Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct dozens of media training sessions for hundreds of people, from account executives to chief executives of some of the world’s largest companies. Before venturing into public relations, I spent many years as a broadcast journalist on the other side of the microphone, so I know how writers and editors work, how they think and what they want.
It’s interesting that most people who participate in these one-day sessions don’t think they need the training. After all, they’ve forgotten more about their respective jobs, products and companies than I’ll never know, so who am I to “train” them about anything?
True enough. But when these folks are granted the opportunity to get in front of the media, most of them believe — incorrectly — that the interview is a simple question & answer session, and as long as they look and sound good, mission accomplished!
But what we demonstrate is how that “mission accomplished” attitude too often results in “opportunity wasted.”
Professionals need to understand that journalists are not their company salesmen. Neither are reporters the enemy. The majority of brands who engage in a media interview do so with a very friendly writer, who is very knowledgeable about the company and who wishes to maintain a good relationship with the person being interviewed. However, one should never assume that every question would be a softball lobbed over the middle of the plate. A journalist’s job is to get the story and be impartial. Your advantage is that you have been trained and understand the role of the reporter, while still getting across YOUR MESSAGE.
The most important element of the media training has nothing to do with what color clothes look best for television, whether you should look into the camera or look at your interviewer.
What we emphasize over and over during a session is that we don’t care what the question is, we only care what the answer is, because that, in fact, is the only thing you and your CEO control.
Interviews should ALWAYS be considered an opportunity to deliver your key message that you want your audience to take away. Again, the interview subject is not there to answer questions, per se. They are there to serve as the company’s “ambassador” and message-deliverer. Simply put:
- Questions are irrelevant.
- Only your responses are.
- And every response should include at least one key message.
Where the “training” comes in is actually teaching people how to make it seem like they are responding to the questions asked, but are actually segueing to a key message. It’s about feeling confident that THEY are in control of the interview, not the reporter.
In order to accomplish this, it’s important for brands to learn the importance of keeping responses concise, structured and engaging, while staying on-message. We also hammer home how important it is to not allow yourself to be led away into risky areas by the writer, particularly for CEO’s, who could hurt his or her company with an errant slip of the tongue.
Lessons learned from media training have value beyond just media interviews. Many people find these principals help them improve the effectiveness of sales presentations, internal company presentations and public speaking opportunities.
Do yourself a favor and watch a couple of the Sunday morning news programs. The men and women who appear on these programs are the very best. They’ve been trained well and have practiced extensively. You will notice that questions mean little to them. They are there for one reason … to deliver messages. And they do so very effectively.