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?”


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



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How To Use A Teleprompter And An “IFB” Earpiece

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on May 19, 2013 – 6:02 am

Editor’s Note: This post was written by David Shuster, a former MSNBC and Current TV anchor who currently serves as the managing editor for Take Action News. In this post, he responds to a reader who asked for tips on how to read from a Teleprompter and use an “IFB” earpiece, into which a producer speaks while you’re on the air.

Prompters and IFBs can be quite confusing, particularly if you are trying to master both simultaneously. So I would start by working on one at a time before bringing them together. Although in both cases, the learning process is the same.


TV and radio host David Shuster

Let’s start with the prompter operator:
  1. 1. Meet and communicate your expectations. This means advising him/her on where in the prompter (high, middle, or low) you want to see the words you are speaking at the instant you are saying them. Generally, you will want those words in the middle. This way, you can speed up or slow down your pacing and have the prompter operator only have to make minor adjustments to follow you.
  2. 2. Practice and make deliberate mistakes. This means adding words that aren’t in the copy to make sure the operator gets used to following you and stopping/starting as you change things.
  3. 3. Review the practice session. Provide feedback and discuss any adjustments either of you wants or needs to make.

In working with a producer/IFB, follow the same steps: 

  1. 1. Communicate your expectations. This means identifying in advance what the producer needs to tell you over IFB and what words/phrases you should expect to hear. Will he/she give you cues on when to start speaking? If so, agree on what the exact wording will be said in your ear, such as “go,” “now,” “cue,” or etc. Does the producer want to tell you how much time is left in the segment? Agree on how often you need to hear it. Generally, you will want a cue that there is “one minute” left, then “30 seconds,” then “ten seconds,” and “five.” Also, determine what other information the producer may need to tell you, and agree on what words/phrases the producer will say to communicate it. If the words are expected or familiar, you won’t be thrown off when you hear them. 
  2. 2. During your practice session with the producer, have him/her deliberately try to throw you off or distract you. It’s important that you learn how to deal with it and tune things out. Once you realize that you can keep talking even when something unexpected gets said in your ear, the fear of being thrown off will diminish. The likelihood of being thrown off will diminish too. 
  3. 3. Review the IFB practice session. Provide feedback to the producer and discuss any adjustments.

After the separate practice sessions, do one with the prompter operator and IFB/producer at the same time. Then, have a feedback session all together, in case there are any adjustments that any one of you needs/wants to make in conjunction with the other.  

Good luck and have fun!

David Shuster is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news anchor and former correspondent for Current TV and MSNBC. He is the Host and Managing Editor of “Take Action News,” a nationally syndicated radio show. You can see more of his work here.

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Reader Question: Should I Record A Biased Reporter?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 22, 2013 – 6:02 am

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?”

Media Interview

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

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Reader Email 2: How Do You Handle Negative Comments?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 19, 2012 – 12:02 am

You’re a jerk. An idiot. A poser. A moron. A dumbass.

If you’ve blogged long enough, you’ve probably been assaulted by a few readers who disagree with your conclusions. And that can lead to a few challenges for bloggers who want to allow a free exchange of ideas but also insist upon a civil discourse.

Reader Mary Denihan noticed that challenge, and asked the following question regarding managing a website’s comments section. Mary wrote:

“It almost seems like [negative comments] have overtaken some sites. Which in turn, seems to inhibit other folks with positive opinions to not comment. Do you have any advice on how to avoid your site to be overtaken by negative comments?”


Reader Leigh Ann Otte was also curious, writing:

“I would guess (hope?) most people recognize what’s going on and don’t listen to them. But it is a good question: What do you do if the negativity is directed to you? Ignore it? Respond once to everyone? Try to cut it off early by responding to the first few right away?”


Great questions, Mary and Leigh Ann! Here are three ways you might consider approaching this issue:

1. Ban Belligerent Jerks

There’s no rule that says bloggers have to approve every comment someone leaves. For this blog, I created a comments policy titled “No Jerks Allowed.” It reads, in part:

“I’m done posting ad hominem attacks, off-topic comments, comments that refer to elected officials (or others) in pejorative terms, comments that are unnecessarily antagonistic, comments that don’t relate to the topic of the article, and other comments that come across with more hostility than substance.

There is no shortage of websites and news channels that profit from hostile and angry debate. No matter how many times I’m accused of censorship, I’m not going to allow this blog to join their ranks.”


2. Respond, But Speak Past The Commenter

If I decide to post a negative comment from a reader (because it makes a valid point, even if it’s a bit nasty), I try to be mindful that the entire audience may hold a rude response 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 with my view.

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.

3. Or, Speak To The Commenter

If the commenter posts something negative but appears to be reasonable, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I often find that the tone of a reader’s first comment may be negative, but that if I respond to them respectfully, their follow-up comment is milder—or even appreciative.

That approach is backed up by a 2011 Harris Interactive study, which found that unhappy customers quickly forgave companies that responded to them. Thirty-three percent of customers who left a negative review on a shopping website ended up posting a positive review after receiving a response, while another 34 percent deleted the original review.

What do you think? How have you handled negative comments on your personal blog or company website?

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Reader Email 1: Do Minor Misquotes Matter?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 17, 2012 – 6:04 am

Readers of this blog occasionally send me their questions about media training—and although I do my best to answer all of them in a timely manner, I’m afraid I’ve fallen a bit behind.

So this week, I’m going to clear out my reader email inbox and answer as many of those questions as possible!

Today’s email comes from crisis communications professional Melissa Agnes, who asked:

“I got interviewed by a reporter last week, but the reporter seems to have misquoted me. It’s not a bad misquote, but it isn’t something that I remember saying – well, actually, I’m sure that I didn’t say it. Should I ask him to retract it, even if it’s actually good advice that I probably would have given if he had framed his question differently?”


Great question, Melissa! You’re not alone in this concern—I’ve also been the victim of minor misquotes and have had to make similar choices about whether or not to say anything to the reporter.

In this case, my short answer is this: let it go.

Reporters rarely make retractions for minor errors, and this reporter may resent that you complained about a point that he considers to be “minor”—or that he insists he reported accurately. So you have to make a decision about what is most important to you in this case: getting the quote right but potentially alienating a media ally for future coverage, or maintaining an easy relationship with this reporter. I’d choose the latter option.

I’d feel differently if the quote represented you badly or made an opposite point. But since you were happy with the quote anyway, it seems like this one falls under the category of “no harm, no foul.”

That said, you might want to be a bit more on guard with this reporter next time. And if it becomes a chronic problem rather than an anomaly, I’d recommend a different approach, such as discussing the problem with him, contacting his editor, or conducting your interviews with him over email (to maintain a paper trail).

Finally, check out this list of five ways to avoid being misquoted. They may or may not help in your specific case, but may help reduce your risk of future misquotes. Thanks for writing!

Do you have a question about being a better media guest or public speaker? Please leave it in the comments section below, and I’ll answer it on the blog!

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What To Say When You’re Not the Right Spokesperson

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 3, 2012 – 6:12 am

I recently received an email from Nicole, a reader who works for a local Chamber of Commerce. Her boss was on the radio expecting to face questions about one topic – but the host had a different idea. She writes:

“We had a recent experience where our Chamber president was asked to participate in a live radio interview about our economic development program.  Instead, he was asked numerous questions about a proposed rate hike by our city-owned utility – an issue which we are not the appropriate spokesperson for. Ultimately, our president did a good job not speaking on behalf of the utility and there was no fallout – but it was an uncomfortable situation that was particularly difficult since it was happening live. I was just curious as to how you would handle that type of situation?” 


It sounds like your president handled it perfectly, Nicole. But to elaborate on your question a bit more, spokespersons generally have three options when a reporter asks a question that falls outside of their realm of expertise.

These three tips will help prevent you from having a 'deer in headlights' moment when the reporter shifts gears

Option One: Answer The Question

The most straightforward option is to answer the question, even if it’s outside of the spokesperson’s expertise. This approach is fraught with danger, since the spokesperson is now on the record speaking on behalf of a different agency. Even if the spokesperson handles the question well, what good will it do if the headline of the interview becomes about that other topic? It means that your main messages – the three things you most wanted the public to know about you – got completely lost in the shuffle.

Option Two: Answer The Question, But Within Your Own Context

You might occasionally choose to answer questions about unrelated topics, but only within the specific context of how that topic affects you or your work. This approach allows you to “stay in your lane” while offering the audience (and reporter) something of value. For example, your president might have said:

“I can’t comment on the rate increase broadly, but let me tell you what our members have said. They’ve said that increases in energy costs will lead to either laying people off or freezing hiring. We all understand that energy prices have to go up on occasion, but local businesses have told me they believe this is a bad time to do it.”


This option isn’t fraught with as much danger as the first one, and it may occasionally be the right approach. But it also increases your odds that the quote the audience remembers from your interview will be about a utility increase – which may or may not be the headline you wanted.

Option Three: Deflect and Refuse The Question

This one is pretty straightforward – you can just tell the reporter:

“You know, that’s really a question that’s more appropriate for the utility company to answer. I haven’t had the opportunity to study their full proposal yet, and would be uncomfortable commenting on the rate increase. What I can discuss today is rising costs for local businesses in general, and how it’s affecting their hiring practices. Those rising costs may include energy prices, but they also include tax increases, increasing fuel costs, and many other items businesses need to purchase to succeed…”

This option is often the safest, but the audience may hold your president’s refusal to answer basic questions against him.  Therefore, options two or three are your best bets, depending on the question and its relevance to your work.

Thanks for writing, Nicole, and good luck with your work!

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on the blog? Please send your question to Thanks for reading!

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Four (More) Ground Rules For Working With Reporters

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 13, 2012 – 6:12 am

I recently received an email from a reader working in Sierra Leone.

The reader saw my article, Eight Ground Rules for Working With Reporters, thought I missed a few important ones, and submitted four additional rules. They’re great. 

Given the unique perspective that this reader is able to offer from the other side of the world, I wanted to share the list.

This reader works in Sierra Leone, a tiny nation on Africa's west coast.

1. Going Off The Record: Don’t speak off the record unless you not only agree on definitions, but you trust the reporter not to publish it anyway. Some reporters, especially members of the parachute press corps, are willing to burn a source for a story.

Here in Sierra Leone, sources by default are anonymous – even opinion sources. In my case, I don’t express any opinion on any topic which could by the remotest possibility be mistaken for an official position. If I were to say "I like hip-hop music" (which I don’t), someone might ask "What is [your organization’s'] interest in hip-hop?" I exaggerate only slightly.

2. If You Can’t Discuss Specifics: You are right: never say "no comment." Let me add my law: if you can’t talk about particulars, talk about process.

Photo of Kroo Bay, near Sierra Leone's capital

3. Speak For Yourself: This is one you missed: Don’t speak for any organization except the one for which you are a spokesman. Reporters sometimes encourage this, with questions such as, "Why do you think Government A is taking this position?"

I use a football (soccer) analogy. When the reporter kicks the ball out of the field, kick it back in with a statement such as, "I can’t speak for government A, but our position is…" Know what you want your focus to be, so that when the reporter goes out of bounds you can bring the interview back to your message.

4. The Spokesperson Needs a Briefing, Too: The spokesman should be briefed by the people at “carpet level.” It is a bad practice to have reporters coming up with information that takes the spokesman by surprise. (Editor’s note: The term “carpet level” comes from a former NFL football coach. He would deflect certain questions by saying they had to be answered by executives who were at the “carpet level,” since the offices of top management officials were carpeted. In contrast, his “office” –  the field – was covered in grass.)  

Final Note: The reader offered one additional thought worth mentioning, one that should make Western journalists feel grateful. Reporters in Sierra Leone are mostly untrained, usually graduates of secondary school (high school) but rarely college graduates. How much does a typical journalist make? $30 per month – if they’re one of the lucky ones.

Note: This reader requested anonymity, but I am grateful for the thoughtful email.

Is your executive team long overdue for a media training session? Please contact us to learn more about our customized media training workshops.

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I Have 12 Radio Interviews. What Should I Say?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 28, 2012 – 6:12 am

I recently received an email from Mike in Australia, who has a rather fortunate problem: He has 12 radio interviews coming up and will get to select the topics – but he doesn’t know how to come up with topics for 12 separate interviews. He writes:

“I’m in Australia and have an education agency in the Philippines. I’ll be going there in March as the town is having a big festival and we’ve bought radio advertising space.

We asked to have an interview as part of the deal. I was expecting a one off interview, but then the station manager said, you can have an interview everyday, for approximately 5 minutes.

If it was a one off interview, that’s fine, but a series of interviews, 12 days in total, I’m not sure what to prepare. We’ve been brainstorming what to include in the 12 days. Such as, Q and A, listeners can ask questions via text or email and we’ll answer it the next day. Maybe even have a competition. If you’re able to pass on any suggestions on what we can prepare, that would be great.”


First of all, congratulations! What a nice problem to have. But you’re right that it’s not easy to come up with 12 different topics, so here are a few ideas.

  1. 1. First, I’d start with the basics: your messages. Who is your radio audience, and what do you want them to know? Just as importantly, what does the audience want or need from you? You mentioned that you have an education agency – what are the problems you’re trying to solve, and what are your solutions? Create three messages that represent a combination of what you want them to know, along with what they need from you.
  2. 2. Once you create your three messages, I suggest developing two stories and two statistics for each message that help reinforce them.
  3. 3. When you’re finished with the above two steps, you’ll have 15 different angles, all of which are consistent with your brand message. Take a look at all 15. I’m guessing many of them can be turned into a standalone segment.
  4. For example, let’s say one of your statistics is “22,000 children in Manila aren’t getting their special education needs met by government-run schools.” That could easily become a segment:  who are these 22,000 children, why aren’t they getting their needs met, and how can you help them get the special education they need?
  5. 4. To help make your messages, statistics, and stories even more relevant, look for local news pegs. Can you talk about your messages in the context of a child who was just on the front page of a local newspaper? Has a government panel recently met on some of the issues you work on? Has a new school opened that is doing things better?
  6. 5. Remember to insert a call-to-action. What do you want listeners to do after hearing your segments? Should they call a certain phone number, visit a website, or walk into one of your locations?
  7. 6. Finally, I like your idea of Q & A’s and contests. But you might want to check into the audience size first. If the station has a small audience or if the majority of listeners are in remote areas without access to telephones, text messages and/or an Internet connection, your efforts to interact with them may fall flat.

In addition to developing ideas for your interviews, these three articles focus on how you can deliver your interviews with the passion and energy they deserve.

I hope these ideas help. Thanks for writing, and good luck with your interviews!

Readers: What other advice would you offer Mike? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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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.

    Brad Phillips

    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.

    Brad Phillips

    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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