An Unbalanced View of Media Training
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon an article called “Media” Training – it’s about the message. Dan Ward, the author of the piece who serves as a vice president of Florida’s Curley & Pynn PR firm, made some statements that deserve to be questioned.
Here’s a portion of Ward’s original article:
“Heard today from yet another person who sat through a “media training” session that focused more on what to wear and how to stand than on what to say.
This isn’t a sales pitch (though if you need training, feel free to give me a call), but there’s a reason why our firm offers “message training” instead of media training.
If you don’t already know better than to wear your Marvin the Martian tie and slouch during a TV interview, chances are you shouldn’t be the one on camera. Most of the people we train do know better, so rather than spend time worrying about number of smiles per minute of air time, we talk about message.”
So, is Mr. Ward right? Should a spokesperson’s message take precedence over the delivery of the message?
In a word, no. Mr. Ward has drawn the same flawed conclusion of those he criticized – but instead of choosing delivery over message, he’s chosen message over delivery. Both elements are crucial, and spokespersons shouldn’t have to choose one over the other.
Yes, message training is important, which is why many of our training sessions focus at least half the training time on getting the words right. But even the most thoughtful messages will be undermined by spokespersons who don’t deliver them effectively. Just ask Michele Bachmann. Or Bobby Jindal. Or Howard Dean.
In a subsequent post on their blog, firm president Roger Pynn clarified that delivery indeed matters, but still appeared to make the case that the message matters more than delivery. I’m concerned by that unbalanced approach to media training, which seems to relegate delivery elements to a supporting position.
We humans deliver an astounding amount of information through our vocal tone and body language. Some seminal studies suggest that in certain situations, the vast majority of what we communicate occurs without exchanging words. There’s little gain to delivering an ineffective message with conviction, just as there’s little advantage to delivering the perfect message with a lack of consistent eye contact, a passionless performance, or a stilted verbal delivery.
I’ve trained thousands of spokespersons and have yet to encounter the trainee who wears a ridiculous tie or the trainer who measures smiles-per-minute. Mr. Ward is right: most people know better. The delivery challenges we see day-to-day are typically more subtle – but often just as dangerous. Most trainees who aren’t quite camera-ready due to delivery flaws can become camera-ready rather quickly with an experienced eye to spot the mistakes and a precise but soft touch to help trainees correct them.
In my view, a balanced approach to media training requires that the message and delivery are both viewed as co-equal halves, not as one being subordinate to the other.
Thank you for reading my post and for your response. Always good to bring new readers to our blog.
We’re not in the media training business, through we manage a very strong message training program for major corporate, non-profit and governmental clients. We are in the message business. Once the message is developed we focus on delivery, but if the message isn’t clear there is no reason for an interview. In focusing on “message vs. delivery,” however, you may have missed the real message of my post.
In this day and age, when everyone you meet or talk with is a potential reporter, message consistency is critical. You clearly need to have a strong message and be able to deliver it well during a television interview, but you also need to consistently communicate your message when you interact with customers, prospects, friends and neighbors who share your information through Facebook, Twitter and personal and professional blogs.
Media training needs to evolve beyond preparing clients for their visit with the news crew and prepare them for how to deliver their message effectively when the cameras are off.
I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your reply, and have no doubt that you and your colleagues are superb at developing winning messages for your clients. If our paths cross professionally, my clients would almost certainly benefit from your expertise.
In large measure, my critique stems from the senitment you expressed in the very last line of your comment: “Media training needs to evolve beyond preparing clients for their visit with the news crew and prepare them for how to deliver their message effectively when the cameras are off.”
Good media trainers have already long evolved into doing precisely that, and media trainers who focus solely on delivery elements (or primarily on delivery elements) are hacks. I may be incorrect here, but my reading of your originally post seemed to suggest that you thought most media trainers were in the latter camp, not the former one. I’d suggest there are a whole lot of us practicing in a manner that would make you proud.
As examples, I recently wrote a piece called, “Why You Should Be Paranoid in Public,” about the need to watch what you say when the cameras are off. Another recent piece was called “How to Write a Safer E-Mail.” I’ve also written extensively about the need to monitor your message on plaforms such as Twitter.
It’s true that those articles tend to be focused on preventing gaffes more than delivering a solid message even in personal conversations – but that’s a point we make in virtually every media training workshop.
In many ways, I think we’re saying the same thing. I’d only suggest that there are a whole lot more of us practicing media training “the right way” than your original article seemed to intimate.
Thanks again, and best wishes,