An Experts Dilemma -Media Training

There are two types of experts in the world. One type prides himself in being able to think and speak in a logical, rational, linear, detailed, abstract and conceptual manner. This type is often so identified with his logical, rational intellect that he is unable to communicate in any other manner. Accordingly, this expert tends to remain mired in obscurity. While he may have had numerous media interview opportunities, somehow they never turn out quite right. In fact, this expert is rarely quoted, and when he is quoted, he is usually upset that the “stupid reporter picked such a lousy or irrelevant quote.” Over time, he seeks out the media less and less, and his media interview opportunities become fewer. He takes comfort in the fact that he never “sold out” like so many other “media whores” in his profession. Our friend is “pure,” albeit highly obscure.

Contrast this expert with another kind of expert. She also prides herself in her ability to think and speak in a logical, rational, linear, detailed, abstract and conceptual manner. However, she realizes that her most advanced level of thinking and talking is not appropriate in every circumstance. She understands that the way she talks to her graduate students or her professional colleagues is not the same way she talks to her children, her grandmother, her minister or visitors from another country. She changes her communication style depending on the circumstances.

When she speaks to the news media regarding her area of expertise, she alters her communication style completely. First of all, she avoids abstraction and gives concrete examples. She does not submit to the temptation of using glib generalizations; instead, she gives specific, personal examples to reporters. She is also not too embarrassed to share her excitement and passion for her subject. Finally, she is always on the lookout for real-world examples, especially from pop culture, that are analogous to activities going on in her field, so that she can reference them when talking to the media.

The results? She is interviewed frequently by the media, and she enjoys the intellectual challenge of making her ideas more understandable to a broader audience. She doesn’t see it as “talking down”; rather, she sees it as speaking another language to another group of people. She gets good quotes and favorable media coverage, and the more media she does, the more requests come in. This media exposure gives her access to higher and higher level experts within her field, thus increasing her own learning and visibility. Each positive media interaction fuels future developments. Finally, the expert receives nearly universal acclaim, not only from her professional colleagues, but also from the general public. She has followed in the footsteps of Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jane Goodall.

Which expert do you want to be?

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