Why Justin Trudeau Still Needs Media Training
2019 hasn't been a great year for Justin Trudeau. If that's a Captain Obvious type of lede, I hope you'll excuse me.
Trudeau has been under siege for months as he moves from one scandal to the other. Despite lots of practice, his media skills haven't got any better. It's hard to understand why somebody with so much experience in front of reporters still seems hesitant to find the right words.
Even when Trudeau delivers canned responses to the media, there are normally several pauses and sometimes outright stumbles and I wonder why it continues to happen?
Know What You're Going to Say
I’ve done media training workshops across Canada for years and one of the key points I always drive home is to know what you’re going to say before you say it. I always say “If you know what you’re going to say before you say it, you’ll say it better.”
It’s a simple communications concept. I don’t understand why Prime Minister Trudeau doesn’t get it.
It’s not as if he’s a rookie. It doesn’t seem possible, but he was elected Liberal leader just over six years ago and Prime Minister four years ago this October. He’s had chance to refine his media relations skills on an almost daily basis, but still he’s known for batches of ummms, ahhhs, errrs, and other sounds that aren’t words.
He’s the Prime Minister, but on so many occasions it sounds as though he’s not prepared for the questions he’s going to get, even though very few questions reporters ask him are unexpected. He’s made a career of sounding uncertain about what he’s saying and I don’t see any signs of it getting better.
People who I’ve given media training to have noticed as well. After one mock interview during a workshop, in which the person hesitated and stumbled in her answer, she remarked how much she sounded like Justin Trudeau. The rest of the group got a good chuckle out of that.
Let's Go to the Video
This video, from earlier this year, provides a great example of what I’m talking about.
It came several days into the Judy-Wilson Raybould scandal. Trudeau was making some sort of business-related announcement and reporters got a chance to ask him about the scandal. The reporter you’ll hear asked an interesting question, using an answer Trudeau had given earlier to the groping controversy he found himself in.
Let’s analyze what happened here. First of all, he never answered the question. The question was about men perceiving things differently than women, as Trudeau has suggested before. He didn’t answer the question whatsoever, so he loses marks there.
The bigger issue to me is, since he went to his predictable answer, why was it that he stumbled around for several seconds before getting to his key message? That message was one that was repeated by Trudeau for weeks during the scandal – his government followed the rule of law, but also is concerned about good jobs for Canadians.
You can say that’s crap and that’s fine, but that’s not my point. If that’s going to be your canned answer, then you better deliver it without stumbling around for several seconds before getting to it. Hesitation, pauses and stumbles detract from the overall answer. What Trudeau eventually said was fine (setting politics aside), but getting to the point he wanted to make was painful.
Our Lips Move Quicker Than the Brain
There is something to be said for the occasional media comment by somebody like Trudeau to include a stumble or two. It shows he’s being thoughtful and he’s not giving a canned response, something that’s been practiced over and over again until it sounds forced. With Trudeau though, it happens far too often.
What’s causing this to happen? Some people have suggested its simply habit. We all develop speech patterns over the years and since we’re not seen on TV every other night, nobody notices or really cares. It’s just the way we talk and our family and friends get used to it.
Maybe Trudeau is naturally that way, but I think it gets down to preparation. I’m not close enough to his office or the people working for him, but when I see the way he handles questions from the media, I often think he didn’t spend enough time preparing. Maybe he doesn’t have enough time, or perhaps he doesn’t think it’s time well spent. However, there’s no reason for him to throw six umms and ahhhs into an answer if he has prepared properly.
We feel compelled to try to fill “dead air” with something when we speak. That could be an ummm or an ahhh and too often I hear people start answers these days with the word “so” followed by a pause. Our lips sometimes move quicker than our brains and we need to slow them down until our brain catches up. Being prepared allows our brain to get a head start and takes pressure off the questions we need to answer.
Knowing what we’ll say before we say it, is a lesson our PM should have learned a long time ago.
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