What is Media Training All About?
I don't work lot in the summer. Few groups want media training in July and August and there aren't as many conferences to speak at. When I mentioned to a friend that my first media training session for the fall is this Friday in Calgary he asked me a question that surprised me.
With a straight face he asked, "Media training? What the hell do you do there?" I asked what he meant by that and he responded by saying he understands I teach people to speak to the news media, but wondered how I do it. "What are the specifics?" he asked.
It really turned out to be a good question, but I'm not sure if I've ever detailed what I do in writing, so it's time to spill the beans.
Trade Secrets Revealed (Some of Them)
Let me start by saying, for competitive reasons, I may be a little vague about some of the specifics surrounding my work as a media trainer.
I’ve done media training and spoken about the media from Nanaimo, BC to St. John’s, Newfoundland, but I also have my share of competitors. I assume that many of them do a good job too and read this blog, so I have to protect some trade secrets. I still think I can give you insight to my work as a media trainer and answer my friend’s question about what goes on during a typical media training session and the benefits that organizations and the people who work for them get from media training.
The Rules of Engagement
The session normally starts with a presentation I do on the news media. It gives participants tips and strategies they can use when they prepare for, and do media interviews.
I try to keep this pretty basic. Most people I work with haven’t had a lot of media experience, so I avoid complex concepts. I look at it this way – if I was teaching basic carpentry skills I wouldn’t show students how to build a house right away.
That’s not to say I don’t take time to get into more advanced concepts like how to use sound bites and bridging techniques to control interviews. I also use some great video clips that, in most cases, show people NOT to deal with the media. Sometimes you can learn more from the people who fail than those who succeed.
Nail Your Key Messages
What I like to call the meat in the middle of the sandwich is the next part of the day. We get into issues that could impact the organization I’m doing the training for, or have affected it in the past.
This is the part of the day that’s the most customized for the group. Every organization faces different issues and different challenges when it works with the media. That’s why I spend a lot of time with the organization well before the training session takes place to make sure we’re working with issues that will affect them the most. Why do something generic when it can be made as specific as possible? That provides far more value for the organization.
Now the Fun Begins
The third portion of the day is by far the most fun, but at the same time it’s the scariest for many people. We take the issues that we just worked on and then put them into action when I do on-camera interviews with most of the people in the group.
Some people are nervous about going on camera, while others seem to be eager to be interviewed until the actual interview starts. It’s interesting for me to watch. I normally have time to do a second round of interviews and virtually everyone is more relaxed the second time and does a better interview. It’s amazing to see how just one interview and some suggestions on how they can do it better results in instant improvement.
I remember one person I was working with said they used to work for a large bank and got media training. It was the job of the trainer to try to make them break down and cry, to make sure they were “tough enough” to deal with hard questions from the media. How ridiculous. People need to be confident and comfortable when they speak to the media and not sick to their stomach.
The critique that follows each round of media interviews has an interesting dynamic. While I make most of the suggestions on what each person can do better, many others in the room come up with ideas for improvement and they’re generally very helpful.
There are variations to the one-on-one interviews I do on camera. I have done everything from working with others to set up a “scrum scenario” to simulating phone interviews, if that’s what the client wants. Again, customization is the key.
What's in it For Me?
I also provide a number of takeaway items that I’ve created. Most importantly, everyone gets a copy of my book The Honest Spin Doctor.
So what do people get out of the session, in addition to being able to speak to the news media better? To start with, they improve their communication skills. Whether a person is doing a media interview, or speaking to a client, the same rules apply about preparation and knowing what you’re going to say before you say it.
I also find a media training session is a great team building exercise. For associations, it’s some vital training to give hard working volunteers they can use in their day jobs as well. One member of a Board of Directors told an Executive Director I worked for “I’ve been on this Board for eight years and this is the first time you’ve done something for me.” Point taken.
The training can be delivered in a full day or a half-day session, although I prefer doing the longer version because it’s not as rushed and we always can do at least two rounds of interviews so improvement can be seen. I find the best size of a group to deal with is from 5-9, but far more people can participate in the part of the day that does not include the interviews.
I hope that answers the question.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through the website. I would be happy to answer them for you.