What I’ve Learned Helping People Speak To the Media
Over the past 25 years the two sports I have played the most are squash and golf. I took lessons from professionals in both sports and I remember them both telling me there are a few common mistakes that most people make. As an example, when I took squash lessons I remember the instructor telling me that one common mistake players made was to not get their racquet back sooner when given the chance. In golf, a common mistake that produces a bad swing is to come across the ball resulting in a slice (guilty as charged).
I also found it amazing that a good squash or golf instructor could determine what you were doing incorrectly by just watching a few swings. However, I’ve done media training seminars for close to ten years and the situation is much the same. Many people make the same mistakes in preparing to speak to the media, or doing an interview. Much like problems with your swing in golf there are normally only a few things that people do wrong.
I've developed this short list to show the common things that people do wrong when dealing with the media and if you can correct them right off the start you will do much better.
A Little Nervous In the Service
I often find that the shakiest part of one of these interviews is the first 30 to 60 seconds, but after that people seem to realize that it's simply a conversation between themselves and the reporter. Once they get the hang of it I find they tend to relax and deliver a solid interview. I normally do a second round of interviews during these media training sessions and people are far better the second time despite the fact that I'm normally playing a much more aggressive reporter during the second round of interviews. Despite the fact that the interview is harder, the participants do better because they have developed some self-confidence during the first interview.
People need to understand that whatever issue a reporter is asking them about the person being interviewed is the expert and knows much more about the topic than the reporter does. Despite that, people are nervous that the reporter will ask them a question they don't know the answer to. Proper preparation however will ensure they know the answers to almost all questions they’ll get. For the small percentage of questions they don't know the answer to, they can do one of two things. I let them know there's nothing wrong with telling the reporter they simply don't know the answer but will check and get the information to the reporter later that day. Or they could simply say "I don't know the answer to that but here's what I do know" and then talk about what they do know. Remember a good media spokesperson talks about what they know not about what they don't know.
The Eyes Have It
One of the simplest and most powerful ways to look better during your media interviews is to look at the reporter as you are answering their questions. Eye contract is extremely important because it lets the reporter know that you have confidence. It becomes even more important to have eye contact during television interviews because if you can look the reporter in the eye as you are giving the answer it adds a large degree of credibility to what you're saying.
In last week's blog I wrote about how I developed my online media training series called Bulletproof Your Brand. When I did interviews for the video series to demonstrate how a good media spokesperson answers questions, I interviewed Crystal Puim of Crystal Puim Photography in Edmonton. Crystal has done some photography for me, but she certainly isn’t a media spokesperson. Despite that, look at how much credibility Crystal has in the following photos that are screenshots taken directly from the online video series. Look at how much more creditable Crystal looks because she's looking right at me as she's providing her answers.
When somebody being interviewed looks away from the reporter as they are speaking, it conveys a sense of awkwardness, uncertainty or perhaps shyness. Either way it results in the person not looking as confident. The next time you see a person interviewed on television check their eye contact with the reporter and ask yourself if they look creditable.
Why Body Language Blunders Can Hurt Your Words
When it comes to body language, one of the most important things is how you use your hands. I tend to find that many people, especially men, use what I call the "soccer penalty kick position" as they start speaking to a reporter. In this position they clasp their hands together in front of them just below the waist. Anytime you put your hands in front of you it makes you look defensive. If your hands are clasped together at the waist it leaves an impression that are overly formal. If you fold your arms across your chest it obviously provokes another impression, one of being more confrontational. I advise the people I train to hold her hands at their sides and when they need to make a point to use their hands to help them. Hands can give your voice rhythm and cadence because your voice will follow your body movements. During a television interview it becomes even more important to use your hands to help convey your message.
Slow Down To Make Your Words Stronger
Almost every time I have done a media training seminar there has been at least one person and normally a few that I need to tell to slow down. They are simply speaking too quickly for the viewing or listening audience to comprehend properly. These are normally people who speak quickly in normal conversation. Some feel that because that's just the way they are it's okay to speak the same way during media interviews. Far from it.
When you speak to a reporter it's important to understand that you are not only speaking to that reporter but also speaking to his or her audience. If you are doing a radio interview as an example, although you're speaking to a reporter the voice clips that the reporter chooses from your interview will go on the air and be heard by that station's listeners. So in effect you are talking through the reporter to the actual listener. This is why it's important to slow down. You can have much more credibility if you speak a little slower. I suggest people who speak quickly should try to over emphasize syllables in words they use. It will seem to them as if they are overemphasizing words, but to somebody listening to them, it will make it much easier to follow.
If you want to find out more about these points or anything else in dealing with the news media please check out my online media training series that I launched on June 22. Feedback to the series so far has been exceptionally positive and I know it can make you better the next time you need to talk to a reporter.