We’re often asked why media training matters so much. Surely it’s better – people say – for spokes men and spokeswomen to come across as themselves. To be natural, not rehearsed. To give real answers to questions rather than delivering soundbites. As a journalist I would agree. Nothing is more frustrating than a politician who won’t answer a question but insists on repeating his or her rehearsed answer over and over again. As a media trainer, however, I think there are some real lessons that can be learnt by anyone who plans to talk to the press.
Let’s look at a recent example. During a Q&A session at the European Tour’s annual dinner the golfer Sergio Garcia was asked if he would invite Tiger Woods over during the US Open to settle their well-documented differences.
“We will have him round every night,” Garcia said. “We will serve fried chicken.”
Bad enough, but the offence caused by the unfortunate remark was beginning to fade when the European Tour Chief Executive, George O’Grady, decided to defend Garcia saying on TV that: “Most of Sergio’s friends happen to be coloured” Comments that just made matters worse, put the issue back in the headlines and resulted in him having to apologise too.
So where would the training have helped? If they’d asked my advice I would have run through three basic principles of dealing with the press.
Always be prepared
Know what you want to say. It’s simple but often forgotten. Get your key messages straight and look for opportunities to use them in the interview. This will not only prevent unfortunate words or phrases from slipping out under pressure, but will give you the maximum benefit from the opportunity.
Compare the performance of George O’Grady with Tony Blair on hearing of the death of Princess Diana. He took his time and when he spoke it was to use a phase which has since become part of the language. “The People’s Princess” was not thought up on the spur of the moment.
Give them what they want
A journalist had a job to do. They need a story rather than a puff. They will print something if it’s new or noteworthy, if it’s about people rather than products or if it makes an interesting talking point. It’s your job to give them an angle that they can work with.
The journalist is not your friend.
Always remember you are never really off the record so be careful what you say. You do not want to end up like Lawrence Dallaglio who had to resign as England Rugby Captain in 1999 after confiding in a “friend” that he had dabbled in drugs (allegations he later denied)
But I would end by stressing that if your organisation has asked to speak up for it then do so with confidence as you are clearly the right person for the job. Think about what you want to say. Think about how you can help a harried hack by providing what they need. Enjoy and be brilliant.
After working for many years as a TV Producer for the BBC, Lindsay now works independently with the private sector to improve their presentation and media skills often getting closely involved in the pitching process to help shape and refine client presentations and bid documentation. Lindsay works with several of Firefly’s clients on their media training. To find out more, contact Lindsay via her website or LinkedIn profile.
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