Media Training Tips – What news organizations are looking for in a spokesperson

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In our last blog post, I discussed the importance of preparing for crisis communications by having a plan to manage and respond with facts as quickly as possible. Equally important, and today’s topic, are media training tips for your primary spokesperson, the right person to represent your organization throughout the crisis.

An essential skill an executive should have is public speaking. Every time a CEO or CFO addresses the media, they are in danger of tarnishing their company’s reputation with just one slip-up; it only takes one wrong word to go viral and cast a shadow over your organization.

Sometimes these mistakes happen because executives get too caught up in what they want to say rather than focusing on how best to communicate that information for others – which means practicing ahead of time is essential!

The preparation that goes into producing quality media responses will have a lasting impact on the public’s perception of your organization. The key to this is having practiced sound bites, engaging questions, bridging, and staying on message with reporters. Remember, a reporter can only share what you say, so answer the question with your message. Many people believe they can wing it without any formal training, which is dangerous. Prepare now, so you don’t create another media disaster down the road like in the film “Broadcast News” when Albert Brooks was sweating profusely after finding himself unprepared for tough questions.

Executive Media Training

Like all skills practicing on how to communicate your message is equally important as what you are saying.
Practicing how to communicate your message is equally important as what you have to say.

Media training is best from experienced and knowledgeable experts who can help you to master the art of the interview. The person you select to be a spokesperson for your organization must make a solid first impression.

  • Develop the main message
  • Add supporting points to help convey your main message
  • Avoid having more than one message in any presentation, it is easily lost, when it could be worth a whole interview on its own
  • Prepare for tough questions and have a framework to respond
  • Practice answering questions with a coach before your interview
  • Almost any answer can bridge back to your main point
  • Understand that an interview can be cut short if there is breaking news
  • Keep your answers short (15-second sound bites are a good measure)
  • Listen to the interviewer’s questions
  • Stay in your lane, if your company builds widgets, don’t answer why the police are across the street
  • It’s ok to say, “I don’t know, let me see what I can find out and I’ll get back to you.” Then be sure to get back to them. If you have no intention of getting back to them, then don’t say that part.
  • Reporters will ask you the same question in various ways to get the response they’re looking for – remain in control of your responses
  • Be yourself; don’t be made of stone, smile for good news
  • If you want to come across as personable, you will need to enhance your expressions, mannerisms and communicate clearly
  • Hand gestures are acceptable – don’t be stiff
  • Smile and be friendly
  • Outside of TV dramas and movies “off the record” doesn’t exist. ALWAYS assume cameras and microphones are recording, because they are!

Do your media research 

Knowing your interviewer's style and coverage beat is critical to being well prepared.
Knowing your interviewer’s style and coverage beat is critical to being well prepared.

Giving an interview can be nerve-wracking – particularly if you don’t have much experience with the media. It’s critical to understand why you’ve been asked to give the interview and what will happen before, during, and afterward.

Questions you should ask before you agree to an interview:

‘Why are you doing this story now?’

Journalists often talk about the ‘hook’ for a story, i.e., why they want to cover a particular story at a specific time. Knowing why a producer is interested in covering a story will help you decide whether you feel comfortable talking about it.

‘Who will the interviewer be?’

This can give you a chance to research their interviewing style, which can be helpful for your preparation. You can read their past articles to see if they work more with emotion or stick to the facts.

‘Who will I be on with?’ 

Radio and TV aim to entertain as well as inform. Essentially it’s showbiz. So it’s common practice – even on the most serious news programs – for producers to line up interviewees with opposing views. Knowing who you’ll be up against can help you prepare more effectively – or even make a decision about whether you’ll give an interview at all. So don’t be afraid to ask who else they’ve talked to for the story or who they intend to talk with.

‘What’s coming before and after me?’

Knowing if there’s a ‘set up piece’ (a pre-recorded feature/interview) can help you get a feel for how a producer intends to cover a story. If there is one, don’t be shy about asking to see/hear it (although do be aware this may be impractical due to timing).

‘How long will I be on for?’

This will give you an idea of how much material to prepare (although see number 2).

How do I prepare for a media interview?

Preparation is always a good thing, but be aware that most media interviews only last a few minutes. If you have too much stuff whizzing around your head, you may find it more difficult to concentrate on and answer the questions.

You can spot over-prepared interviewees a mile off; they usually talk too fast and often ‘vomit’ information rather than answering the questions put to them.

Keep it simple

Prepare lots but have just one ‘take away’ point and try and get it in as early as possible. Then bridge back often.

Avoid big words

When you’re giving an interview, it’s tempting to speak formally or slip into professional jargon – both of which can alienate your audience. While it can feel like you’re giving a presentation or a speech, remember you’re actually talking to the interviewer. And your audience is people doing mundane things like having coffee at the kitchen table, driving to work, or doing the ironing. So if you want to keep them engaged, you need to use simple, everyday language and not assume knowledge on their part.

People who work in education are prone to use phrases like ‘program delivery’ or ‘widening participation’, but most people have no idea what they’re talking about. 

For more on how the language you use impacts people, read this: why using big words can make you look stupid. 

Be visual

We are all enthralled by a good story. The best storytellers are instantly more engaging when they put us in the scene by explaining not just the situation but how it felt, sounded like, and more. The key is ‘show, don’t tell’. Instead of telling people about your project or initiative, show them through lively, visual examples, and you’re far more likely to keep your audience engaged.

For more tips on giving interviews on radio and TV, read: How to shine in media interviews

Beware of repeating negatives

If you’re asked a question about something negative, it’s easy to fall into the trap of repeating the very word or phrase you’d rather not talk about. I’ve heard people being asked: ‘Is there a drug problem at your school?’ Their reply? ‘No we haven’t got a drug problem at our school. I mean, we have had drug problems in the past, but I can safely say that since we introduced our new drug policy, there have been no problems with drugs at our school….’

See how easily it can happen? Use the technique outlined in number 6 to help you avoid this.

Acknowledge difficult questions but move things on quickly

Politicians are brilliant at this. They acknowledge the question, saying something like ‘well that’s a fascinating point’ or ‘Yes I have heard that said’ before moving the conversation on using a ‘bridging’ phrase like ‘but what I’m really here to talk about it is…’ or ‘but I think the issue we really need to address is…’

It’s essential to use words and phrases that feel comfortable to you (see number 7) but this can be an effective way to take and keep control of an interview.

Be yourself

Never forget that radio and TV are showbiz – and like it or not – interviewees are characters in the show. In fact, producers are often talking about ‘casting’ rather than booking appearances. So resist the temptation to tone down your accent, personality, or anything else that makes you uniquely you. That said, appearances do matter – particularly for TV – and smart (at least the smartest version of you) usually works best.

The better prepared your spokesperson is for an interview, the more successful they will be. A well-designed media training plan is a great investment. A good PR agency can offer best practices in media training to help transform executives into effective spokespeople who will present your organization in the best possible light across all media platforms.

Interview Tips Summary

Media training helps you feel and appear calm and composed when representing your brand.

Media training helps you feel and appear calm and composed when representing your brand.

Ultimately, you must understand how to control your crisis communications and those of an opponent or partisan organization. In many ways, controlling the opposition’s message(s) reinforces your own story to the press, stakeholders, or target consumers. Harness the power of argument, and your opponent’s questions or accusations can work for you rather than against you.

Working with Murnahan Public Relations

Brian is ready to help your business prepare or overcome your communications challenge.
Brain helps DFW organizations convey their brand promise – even in stressful situations.

Good communications lead to better outcomes. Brian Murnahan consulting is your key to managing your messaging with leadership training, crisis communication planning, and we are ready to speak to the media for your organization.

If you need help with your organization’s communication, hiring our knowledgeable experts is exactly what you need … Contact Murnahan Public Relations today for more information.

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