayed literally—and often are.
You might wonder whether you can afford to make more humorous comments during a live radio or television interview, since the audience will see your full exchange and be able to discern your meaning in its proper context. That’s safer, yes, but it’s still not entirely safe. That’s because your comments may later be transcribed by the wires, blogs, and newspapers—and the “proper” context may not be reflected in their stories about your interview.
With all of that, you may reasonably conclude that I’m advising you never to be humorous during a media interview. But that’s not quite it. It’s not that you can’t be humorous at all, but rather that your humor must reflect your actual, literal meaning.
If your humor, when transcribed, says exactly what you mean and can’t be interpreted in a harmful manner, you’re probably on safe ground.
Tags: Evan Spencer, humor, media training tips, sports, Urban Meyer
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At the beginning of a media interview, many spokespersons remember to answer questions using their messages and message supports. But as the interview progresses and begins to resemble a normal, everyday conversation, they suddenly forget to include their messages.
That’s dangerous not only for the reasons you’ve already read, but also because it usually means they’re directing their answers to the reporter, not their audience.
A media interview is not a conversation with a reporter. It is a highly focused form of communication aimed squarely at your audience. The reporter is merely the conduit through which you reach it. That doesn’t mean you should ignore reporters, but rather that you should focus your communication on the people you’re trying to reach.
As an example, I occasionally receive a negative comment on our blog from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written. If I’m nasty in my response, the entire audience will hold it against me. If I treat the person with respect (in some cases, more than they deserve), readers are more likely to be impressed with the tone of my reply—even if they, too, disagree.
Therefore, I try to remember that the writer of that letter is not my target audience. Sure, my response is addressed to the commenter, but my communication is really intended for the rest of the blog’s readers. So beware of slipping into a conversation with the reporter. If you do, you’ll be speaking with the commenter rather than to the readers.
Here are three ways to make sure you’re directing your communication to your audience:
1. Visualize a member of your audience.
Most people find the idea of speaking to 100,000 people through a reporter absolutely terrifying. The good news is that you never have to fear a large audience again. Instead, visualize one specific person in your target audience that you need to reach in order to be successful. Be specific. Focus your answers on that one individual. If that person understands what you’re saying, odds are the rest of your audience will too.
For one interview, one of our clients visualized that his “target person” was a retired 78-year-old African American woman living by herself in rural Nevada. He further defined her by saying she retired nine years ago after working as a trauma nurse for 40 years. By being that specific, he was able to visualize that woman during his entire interview, helping him reach the entire audience more effectively.
Before reading further, take a moment to identify and visualize your target person.
2. Base your interview on the audience’s level of knowledge.
If you’re speaking about climate change with a reporter who has covered that issue for a decade, you might be tempted to speak at a higher level by using acronyms or technical jargon. Don’t. The reporter isn’t your audience; the person you visualized is. Speak to the reporter as you would to your target person.
3. Don’t call reporters by name.
Many media trainers teach their trainees to call reporters by their names, arguing that doing so helps forge a warm connection with the interviewer. Perhaps that’s true. But it comes at too high of a price. When you call reporters by name, it makes it clear to the audience that you’re speaking to the reporter, not with them.
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A few “ummms” really aren’t that bad.
Too often, media and presentation trainers make their clients overly self-aware, drilling them to eliminate every remaining vestige of verbal filler. Clients have told me about trainers who have the audience shout at them when they accidentally say an “ummm,” or (and I swear this is true), who throw crumpled-up pieces of paper at the speaker when they utter one.
There are several problems with this approach. First, a speaker who uses no verbal filler may appear to an audience as overly polished and slick. Second, an over-focus on “ummms” distracts many speakers from focusing on more important speaking issues, such as making a genuine audience connection and conveying heartfelt enthusiasm.
And according to Michael Erard, the author of Um…:Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, “many of our norms for ‘good speaking’ do not parallel the biological imperatives of language itself.”
We barely perceive the “ummms” that are all around us in our everyday conversations. And that’s a good thing, since they’re so pervasive. As Erard writes:
“About 5 to 8 percent of the words that normal speakers say every day—from about 325 to 1,800 of them—will involve an “uh,” “um,” some other pause filler; a repeated sound, syllable, or word; a restarted sentence; or a repair, all of which is normal for the everyday speaking that underpins our lives and our society.”
Erard says that until devices for audio playback were invented, the rules of great oratory almost never mentioned “ummm” as a speaking problem. Rather, when we heard our own voices for the first time, we were shocked by our own linguistic imperfection and sought to eliminate any hesitation whatsoever.
But the body of research into speech disfluencies is clear. As Erard writes:
“Disfluency is utterly normal…our rules for what counts as ‘good speaking’ are resistant to the biological facts about it…the rules evolve while the disfluencies remain stable, and…trying to communicate without disfluencies may be more distracting (and hence more damaging to fluency) than it’s worth.”
To be clear, there are circumstances in which “ummm” can be problematic. While a few “ummms” aren’t really that bad, more than a few “ummms” usually are.
As an example of how “umms” can get in the way, one blogger compiled this clip of President Obama’s verbal filler—a whopping 236 “uhhhs” uttered during a single 2012 presidential debate.
Here’s the test: When you practice your speech, ask your test audience whether they were distracted by your “ummms.” If they were, you should work to reduce them; if they weren’t, that means your sporadic “ummms” didn’t get in the way of effective communication. You can still work to reduce them, but don’t focus so relentlessly on eliminating them entirely that doing so gets in the way of your audience connection and charisma.
If you’re an over-ummer, here’s an exercise that will help.
Tags: media training tips, Michael Erard, presentation training, public speaking tips, Um: Slips Stumbles and Verbal Blunders, verbal filler
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When I was a producer at NBC and MSNBC, I did a lot of pre-interviews over the phone. The purpose of these interviews was to gauge if the person with whom I was speaking was a good fit for a story or an on-air debate segment I was producing.
No matter how knowledgeable or charismatic a potential guest was, if he or she had a thick accent, I regretfully had to pass on them. If I had a hard time understanding them, I knew my audience would as well.
Many spokespeople have accents, and not all of them are so significant that they prevent the audience from understanding. Sometimes, accents are even considered charming. However, researchers at the University of Chicago found in a 2010 study that when people have to work harder to understand a heavy accent, they regard the speaker as less credible. The study concluded:
When people listen to accented speech, the difficulty they encounter reduces “processing fluency.” But instead of perceiving the statements as more difficult to understand, they perceive them as less truthful.
“There are some people out there who try to do accent elimination,” says Judy Ravin, president and founder of the Accent Reduction Institute. “I think that’s pretty impossible. I think that some people do take offense at that, and I have to say, for good reason. An accent is part of our unique cultural identity.”
Still, if you’re a spokesperson with an accent, how do you assess if it’s taking away from your message? Ravin says there are two simple ways:
- 1. You are consistently asked to repeat yourself.
- 2. You get the feeling your audience is nodding in agreement but not understanding your message. A good way to confirm this is to ask someone to echo something you’ve said. If they get it wrong, you’re probably not getting through.
Ravin offers these easy ways to practice your English pronunciation:
- 1. Speak slowly. Everybody’s pronunciation is better when they speak slower.
- 2. Read out loud and practice saying the last sound of each word. English grammar depends heavily on how words end, which sets it apart from many other languages.
- 3. Make sure your intonation goes down before a comma or a period as you’re practicing reading aloud. This signals to the listener the end of a sentence.
- 4. At minimum, nail down the most pervasive sounds in the English language: “th,” “v and w,” “r” and the letter “o.” The letter “o” has many different pronunciations, the most common being “ah” as in prophet or option. The least common is “oh” as in no.
- 5. Practice at least 15 minutes per day five days a week. You acquire these techniques experientially.
It’s worth repeating that Ravin stresses that accent reduction isn’t accent elimination. Rather, the idea is to teach the English language sounds that don’t exist in other languages. “The objective is to maintain the cultural identity but to add to your cultural repertoire of sounds…People will still have an accent — what they won’t have is a communication barrier.”
For more free resources on accent reduction, the Accent Reduction Institute has posted its “Five Essential Techniques for Clear Speech” here.
Christina Mozaffari is the vice president of Phillips Media Relations. She tweets at @PMRChristina.
Tags: accent, Advanced Public Speaking Tips, media training performance, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking, voice
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When most people think of ambush interviews, they think of a television interviewer chasing after a scandal-tarred executive with camera and microphone in tow.
Those types of ambushes do occur occasionally, but they’re rare. More typically, an ambush occurs in one of two ways:
- When a reporter shows up without notice.
- When a reporter deviates from the agreed-upon topic to blindside a source with something totally unexpected.
In both cases, the reporter is after one thing: a great visual that makes you look guilty. If you respond with defensiveness, anger, or shock, the news outlet will run the tape of your bad reaction repeatedly, perhaps for days. You win an ambush by denying the reporter a great visual. If you’re ever ambushed, remember the advice offered in that old deodorant ad: never let ‘em see you sweat. By remaining calm, you prevent reporters from getting the compelling “money shot” they desire.
1. When a Reporter Shows Up Without Notice
What should you say when a reporter shows up without warning? Try something like this:
“Thank you for coming. I’d be happy to speak with you. I wish I knew you were coming—I have a meeting scheduled that I’m already running late for. Please contact my office so we can set up a time to talk.”
Then walk to your destination. If you only have a short distance to walk, continue facing the reporter and restate your message as you walk backward to avoid the “back to camera” shot. And whatever you do, don’t block the camera by placing your hand over the lens! Deny them the defensive-looking visual.
2. When a Reporter Blindsides You During an Interview
What do you do when you’ve agreed to an interview about your organization’s work to save endangered tigers but the reporter suddenly asks about your lavish compensation package? If you refuse to answer, you look guilty. If you answer badly, the results could be even worse.
You have two choices:
- Answer the question. Doing so usually plays better to the audience, and good media training should prepare you in advance to anticipate the “unexpected” questions.
- Deflect the question. Tell the reporter that this interview was supposed to be about your work to save tigers, but that you’d be happy to schedule a future interview to discuss other issues. This might be your best option if the question is about a topic the audience wouldn’t expect you to know much about, and may be your best approach if answering the question badly would do even more harm than not answering it at all.
CASE STUDY: PRESIDENT REAGAN: “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
President Reagan, a master of good visuals, was subject to an ambush of sorts every time he exited the White House to board Marine One.
Sam Donaldson, ABC News’ aggressive White House Correspondent, would shout tough questions at him as he walked across the lawn.
As the blades of the helicopter whirred, Reagan pretended he couldn’t hear Donaldson’s questions by cupping a hand to his ear, shrugging, and offering a mile-wide smile.
Tags: media training tips, Ronald Reagan, Sam Donaldson
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When musician Terence Trent D’Arby released his debut album in the late 1980s, he had immediate success with two top-ten hits: Wishing Well and Sign Your Name. It didn’t take long before his instant stardom went to his head: “My album is better than [The Beatles’] Sgt. Pepper’s,” he declared. The public disagreed; those were the only top-ten hits D’Arby ever had.
When Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show in 1992, competitor Arsenio Hall didn’t mince words: “I’m going to…kick Leno’s ass.” He didn’t. Leno soon became the undisputed king of late night and Hall was off the air within two years. (He returned to late night earlier this fall after a 19-year hiatus.)
In late 2011, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told ABC’s Jake Tapper, “I’m going to be the nominee.” He wasn’t; he won only two states. (His bombastic personality did help him land a co-hosting seat on CNN’s resurrected Crossfire, however.)
As these three examples illustrate, making bold proclamations can backfire, sometimes badly.
“But wait…didn’t you previously advise us to use declarative language?”
It’s true, I did. In The Media Training Bible, I gave the following three examples of times when spokespersons could—and should—use declarative language:
- 1. You might not be able to say that a new drug will work, but you could say it’s the most promising new drug you’ve seen in your career.
- 2. You might not be able to say that your company has never had a safety violation, but you could say you’ve never had a major incident at your plant.
- 3. You might not be able to say that your nonprofit’s fundraising drive will solve the problem, but you could say that more people in your community have volunteered to help than ever before.
There’s a big difference between the three statements above and the three examples that opened this article. The three statements above are based solidly in fact—but stop short of bold predictions and hyperbole.
So yes, be bold. Make strong assertions. Go as far as the facts allow. But only go as far as the facts allow. If you go past that magic mark, your words will likely be used against you in future news stories—and the tone of those stories may not be particularly kind.
You’re going to sign up for my email list right this second! (Okay, that declarative sentence probably went too far.) But if you’d like to, here’s the link.
Tags: media training tips
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