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.

Marvin the Martian Tie

At least we agree that you should never wear this tie during a media interview.

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.

Related: The 21 Most Essential Media Training Links