Whether you aspire to be the next White House Press Secretary or simply come across as a competent spokesperson for your own business or agency, it is important to follow these five principles of you want to be successful when dealing with the news media:
- You must look comfortable, confident and relaxed on television and video. If you have a great message but you look scared or nervous or have an ill-fitting suit, nobody will remember your message. Your visuals will overwhelm any positive message you might have had. That is why it is essential that you practice speaking on video and looking at every inch of how you move and sound.
- Develop a simple, 3-part message that can be delivered in 30 seconds. Of course you will have to use additional messages to answer questions (contrary to popular belief, good media training does NOT involve ignoring questions). But you must develop a strong sense of what is truly most important to you. This doesn’t mean three themes with 8 sub-points. It means literally just three ideas. Each message should have one subject, one verb and one object. What helps my media training clients most is to visualize a Venn diagram where they find the overlap of messages that are not only important to themselves and their organizations, but are also interesting to the media AND interesting to the audience of a specific media outlet. Too many people go into media interviews only with self-serving messages that are of no interest to the news media; that never works.
- Answer questions with a strategic focus. Again, this doesn’t mean ignore questions, but it does mean you can’t do things you do in normal conversations, like repeat negatives and rebut every premise you disagree with. It’s also crucial to re-write questions in your own mind to make them neutral or easier and to bring back to all of your messages points regularly in a conversational non-memorized fashion.
- Package your messages with sound bites and quotable word patterns. It’s not enough to have a good message and stick to it. You must package your messages with combinations of the following word patterns: analogies, bold action words, absolutes, attacks, examples, emotions, clichés, humor, pop culture references and rhetorical questions. The flip side of this exercise is that you have to make sure you don’t accidentally have sound bites come out of your mouth that are off message (Remember BP CEO Tony Hayward’s quotes “I want my life back,” “It’s America, of course there will be frivolous lawsuits.”)
- Practice your interview on video. With video cameras built into every smart phone, iPad and most laptops, there simply is no excuse for not practicing your interviews on video, then watching the video and critiquing it. Get a colleague to play the role of the reporter to ask you questions. Then, focus on looking your best, answering the questions, hitting your message points and delivering your sound bites. Keep practicing on video until you are happy that no matter what 10 seconds might be pulled from your sample interview, you would still be happy with the final result in the story.