Posts Tagged ‘media training tips’
Most people don’t have a monotone vocal delivery. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most communicators use only a small portion of their available vocal range.
Our voices are incredible tools, capable of infusing great meaning into individual words and phrases. Simply by altering our volume, pitch, pace, and tone, we can better emphasize key points and help retain our audience’s attention.
Imagine you’re listening to the radio. The woman being interviewed is speaking at a moderate volume and average pace, but suddenly she slows down and almost whispers, “And right then, I knew I was in trouble.” By changing her vocal pattern, she signaled to the audience that something important was coming. We tend to do that in everyday life when we’re speaking with friends—and conversational is exactly what media interviews are supposed to sound like (even though they are not conversations).
Turn on a news radio station and listen to the way the anchors inject vocal variety into their verbal deliveries. Then practice for yourself by selecting a newspaper article and underlining a few key phrases that you want to emphasize verbally. Read the story aloud, and use your voice to highlight those phrases.
Keep these six things in mind for your vocal delivery:
- 1. Volume: Speaking loudly adds energy and excitement to your delivery, while speaking softly increases intimacy and drama.
- 2. Pace: Most people speak between 150 and 160 words per minute, but that number tends to increase when they get nervous. Speaking quickly can be useful if you’re trying to add excitement to a specific point, but be careful not to rush through your entire interview. Speak a little slower than usual when discussing more complicated information, emphasizing a key point, or building drama.
- 3. Pitch: When you ask a question, your pitch usually goes up at the end of the sentence; when you give a command, your pitch goes down. People tend to speak with a higher pitch when they’re nervous or excited and with a lower pitch when they feel more relaxed and controlled. Both can be effective, but be careful to avoid vocal “upticks,” which occur when your pitch gets higher at the end of every sentence. An uptick makes you sound as if you’re seeking permission rather than making a statement—and too many of them will diminish your credibility.
- 4. Tone: Your tone adds emotion to words. For example, try saying aloud, “Sure, I love you,” three different ways: sincerely, sarcastically, and sadly. Those versions each convey something different, and good speakers align their words with the tone they wish to convey.
- 5. Silences: Well-timed pauses can add drama to your vocal delivery or allow audiences an extra moment to consider your message. You can’t be silent for long periods of time, but even a one-second pause can be incredibly effective immediately before or after making a key point.
- 6. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Take a deep breath. If your chest expands, you aren’t breathing correctly. Try it again, but as you breathe in, push your stomach out. Make sure your chest doesn’t move. Now begin talking and expending that air you’ve taken in. Your stomach should be moving in. That’s “diaphragmatic breathing,” and the benefits are enormous for the spoken word. Breathing properly makes your voice fuller, more resonant, and less nasal—and it gives you better breath control, meaning you won’t have to gasp for air as often.
Tags: media training tips, voice
Posted in Media Training Tips | 3 Comments »
Memory studies consistently find that people forget the vast majority of what they read, hear, or see, especially if they are only exposed to the information one time.
One early study by Herman Ebbinghaus, the 19th-century German psychologist who was among the first to study human memory, found that people forget most of what they learn within days. Although his pioneering research was conducted more than a century ago, it still rings true for those of us who can never quite remember where we left our car keys.
The “U” in CUBE A demands that your messages remain unburdened by three things: wordiness, jargon, and abstractions. The more a message tries to say—and the more abstractly it tries to say it—the less likely it is to be memorable.
As a general guide, aim for messages that: have no more than two commas; contain no more than 30 words; and evoke concrete images.
1. Too many words: Resist the temptation to jam everything you can into a single message—omitting less important details makes good sense. After all, if editors are only going to include two of your quotes in a finished news story, don’t you want them to choose your two most important messages? If the editor decides to run your fourth and seventh most important messages instead, I’d question whether your interview was a success.
2. Technical jargon: Unburdened messages require you to throw jargon overboard. Our clients in technical fields—such as scientists, physicians, and engineers—are the worst offenders of this rule. In fairness, their professional lives are spent awash in technical gobbledygook, their office conversations littered with words rarely used and barely understood by the general public. But considering that the public suffers from information overload, any words that prevent people from quickly grasping your meaning will result in messages that are quickly forgotten.
Even if you think your audience will understand more complicated terms as long as you use them “in context,” don’t use them (or at least define them if you do). They won’t hear the end of your sentence if they’re still trying to process the unfamiliar word you uttered at the beginning.
An Actual Quote from a Real Press Release
“The gradualness (oriented primarily towards actual users) of the new Handy Backup is the succession of interfaces. With all the maximal simplicity and refined usability, the new one is designed to look structurally associative to the previous version…”
3. Abstractions: Abstractions, or broad concepts or ideas, are difficult for people to visualize. “Justice,” for example, is an abstraction—just try instantly conjuring up a detailed image of that word. A more concrete message about justice might mention the need to punish thieves who rob old ladies by imprisoning them for the next 20 years. That type of concrete message is much more memorable, and therefore works better for media messaging than an abstract one does. Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of the excellent book Made to Stick, write that “trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air.”
The goal of most communications is to move an audience from lack of awareness to awareness to action. The more unburdened your messages, the more likely you are to achieve that goal.
Tags: jargon, media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »
I once watched a libertarian conduct a question and answer session with a group of high school students.
The libertarian began the session by sharing his belief that the federal government should have no role in helping a person who is poor. State governments could help that person if they chose to, but it would be even better for private citizens, charitable organizations, and local communities to band together to help that person instead.
It was clear from the students’ reactions that they had never heard such an idea before, and they didn’t like it. Their questions to the libertarian became increasingly hostile, with one even telling him that she thought he was “selfish.”
The mistake he made that day is a mistake I regularly see spokespersons make—especially those representing ideas or causes.
In this case, the libertarian was so intent on explaining his ideology, that he failed to align his message to his audience at all. Imagine how different he would have been perceived had he started his presentation this way:
“How many of you believe that someone who is poor—a man or woman who can’t afford enough food to eat or sufficient medical care—deserves help?
[Show of hands]
“How many of you think the federal government should help? [Show of hands] “How many of you think charities or religious organizations should help?” [Show of hands] “Anyone believe that people in the community should also donate some money?”
“Well, I think we all agree about something. None of us in this room want that poor man or woman to starve to death. Is that a reasonable conclusion?” [Show of hands or head nods]
“There’s also one place I disagree with some of you. I don’t believe that the federal government should help that person, but that the help should come from community groups, charitable organizations, and private citizens. I’d like to spend some time today sharing my views on why I believe that’s so important.”
That introduction would have changed the entire tenor of his talk. By articulating common ground from the start (“None of us in this room want that poor man or woman to starve to death.”), he would have let the students know that they share a similar hope, even if their solutions might differ.
Instead, he forgot to align his views to those of the audience. And because his views seemed so shocking to the students and challenged their belief systems too much, they shut down and closed him out before he had even begun.
Have you liked my Facebook page yet? If not, please visit www.Facebook.com/MrMediaTraining and click “like” to follow our latest posts!
Tags: advanced media training technique, media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | 1 Comment »
My husband and I recently attended a wedding during which I was reminded of an important lesson in communications: Ditch the jargon. Always.
In communications training, this is an obvious rule. When you speak in complicated terms, most audiences don’t get the message. Even if the average person could understand it, the more effort he or she has to put into decoding your message, the less chance that person will either remember it or put in the work to understand it in the first place.
However, some of my clients deal with very technical, complicated issues. The primary outlets for which they interview tend to be trade magazines and blogs with the occasional appearance in a more mainstream publication. When I talk about how important it is for them to ditch their jargon, they argue that they are speaking to a more sophisticated customer and don’t want to sound “dumb.” I understand the inclination, but it’s still a bad idea.
Take, for example, that recent experience at a friend’s wedding I mentioned above. My husband is an engineer who understands a lot of technical jargon. So when we were chatting at our friend’s wedding with an executive in his same industry who was excited about the implementation of some new technology at his company, my husband started asking him questions about it. Even though this executive oversaw the process, it was no surprise to me when he wasn’t sure what my husband was talking about. He knew the results and he knew why the technology was important for his organization but he didn’t understand the specifics of exactly how it worked.
That can be the case with executives at any company. But clients often tell me that since they mostly speak to niche industry outlets with generally knowledgeable readers, they can use the industry jargon that their readers will understand. That’s a mistake. I tell them it’s still a good idea to speak at a more accessible level in case someone else who may be a potential target audience member or customer is reading the publication as well.
Isn’t it possible that same type of executive from the wedding could be your target customer?
That doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but it does mean simplifying your language and making sure you define acronyms every time you use them. Then, you’ll avoid alienating your target audience–in addition to the people you may not have known were in your audience to begin with.
Tags: media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | Please Comment »
We all know our voice is an important tool in communicating — and now a new study says it could also make a difference in your salary.
Your voice telegraphs not only your energy, enthusiasm, and authority but, when used properly, can also be a powerful signal that something you’re about to say or have just said is important. So can you do anything about what you actually sound like? And should you?
A study from Duke University and the University of California San Diego, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, says that answer is a resounding “yes.”
The study analyzed speech samples from 792 CEOs from the Standard and Poor’s 1500 stock index based on their vocal pitch. Researchers found that CEOs with deeper voices managed larger companies and made more money, in some cases to the tune of $187,000 more. Previous voice studies have even shown that voters preferred candidates with deeper voices.
So what does this mean for you? Well, there may not be much you can do to have a deeper voice — but there are some steps you can take to improve your vocal delivery. Here are three tips:
- 1. Learn to Breathe Correctly. Take a deep breath. If your chest expands, you aren’t breathing correctly. Try it again, but as you breathe in, push your stomach out. Make sure your chest doesn’t move. Now begin talking and expending that air you’ve taken in. Your stomach should be moving in. That’s “diaphragmatic breathing,” and the benefits are enormous for the spoken word. Breathing properly makes your voice fuller, more resonant, and less nasal — and it gives you better breath control, meaning you won’t have to gasp for air as often.
- 2. End Your Sentences as Statements, Not Questions. Be careful to avoid vocal “upticks,” which occur when your pitch gets higher at the end of every sentence. An uptick makes you sound as if you’re seeing permission rather than making a statement — and too many of them will diminish your credibility.
- 3. Vary Your Volume to Suit Your Purpose. Speaking loudly adds energy and excitement to your delivery, while speaking softly increases intimacy and drama. But don’t do one or the other. Do both, choosing the right moments based on your content.
One more note about this study: It only applied to male CEOs. A separate, smaller study by Quantified Impressions released earlier this month analyzed the voices of female CEOs. Researchers found that the same pattern didn’t hold for women as it did for men, finding that “The voices of 10 top female executives are closer in pitch to the average for all women.” Instead, the study said:
“Female leaders stand out for the “vocal energy,” or variations in loudness, they use to drive home their points. An energetic voice comes across as authentic, inspiring trust.”
Christina Mozaffari is the Washington, D.C. Vice President of Phillips Media Relations. Follow her on Twitter at @PMRChristina.
Tags: media training performance, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking, voice
Posted in Media Training: Performance | 4 Comments »
This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, available in soft cover and all major eBook formats.
Most people don’t know how to use a telephone. Sure, they talk on the phone with their family, friends, and business contacts every day. But the telephone habits they use during those calls are radically different from the ones they need for print or radio interviews conducted by phone, known as “phoners.”
So forget everything you (think) you know and remember these eight tips the next time you have a phoner.
- 1. Get out of your office: Don’t sit at your desk, where you can become easily distracted by incoming emails, phone calls, and office visitors. Find an empty conference room with no distractions, and tape a “Do Not Disturb—Interview in Progress” sign on the door.
- 2. Bring your notes: It’s okay to have notes in front of you during phone interviews. Be careful not to “read” them to the reporter but to use them only as memory triggers. (See lesson 94 for more about the best way to prepare notes for an interview.)
- 3. Get a headset: Telephone headsets are terrific gadgets for phone interviews. They allow you to use both of your hands to gesture, which adds emphasis to your voice, and they free you from cradling a phone to your neck in case you need to jot down a few notes during your call.
- 4. Stand: When our trainees stand, they literally “think faster on their feet.” They also tend to project more authority, likely because pacing helps them use their nervous energy in a more productive manner.
- 5. Smile: Smile when appropriate. The reporter (and audience, for radio interviews) can hear your warmth radiating through the phone.
- 6. Prioritize audio quality: Speaker and cell phones have inferior sound quality and can be a barrier to easy communication. Plus, reporters may conclude, “He thinks he’s too important to pick up the damn phone?” It’s best to use a landline with a high-quality headset.
- 7. Click, clack, repeat: During print interviews, listen for the sound of typing on the other end—you’ll hear it when you say something that intrigues the reporter. That’s your cue to slow down and repeat what you’ve just said to make sure the reporter has time to capture every word. Also, don’t hesitate to check in with the reporter by asking whether your explanation made sense.
- 8. Now, what did I just say? If you think you may have mangled a key quote, you can ask the reporter to read it back to you (some reporters will oblige, others won’t). Reporters may not be willing to change something you said if you don’t like the way you said it—but they usually will if you said something factually inaccurate.
Case Study: Toronto Mayor’s Disastrous Phone Interview
In 2010, Toronto Mayor-Elect Rob Ford agreed to an interview with As It Happens, a national radio program that airs on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
But when the reporter called at the scheduled time, Mr. Ford was busy coaching a youth football game. He proceeded with the interview anyway.
Unsurprisingly, he was unfocused, simultaneously yelling at children and telling the reporter about fiscal restraint. He interrupted the interview numerous times and made his points inarticulately, until finally admitting he was “being distracted.”
The interview ran unedited, creating an embarrassing—and self-inflicted—public relations disaster for the incoming mayor.
Tags: media training tips, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »
During the worst of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward thought it would be a good idea to place the awful spill into a larger context.
Sure, the spill was bad—but was it really that bad? Hayward didn’t seem to think so, saying:
“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”
Hayward may have been technically right. But the fact that he sought to downplay the horrific effects of the worst marine oil spill in history was rightly criticized and widely mocked.
Many companies, nonprofits, and government agencies occasionally encounter similar situations—no, not oil spills, but moments when they think it might be a good idea to place a specific fact into a larger context. For example:
A hospital spokesperson might be tempted to say: “This woman’s death was extremely unusual. We’ve performed more than 14,000 of these types of surgeries, and this is the first time a patient ever died from it.”
A spokesperson from a government agency might be tempted to say: “Although there was massive fraud involved in this case, we’d like to point out that every other project we’ve completed this year has come in under budget.”
A spokesperson from a trucking company might be tempted to say: “This is the first time in our 42-year history that one of our drivers has ever caused a death while intoxicated. We have had 8,200 drivers in that time, almost all of whom have done their jobs responsibly.
But those statements all sound defensive. And there’s one thing missing from all of them: An acknowledgement that even one massive oil spill, case of fraud, or death, is one too many. See how different the above statements read simply by adding that sentiment. As an example:
“We’ve performed more than 14,000 of these types of surgeries, and this is the first time a patient ever died from it. But that gives none of even the slightest bit of comfort. One death is one too many—and we are going to do everything possible to prevent this from ever happening again.”
If you enjoyed this article, would you please help me reach a larger audience by sharing it with your social networks? Share buttons are below. Thank you!
Tags: advanced media training technique, crisis communications, media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | 2 Comments »
A reader named Sean Hughes ran into a familiar problem recently when dealing with a local reporter. He writes:
“We have a local metro reporter who loves to edit on-camera interviews to his (or his editors’) liking, typically avoiding our key messages in favor of sensationalist reactions from incited passers-by. To help fairly manage our participation in public discussion, is it okay to record the interview alongside the camera man, post the vid to our own site/blog, and link back to it in the comments section if the story gets skewed? This may not help in the media-trust department, but…I also think that the simple gesture during the interview may prompt a second-guess by the story crafter before they take a hard angle. Any experience with, or thoughts on, this potentially sensitive tactic?”
You’re handling this situation exactly right, Sean. I generally don’t advise subjects of news pieces to shoot raw video of their on-camera interviews for the reason you cite—it can lead to a reduction of trust between reporter and source. But in cases in which that trust has already been fractured, you have little to lose by putting the reporter on notice that their careless or motivated editing will be available to—and scrutinized by—the general public.
I’d offer a few additional thoughts:
First, try working the journalistic food chain before getting too aggressive. Try speaking to the reporter, then to the editor, then to the news director. Request to meet at their office. Share your concerns. As you might suspect, that doesn’t work a lot of the time—but it does occasionally, so it’s worth the effort.
Second, if you do decide to tape the interview, tell the reporters in advance. By doing so, it lets them know early in their story preparation that they should toe the line carefully. Plus, it prevents you from being accused of an “unprofessional” reverse media ambush.
Third, releasing the video on your own networks/blogs/websites is a great idea—but also contemplate a few additional possibilities. Consider sending it to your full mailing list with video embedded in the email. And if any traditional or online news organizations in your city criticize other competitive local media outlets, consider pitching them on a piece comparing the butchered story to your raw tape. (In Washington, D.C., for example, The Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly, regularly critiques The Washington Post.)
Good luck, Sean. Thanks for writing!
Do you have a media or presentation training question you’d like answered on the blog? Please email your question to Contact-at-MrMediaTraining.com.
Tags: media relations tips, media training tips, reader e-mails, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Tips | 4 Comments »