Media training has been around for a while now, and yet it’s still a process that some executives and others in the public eye try and resist going through. The reasons commonly cited are predictable ones, such as “I don’t want to sound scripted,” or “every interview is different, so training won’t matter,” and so on.
The simple fact is that as social media has grown and it has become ever easier to share video clips, media training for your C-suite is now more important than ever. One bad interview question used to have the life cycle of being replayed a few times on TV. Now, that clip lives on YouTube forever, resurfacing each time the company, the individual interviewed, or the general subject matter comes up.
Journalists are trained to ask tough questions—so spokespeople, members of the C-suite, and anyone else who might come into contact with a reporter should be trained too. It’s a matter of being prepared. Being direct, answering questions when you can—and knowing what to say when you can’t, and understanding how images and appearance can add or detract from an interview are all part of media training.
Here are some of the many ways in which effective media training can prepare you for speaking with the media:
General prep – your foundation
Good media training will do more than give the trainee a way to respond to reporters—it will also provide him or her with the tools to understand how journalists think. Is this important? It most certainly is. Having this in mind allows a person being interviewed the ability to anticipate where a journalist might direct questions to, and how they could be worded. Predicting how a journalist might phrase a negative question, or understanding before an interview how the media might package a topic so that it fits into a broader news narrative means the interviewee is far less likely to be caught off-guard.
Disciplined messaging can be hard to pull off effectively. We’ve all watched news interviews where someone stays so on message they don’t even seem to be listening to the questions. This shows effective message discipline, but can also frustrate the audience. What is far more rare is listening to an interview and not noticing that the person being interviewed isn’t really answering the questions—that is skilled messaging, and it takes practice. You don’t want to sound like a robot when staying on message, you want it to sound natural—but the only way to make it sound natural is through training.
Understanding the media
If you don’t want to be quoted on something, the only way to guarantee that is to not say it to a member of the press. That’s pretty simple, but it can trip up the most seasoned practitioners. Some other tips that media training will reinforce—don’t exaggerate claims, don’t go on record with a goal you know you can’t make, and if you don’t know an answer say you’ll find the answer and get back to them—and never, ever just make something up. You will be called out on it, either right then or as soon as they can fact-check the item.
Appearance and demeanor
Nothing can sink a media interview quicker than a spokesperson coming across wrong for the situation at hand. Every PR person I know cringed internally when BP CEO Tony Hayward said in an interview during the oil spill that he wanted his “life back.” Being pitch-perfect is hard, especially during a crisis, but the very last thing you want to do is create a separate crisis by being tone-deaf. Media training can help in this, from what you say, to what you wear, to paying attention to voice inflections and facial expressions.
And yes, these things can matter a great deal. If your spokesperson is touting a program for the economically disadvantaged, leave the Hermès scarf at home, this is not the time to wear it. If a spokesperson tends to pitch the voice higher when challenged on a point, they might come across as frustrated or combative rather than calm and collected—media training can help to identify these traits and when a spokesperson is aware of these issues, he or she can work to address them.
Media training isn’t just for CEOs and/or key spokespersons at a company. Anyone who will interact with the press should be media trained. If anyone resists, show them this clip from the Bob Newhart show—it’s a classic in PR media training circles for good reason.