Posts Tagged ‘media training tips’
Many news programs use Skype (or similar technologies) to interview spokespersons. Doing so makes sense for cash-strapped news organizations—instead of sending a camera crew to your home or office at great expense, they can save money by asking you to remain at your desk and conduct the interview via Skype.
In addition to saving money, Skype can help save time on breaking news stories (news organizations can put you on the air now instead of waiting for you to drive to the studio) and bridge insurmountable geographical distances.
And then, of course, there are all of the non-news uses for webcams: conversations with clients and potential clients, business meetings, and conference calls.
Skype and webcam interviews offer some obvious advantages, but they also require you to consider other factors. Here are six things to remember before your next webcam interview.
1. Set up your shot: Since your webcam interview may be viewed in a small box on someone else’s computer, simplify the background by removing small items that will be difficult to see. I use a banner with the “Mr. Media Training” logo behind me, but a minimally decorated wall with a framed print, a lamp, and/or a large house plant can also look good on camera.
2. Avoid distractions: In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Tom Cibrowski, the executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America, advised guests to “angle the camera to avoid any movement behind you, such as traffic going by the window.”
3. Place the camera at eye level: Most people place their laptops on their desk, meaning they have to look down slightly at the camera’s lens. Instead, place a small platform beneath your computer to bring the camera to eye level, which gives you a straight-on shot.
4. Turn on the lights: More lights are better than fewer. According to The Wall Street Journal article, “the ones in front of you will light up your face, and the ones behind you will set the stage.”
5. Buy a quality headset and/or webcam: These are important investments if you’re likely to be doing such interviews. Don’t settle for the cheapest options; quality matters. Look for a more discreet earpiece rather than an over-sized headset.
6. Limit your movements: Depending on your computer’s bandwidth, you might look “jumpy.” Whereas television has 30 frames per second, which the eye reads as constant movement, a slow Internet connection only has 10-15, which the eye reads as separate frames. Therefore, limit your head, hand, and arm movements unless you have a good camera and fast connection. Webcam interviews are the only format in which gesturing can hurt your performance.
For more tips to help you rock your next media interview, read 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: media training tips, Skype, webcam
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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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My firm has offices in New York City and Washington, DC, so I frequently take the train between the two cities. On one such trip, I overheard a PR professional speaking to a colleague.
“The reporter from the Philadelphia Daily News completely blew the story,” she said, clearly infuriated. “I talked to him forever, and he totally missed the point!”
I immediately wondered whether the problem was that she had said too much—and by doing so, might have obscured her message.
Too often, media spokespersons fall victim to the “tell them everything you know” syndrome. They wrongly believe that their primary role in an interview is to provide the reporter with an in-depth education instead of remembering that their main goal is to influence the story and get the quotes they want.
Sure, providing reporters with the information they need in order to file a story is an important part of your job as a spokesperson. But the more detail you provide, the more likely a secondary or tertiary point will make its way into the story instead of a primary one.
Put another way, a media interview isn’t about downloading your knowledge—it’s about prioritizing your knowledge. As we tell our clients, the more you say, the more you stray.
I’ll be even a bit more provocative here: Your main task as a spokesperson isn’t to give the reporter facts. If you merely spout facts, you’ll be no more valuable than a Wikipedia entry. Your job is to give those facts context and meaning.
When speaking to print reporters in person, you’ll probably observe them furiously scribbling notes in a small notepad. In order to capture everything, they usually write in big, barely legible characters and flip the pages at an almost manic pace. By the end of the interview, reporters may have dozens of pages of notes.
If you remain focused on your most critical points, you will help reporters prioritize. They may walk away with 12 pages of notes, but your clarity will make it easy for them to immediately identify your three most important themes. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll use them—but it dramatically increases the probability they will.
Alternatively, if you’re not focused enough, you will give the reporter 12 pages’ worth of random, unprioritized thoughts from which to choose. If you’re fortunate enough to get the quote you wanted, it would be due more to luck than design.
There’s an easy way to know if you’re abandoning your main messages. If you ever say the following phrases during an interview (or anything similar), you’ve probably wandered pretty far off message:
- “Oh, by the way…”
- “As an aside…”
- “That reminds me of something else…”
I suspect that’s where the woman on the train went wrong. As she said, she “talked to him forever,” almost certainly meaning her answers were unprioritized. She likely gave the reporter 12 pages’ worth of unfocused notes, forcing him to choose what to include. And, as usually happens in that circumstance, she was unhappy with the result.
She forgot that her primary job was not to educate but to prioritize.
Tags: media training tips
Posted in Media Training Tips | 4 Comments »
In this video, I’ll teach you an easy way to create compelling media sound bites.
You’ll learn three great types of sound bites, hear some memorable examples, and learn what I believe to be one of the easiest ways to create sound bites.
For additional reading, here’s the link I mentioned in the video: Ten Ways to Create Memorable Media Sound Bites
Tags: media training tips, media training videos, sound bites
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In order to assess the skill level of each of our trainees, we often conduct an on-camera “baseline” interview at the beginning of each media training session.
It’s amazing to watch our trainees’ reactions just before we begin. They’re usually visibly nervous, wondering, What is this guy going to ask me? Do I have good answers to his questions? Can I get through this without saying anything stupid?
They don’t actually say those things. But I can see those thoughts etched on their faces and sense them through their defensive body language. They may as well just cross their arms over their faces, lean back, and cower—their bodies are emitting that same message anyway.
That defensiveness is a major problem, and it can undermine even the most perfect message. Defensiveness—in the form of closed gestures, a tight smile, or abruptly clipped answers—leads the audience to wonder what you’re hiding.
In order to help our trainees, I encourage them to change their interior monologues before they begin their second round of practice interviews. Instead of, “Oh, no, here come the tough questions,” I ask them to try, “I’m so happy you asked me that, because your question gives me an opportunity to discuss that issue.”
You’d be amazed by how much that small mental adjustment helps them convey a more open tone. That openness not only helps to persuade the audience but also defangs most interviewers, who are less inclined to probe a spokesperson who appears to have little to hide.
Beyond the fear of the unexpected question, defensiveness comes across in at least three other ways.
As questions become tougher, it becomes even more critical for you to maintain open and non-defensive body language. Audiences award points to spokespersons who exhibit grace under pressure and deduct them from people who offer heated responses.
Anger also undermines an automatic dynamic that works in your favor. Ted Koppel, my former boss and the long-time host of ABC’s Nightline, says that an audience’s allegiance is to the interviewer, not to the person being interviewed—at least at the beginning. But if viewers perceive that the interviewer is being unfair, the audience will shift its sympathy from the journalist to the interviewee. So stay cool, and the audience may automatically move your way.
In everyday life, you may occasionally win an argument by making a well-timed sarcastic point. But media interviews aren’t debates, and you don’t always win points for your rapier wit. On the contrary, sarcasm can make you appear peevish and unlikeable. Remember that in many formats, the public will never see the question you were asked, only your answer. So even if your sarcastic reply looks fine “in context,” it won’t look good as a stand-alone sound bite.
3. Walking Away
My blog regularly documents instances when spokespersons abruptly end an interview and walk off the set. I’ve yet to see one that makes the spokesperson look good. Unless the reporter has become downright abusive, don’t walk off—the moment you do, you lose. Walk-offs make for dramatic television and help stations attract viewers—so you better believe that the video of your humiliating walk-off will be played repeatedly, and could live forever on the Internet.
Tags: media training tips
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If you thought the New York City mayoral race would get more civil as Anthony Weiner started sinking in the polls and heading toward what will hopefully be a life of J.D. Salinger-like obscurity, you’re wrong.
Two other leading Democratic contenders—Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio—have created plenty of their own drama with a recent kerfuffle over a media misquote
The trouble began when The New York Times star columnist Maureen Dowd mangled a quote from de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who was speaking about her husband’s opponent, Ms. Quinn.
Here’s how Ms. Dowd quoted Ms. McCray in her story:
“She’s not accessible,” McCray says. “She’s not the kind of person I feel I can go up to and talk to about issues like taking care of children at a young age and paid sick leave.”
That quote was particularly edgy, since it could be interpreted as a smear against Ms. Quinn, who is a lesbian without children. Ms. Quinn blasted Ms. McCray’s statement.
But it’s not actually what McCray said. She was misquoted.
It turns out that Bill de Blasio’s campaign had recorded the interview. They released the audio of the relevant portion, which shows that the comments were made in a slightly broader context. (Maureen Dowd later blamed the noise in the café and a lousy tape recorder for her fumble; The New York Times issued a lengthy correction.)
“Well, I’m a woman, and she’s not speaking to the issues that I care about, and I think a lot of women feel the same way. I don’t see her speaking to the concerns of women who have to take care of children at a young age or send them to school and after school, paid sick days, issues in the workplace — she’s not speaking to any of those issues. What can I say? And she’s not accessible, she’s not the kind of person that I feel that I can go up and talk to and have a conversation with about those things, and I suspect that other women feel the same thing that I’m feeling.”
My New Advice About Recording Interviews with Reporters
In this case, the difference between the two quotes wasn’t terribly dramatic. But it could have been—and had Mr. de Blasio’s campaign not recorded this interview independently, his cries of “My wife was misquoted!” would have likely fallen on deaf ears.
I’ve previously written that you shouldn’t record your interviews with reporters except for the most challenging situations, since doing so can lead to a climate of mistrust and suspicion before you even begin speaking. I’d continue to stand by that advice for “everyday” interviews—those that don’t hold your company’s, organization’s, or campaign’s reputation in the balance.
But my thinking has evolved on this issue, and I’d now advise spokespersons for political campaigns, businesses dealing with controversial issues, and those dealing with unfriendly media—among others—to consider recording their raw interviews with reporters. That’s not just because reporters occasionally seek a “gotcha” moment, but because even journalists of full integrity can make honest mistakes. And if they do, your recording may be your only evidence that you were wronged.
Without that evidence, it’s easy to see how a single misquote could be all it takes to destroy your candidacy, your company’s stock price, or your reputation.
One final point: Some states require two-party notification. If you’re recording your interviews over the phone, check the laws in your state. To help preserve your long-term relationship with reporters, you should probably tell them you’re recording regardless of the state law.
What do you think? Do you ever record raw copies of your media interviews? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Tags: Bill de Blasio, Chirlane McCray, Christine Quinn, crisis communications, Maureen Dowd, media relations tips, media training tips, PR, Public Relations, The New York Times, working with reporters
Posted in Crisis Communications | 5 Comments »
Most people experience nervousness during media interviews, and probably for the same reason—they don’t want to make an embarrassing mistake that humiliates them in front of their peers and prevents them from achieving their goals.
There is no silver bullet for eliminating nervousness entirely. But you can learn how to manage your fear more effectively and lose some of the butterflies that hinder your performance.
Here are seven tips and techniques that have helped me—and thousands of our clients—over the past decade.
1. Practice makes perfect
Most people tell us that the single best way to reduce their fear is by getting familiar with their material and conducting several practice interviews in advance. Our trainees also tell us that their fear recedes as they gain more media experience. Therefore, take every opportunity you can to practice with smaller media outlets before giving your first “big time” interview.
2. But you don’t have to be perfect
No one is judging you on a scale of perfection. You’re allowed to stumble over a phrase, say the occasional “ummm,” or forget a word here and there. If you focus on doing the big things well—delivering quality content with passion—the audience is probably going to form a positive impression of you.
3. Just because you feel it doesn’t mean they see it
You’re a bad judge of your own nervousness. Don’t assume the audience can sense your pounding heart or sweaty palms—they usually don’t.
4. Remember, it’s not about you
Stop focusing on your own fears and focus on the audience instead. Think about their lives, their needs, and their concerns. Remind yourself how your information can make their lives better. Try to serve them. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
5. Stay in the moment
If you make a mistake, stay in the moment. Don’t beat yourself up while the interview is still in progress—if you lose your focus, you’ll make additional mistakes and compound your original error. Self-flagellate after the interview ends if you must, but never during the interview.
6. Take long, deep breaths
Adults breathe an average of 12 times per minute. That number goes up when you get stressed, which leads to a reduced concentration of carbon dioxide in your blood and oxygen in your brain. Taking long, deep breaths can help you regain control of your respiration, so try this exercise shortly before your interview begins. Start by slowly exhaling all of the air from your lungs. Next, slowly inhale through your nose until your lungs are full. Hold your breath for as long as you can comfortably do so. Slowly release the air through your mouth until your lungs feel empty again. Repeat this exercise 10—12 times.
7. Flex your muscles
You can also use a modified version of a technique called “progressive muscle relaxation” by flexing—then releasing—different muscles. Sit in a comfortable chair and close your eyes. Flex the muscles in your face for 10 seconds, then relax for 20 seconds. Move on to your neck and repeat the same exercise, continuing on with your shoulders, then your arms, then your hands, then your chest, then your stomach, and downward until you reach your toes.
Tags: media training tips, public speaking
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Editor’s Note: Since August 2010, I’ve written more than 800 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 June 15, 2011.
If you’ve ever visited New York City, you’ve probably seen sidewalk signs telling you to “Curb Your Dog.”
I’ve never owned a dog and didn’t know what that sign meant, so I looked it up. Some websites say it means you should pick up your dog’s poop. Others say it means you should train your dog to “go” at the curb, as to allow urine to flow easily into drains and prevent unsightly sidewalk stains. And yet another site says it means to keep your dog leashed.
I like to think I’m a bright guy, so I’m guessing that if that sign leaves me clueless, it leaves some other people clueless as well. And for those one in five American households that speak a primary language other than English at home? Well, if they have dogs, I’m pretty sure many of them have no idea what this sign means either.
Here’s one more, courtesy of New Jersey Transit:
Egress? I know what that means because I’ve owned a home before, but I’m guessing many daily commuters aren’t familiar with the term (it means exit). Why not just say that?
Media spokespersons and public speakers commit the same sin of using unclear jargon all the time, making those of in the audience think, “For the love of god, tell me what you mean!”
The 12-Year-Old Nephew Rule
Here’s a trick from a former ABC News colleague to help you avoid industry jargon that prevents your audience from understanding your meaning. She once interviewed a jargon-filled scientist. After 20 minutes, he still hadn’t said anything we could use on air. She ended the interview, thanked him, and said, “Could I ask you a favor? My 12-year-old nephew loves science. Would you mind doing one take I could show to him?” He agreed, and delivered a terrific answer without any jargon – and that’s the take we used that evening.
If you have young people in your life, run your messages by them. If they can paraphrase them back to you in their own words, you’ve successfully eliminated the jargon.
I’m guessing they’ll just say “clean the poop” and “keep the exit clear.” And that’s when you know you’ve succeeded.
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Tags: jargon, media training tips
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