By Tress Fereday
If you own a businesses, or hold a senior position at a thriving company, chances are you will speak to media. The haughty execs who decide to wing it usually produce disastrous results. (Some of those horror stories could fill an entire series of books, but we’ll save that for another time.)
Those who are savvy know that preparation and strategy always increase the odds of success.
So, how has working with media changed with the demise of many print outlets and the emergence of new social and multimedia channels? Also, what components remain steadfast and successful?
I have participated in spokesperson training both as a trainee and a trainer, so I can share three components of successful sessions.
You Are Never ̶ Ever ̶ Off the Record
This has always been a mainstay in media training. “Don’t go off the record, don’t go off the record. Oh, and by the way, don’t go off the record.” Sometimes spokespeople begin to think that reporters are their friend, so they get a little relaxed. Nope. Never. Never.
Now with the world of social media, this only highlights the fact that you’re always “on.” That person who you are chatting to in the airport might record or post what you said. So, don’t say anything you aren’t ready to see on a news feed because a Tweet can go out in a millisecond.
Now social media can be a great tool for business. It is an ongoing channel to share messages and news plus a way to build relationships with reporters and bloggers. But, many online outlets strive to be the first to “break” a story, so that can mean that facts and accuracy come second. So, stick to message. Stick to your story. Stick to the topic at hand.
To highlight this in training after the mock camera interview, we turned the camera to the ground but left it recording. Then asked a last “So, really, what is going on?” to underscore even if you think you’re off the record, you’re not.
Have A Realistic Mock Scenario
The airline industry does it. The chemical industry does it. Any industry that may have a potentially dangerous and life-threatening emergency does it. You should too.
That is have your leadership team participate in a realistic mock scenario that mirrors a potential combative interview/situation. This can include hiring “reporters” who ambush your CEO and attempt to get an on-the-fly interview.
When preparing to be a spokesperson, seeing yourself on video and testing your ability to convey your key messages under pressure is key.
I can confess that when I was in the “hot seat” and being trained, I stumbled and bumbled on my messages. Also, when reviewing back the tape, I realized that I nod and say “uh huh” under my breath while being questioned. This made it seem like I was agreeing even if what they were saying was inaccurate.
Flopping your mock interview is always better than flopping the real thing. Also, all trainees (yes, all!) improve exponentially on their second and third go-round, and then feel empowered to take charge moving forward.
Later when I was in a live TV situation, the reporter was chatting and being nice when we were setting up. The minute we went live, he started with a combative and negative question. Because of the mock scenarios I had been through previously, I prevailed, remained calm, and shared my messages.
Another interesting approach is to have one of your facilitators conduct an interview with your spokesperson, then have them write an article from the exchange. Many times what the spokesperson thought came through did not, and they are shocked by the headline and lead.
While taking this hands-on approach to training can be harrowing for the participants (me included), the good news is that the mock scenarios make many of the real-world interviews seem tame by comparison.
Try to Answer the Question (Unless You Are a Politician)
O.K. If you work in the world of politics, this is where I might lose you.
If you are in any other industry, please stay with us. Yes, you should try to answer the question before “bridging” to message. Now sometimes your answer maybe, “I can’t answer that question because of fill in the blank (competitive reasons, pending litigation, etc.)” But you should attempt some sort of answer, then bridge to what you really want to talk about.
We always hear about talking points and messaging platforms. And, yes, those are good things to prepare and to practice before going into an interview. The techniques of blocking, bridging, and flagging that you’ll learn in media training still apply.
But, if the messages sound fake and rehearsed ̶ and then you ignore the questions ̶ you come off as robotic. So, please make an attempt to give a short, direct answer then move to your message.
It is a fact that being a spokesperson is a skill you can enhance and improve by working with the right trainer. Also, having media training refreshers before the launch of a new product or service is always a good idea. A little bit of practice can go a long way to help you and your company succeed.
Now maybe sometime in the future you can send a hologram to handle your media interactions, but until then, you might want to set up some training.
Tress Fereday, Senior Account Manager, of Expedition PR has worked both sides of the camera as a media trainer and spokesperson. Contact Tress at firstname.lastname@example.org