Tag Archives: key message

3 Signs You’ve Hired a Horrible Media Trainer

1) Tells War Stories. Years ago, when ex-journalists became media trainers they would spend a full day or even two days revealing the mysteries of their craft. The journalist sometimes spent a full morning talking about how great an interviewer he or she was and revealed “behind the scenes” secrets of interviews with famous people.

Sometimes the media trainers would show a funny video from the Bob Newhart show of the affable doctor being cornered with tough questions from a TV host. It was all very entertaining but not very useful.

Clients today are busy people and not as star-struck with the media as they were in the past. A good media trainer today talks about interview objectives, message development and reporters’ agendas and then gets you to practice specific techniques. Most of my sessions are with small groups for a half-day, sometimes with a couple hours of follow up practice at a later date.

2) Tells You to Ignore the Questions. Going straight to a key message and repeating it over and over just doesn’t work anymore. It makes reporters cranky and they might even do something nasty like string all your answers together to make you look foolish. This trick is often used on politicians.

I tell my clients to listen very carefully to the question, answer the essence of it and look for a connection to their own message. I show them ways to appear to be answering the question. Although you can’t ignore the question, that doesn’t mean you have to provide an exhaustive response. Sometimes the easiest way to answer a reporter is with a simple yes or no. It can also sometimes catch them unprepared for their next question.

3) Beats You up With a Tough Interview. The theory used to be that the toughest interview you ever had was in media training and if you could survive that you’d survive anything. Don’t believe it. A media trainer who goes hard core on you right away is just showing off.

Media training should teach you a skill, not replicate an unpleasant experience. People learn when something is hard but accomplishable. If it’s too difficult they shut down and tend to avoid the situation. Of course if it’s too easy they’re not prepared for the tough interview.

Over the years I’ve had many people approach me with trepidation because of a bad previous training experience. A good media trainer should help you understand and practice the techniques and then leave you confident that you can execute them in a real interview.

Once you get the hang of things, a good media trainer will definitely turn up the heat but never give you more than you can handle. Unless you’re being arrogant.




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Good Stories are True Stories

Story telling is all the rage these days. It’s touted as the new best way to give presentations and to be persuasive.

I agree that stories can be powerful and I’ve shown many clients how to work them into their speeches with great results. A good story, well told, is powerful because it connects with the emotional side of the brain. When we bombard people with facts and figures we engage the logical side of the brain which is inclined to examine the veracity of those facts rather than trust the credibility of the speaker.

Good stories also make us feel good. And they are easier to remember than a long list of facts and figures. So, I am a strong proponent of using stories in speeches and presentations. But they have to be true stories.

Politicians, I think, were the first to pervert the art of story-telling into a way of getting across a specific message. When a politician says, “I was door-knocking the other day and met a woman who told me she fears international monetary agencies will lower our credit rating if the government doesn’t balance the budget,” you know that it isn’t true because real people just don’t talk that way.

Good stories, true stories, are messy. They have very specific details but not too many details. They lead us to larger wisdoms, not specific messages. Good stories paint with a very broad brush and set the scene for us to fill in the detail or message that we want to convey to the audience.

One of my clients made a presentation to his senior executives and had to explain some complex relationships that the organization had with its customers. He started with a drawing and a story from his five-year-old daughter. When he connected the dots to the customer relationship everyone in the room got it.

Stories are metaphors and they don’t need to be long or complicated. The way you were treated when you bought your morning coffee, missing your train on the way to the office or even your daughter’s art work can be used to illustrate some greater truth in a way that a mountain of data never can.

Good stories are all around you every day. Train yourself to recognize them. And don’t make them up.

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Are You Talking to Me?

Companies these days want people to believe they are hip and happening and understand the latest technologies. As a result, many of them have gone onto twitter or started to blog. I was reminded of that recently when I went to the website of a large firm.

This particular company has a president with a lot of experience and I expect he is very well respected by his clients. He has an impressive staff, judging from the on-line bios. The staff list on a web site is always a great indicator of the company’s pecking order. The junior person is generally listed last. So it surprised me when I went to this same company’s blog and noticed that many of the posts were under the byline of that most junior person.

The blog posts seemed to be designed to help clients cope with problems in a changing world but they all had a very peculiar perspective. For example, near the end of a post on buying things through your cell phone was a line that challenged readers as being “the wrong demographic” if they didn’t accept the premise of impending change.  A couple of other posts talked about the 18 to 29 age group with predictions about how that group would be getting its news in the near future.

When I checked the client list for this company, I saw a lot of major firms in mature industries. It occurred to me that the people hiring consultants for those firms would probably not be under the age of 30. And I was also pretty sure that anyone under the age of 30 would not likely stumble across this particular blog.

I thought the firm’s clients were unlikely to find the posts useful and might even find them condescending. It’s possible the firm was hoping to attract younger, high tech or emerging businesses. But I think we have to be careful when appealing to new customers that we don’t alienate our established clientele.

It’s one thing to present your company as being aware of the latest social media tools but it’s a mistake to hand those tools over to a junior who understands the technology but not the subtleties of the messages.

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Cry for Me, Argentina

I was in Buenos Aires last week and even though I was on holiday, there were many things that reminded me of my work. Porteños (as the residents of the city are called) are well known for their passion and I’ve written here before that passion is essential in public speaking.

Passion, however, should not be confused with volume. I saw Porteños being extremely expressive – with their eyes, their body and their hand gestures – even as they spoke barely above a whisper in a fancy restaurant.

Of course, in my line of work I would be remiss had I not visited the museum devoted to Eva Duarte Peron, perhaps Argentina’s greatest public speaker. The museum features a number of video and audio clips of her which, alone, are worth the admission price. Eva really knew how to tailor her speeches to her audience. She spoke very specifically to the working poor who were known as the Descamisados or “shirtless ones”. They in turn gave her the endearment “Evita” and came out by the tens of thousands to support her. In fact on one occasion two million people gathered along Avenida 9 de Julio to hear her speak!

Her museum has recordings that were made more than 60 years ago but as I listened to her, the emotion came through strong and clear. And, even though, my Spanish is less than basic, I was captivated by the commitment in her voice and the way she was forming a connection with each individual in her vast audience.

As I read the sub-titles and listened to the hope and spirit in that voice, the emotional connection was so strong that I couldn’t stop my eyes from welling up. Everything I am is because of you, she told the crowd, and they roared their passionate response.

I was deeply impressed by her ability to craft her messages so well. Of course, like any good politician, Evita backed up her messages with action. She spent millions of pesos helping poor children and set up a shelter for single mothers in one of the toniest neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires, thumbing her nose at the moneyed elite. The rich were clearly not in her target audience.

Evita’s messaging skills knew no bounds. When the Generals refused to allow her to become vice-president (women had only just been allowed the vote) she told a massive rally that she was turning down the job because of her failing health.

Her health was declining, she was dying of cancer. Even so, she continued to give stunning speeches, propped up by a plaster and wire support hidden under her coat because she was too weak to stand.

Think about that the next time a cold makes you consider cancelling your presentation.

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Does Media Training Need a Face Lift?

I was chatting with a national newspaper reporter this week and a familiar topic came up. “I hate it,” she told me, “when people keep answering with the same phrase, no matter what question I ask of them.”

We were talking, of course, about media training. I had confessed to moving to the dark side after years of being a print and broadcast journalist. Her complaint was well-founded and I believe it reflects what public relations people have been saying for years. Stick to your key message is the refrain and I’ve used it myself while training clients. It’s become so ingrained that I heard someone interviewed on the radio the other day begin their answer with “My key message is . . .”

I still believe that, in times of crisis, sticking to a tight script is the wiser course. Reporters are always more interested in conflict that conciliation and a slip of the tongue that fans the flames is great news. Never let the facts interfere with a good story, is a long time reporter credo.

The question, I suppose, is whether we have gone too far in suggesting that every answer be pre-conceived and vetted by the executive committee. I still tell my clients to think about what they want to say before an interview and often that means engaging in a tug of wits with the reporter. But I also suggest they respond to questions before introducing the key message. That doesn’t mean blindly following the reporter’s agenda as to where the story is going. An interview should be a dialogue and you have as much right to set its course as the reporter.

The mistake most people make is that rather than respond to a question they set out to exhaustively answer it. That leads to follow up questions and then suddenly the interview is over and you haven’t had a chance to state what’s on your mind. When the story comes out, it doesn’t accurately represent your point of view.

Reporters, to some extent, have brought key messaging on themselves by not trying harder to capsulate the views of the people they interview. It’s easier (and makes a better story) when you have one person in favour of something and another person opposed to it. Subtleties and nuances make a story more difficult to tell so many journalists default to “he said, she said” reporting.

On the other hand, it’s easier and safer to memorize a key message than debate with someone who ultimately decides which parts of your story make it to air or to print. Maybe it’s time we step up our game and move media training from key messaging to persuasive dialogue.

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Media Training and the 24-Second News Cycle

When I left the so-called mainstream media I did what many ex-reporters did, I became a media trainer. For my colleagues still in the business it was only half-jokingly seen as a betrayal. You’ve crossed over to the “dark side” they would say, you’re selling secrets to the enemy.

Of course after a few years of newsroom layoffs and budget cuts, I heard less criticism and more requests for information about how to go about becoming a media trainer. To many mortgage-bearing journalists, the “dark side” is looking a lot brighter these days.

But the interesting thing is that I don’t do as much media training as I used to. I do a lot more public speaking coaching and presentation training and I do something known as message training which helps clients focus in on the key attributes of their business.

When there were fewer media outlets, the media represented one of the “black arts”. People who wanted to sell a story had no idea how to approach reporters and people caught up in a crisis had no understanding of why they were being hit by a tsunami of media coverage. That’s all changed.

A substantial increase in the number of media outlets in the last 20 years has made it easier than ever to find the specific audience needed to advance your company or your cause. And the internet has opened up a whole new world of opportunities to reach an audience. You might get a million hits on YouTube before your local newspaper (with its couple hundred thousand readers) even knows who you are.

On the other hand, more than ever, bad news goes around the world before good news has a chance to get its shoes on. The immediacy of social media has turned a 24-hour news cycle into a 24-second news cycle. That has made it more important to have messages in place and a communication plan ready before a crisis happens.

One reason that reporters are not as scary as they used to be is that everyone is a reporter now. Video from cell phones and citizen reports from the field are common practice in the media. And, of course, anyone with an internet connection is a blogger.

That’s why I don’t bother my clients with the mechanics of modern journalism. The basics of message training go beyond whatever medium will be reporting the issue.

To survive a 24-second news cycle, you’d better be able to tell your whole story in that amount of time or less.

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“Here’s to the new boss, same as the old boss”

There’s always a tendency, among those attracted to shiny new things, to believe that new things have new rules which have no link to old things with their old rules. It’s a persistent theme with proponents of social media. And it’s not true.

The common element that any new media shares with old media is content. In fact new (or social) media is more desperate for content than anything we have ever seen. Every day bloggers and tweeters scour the Internet for material.

Where newspapers used to re-invent themselves every 24 hours, the new media re-invents itself every few seconds. That means it’s constantly starving for content. The good news is that good stories can spread very quickly. The bad news is that rumour and innuendo spread just as fast.

Dealing with the new media demands a tight well-crafted story and the ability to respond quickly. Yes, you may need a 20-something computer geek monitoring 10-thousand maniacs on keyboards around the world but make sure you are in control of what your geek is saying to the other geeks.

You need a clear message, stripped of any of your industry’s jargon. It should be compelling and easily understood. It must be genuine and not a sales pitch. It should be as honest as it can be and crafted to appeal first to the heart and then to the head.

A good communications consultant can be helpful here because most people are too close to what they do to be able to see the big picture. Many of the so-called new media experts, however, don’t have a proper grounding in the basics of corporate communications.

When I hear new media pundits criticizing the so-called old media, it sounds a lot like the early TV journalists who predicted the death of radio and newspapers. As people pile on to the newest media bandwagon, I’m reminded of the lyrics of The Who’s song; “We won’t get fooled again.” And then, as everyone rushes to praise the merits of the shiny new thing, I think of another line from the song;

“Here’s to the new boss, same as the old boss.”

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