Who needs media training? Talking to the media seems simple enough, right? You may have an expert opinion on a hot topic in the news and the media wants your perspective. But you open your mouth and talk over the reporter’s (and audience’s) head, you keep babbling and never get to the point or your answers land with a one-word thud.
Not so easy, eh?
First, let’s define what we mean by media training. This is a process where you or your company’s spokespeople work through the messaging the company does and does not want to convey. This will cover basic questions like “Tell us about your company.” And eventually it will cover harder questions that may be uncomfortable to answer (but need to be addressed) or a topic the company wants to avoid altogether. The end goal of media training is to get your company message down, as well as learn how to work through or around the tough stuff.
Here are the three key objectives for media training and what they can do for you and your message.
Prepare for Tough Questions
One of the situations that makes talking to the media difficult is when an interviewer asks a question you don’t want to address. It happens frequently. It’s how you handle it that matters.
Say your company is a startup and you’ve had a rocky time funding your latest raise. Of course, the visibility of being interviewed in the media is good for a company trying to raise money, but what comes with it are the challenging questions about why a VC dropped out or why your previous big donors decided to stop giving you money.
In media training, you learn and accept that those questions are coming so you prepare an answer. If you continue to deny that the media will ask you those tough questions, they will catch you off guard every time. Never get angry when these questions come up, or else your defensive nature will always make it in the story. The best position to be in is to be prepared, answer the question and move on.
Make Complicated Answers Easy to Understand
There are a lot of complicated industries out there. Take artificial intelligence, for example. It’s an emerging technology that companies use to make smart, new products. But at the same time, many people don’t understand how it works.
Media training allows you to communicate an idea that may seem simple to the expert because they know it inside and out. But being able to explain it to the audience in terms that are immediately relatable is an invaluable skill that media training can hone. The average news-watcher probably doesn’t have the attention span to follow your academic thesis on AI and commercial applications, but a quick answer to “What is artificial intelligence and how does it affect the average person’s daily life?” is something most people will tune in to learn.
Keep Your Answers Brief
That brings us to this final point: keep those answers short and sweet. The more you ramble on, the more likely a reporter will leave the interview confused.
Your best answer to any question should be roughly 15-20 seconds long. And that time goes by fast! You may think a one or two-minute answer is pretty good for you, but that is too long. The standard time for a TV reporter’s typical story is 60-90 seconds. When it gets longer than 20 seconds, you then take the message out of your hands and leave it up to the reporter to find the quote or soundbite that works for their story.
Good media trainers will be honest with you, the client. If you’re too defensive, too obtuse or too long-winded, the client needs to be told. Going through the process is the only way to learn and improve your messaging. Once you complete media training and get these three points down, then it’s just practice, practice, practice for your first media-trained interview.