Five Questions About The Media Training Industry

Editor’s Note: A college student recently asked me to answer a few questions about the media training industry for a class assignment. As I typed my answers to her, I realized that the answers might be of interest to some of this blog’s readers. With permission from that student to reprint our exchange, here’s an excerpt of our Q&A. 

Q&A

 

1. Could you briefly describe what your job entails?

My job as a media and presentation trainer requires me to do several different things.

The most obvious part of my job is when I’m working with clients in media or presentation training workshops, helping them improve their media and in-person communications skills. In order to do that, I need to read a substantial amount about each client in advance—every client is different, and although their media challenges may be similar, there are important distinctions that may significantly alter the manner in which they answer questions and interact with reporters.

In addition, I read a lot about the latest studies regarding messaging and body language to make sure my recommendations conform to the latest science.

 

2. How do you assist in preparing executives or company professionals for a media interview?

We use a combination of what I call “interactive” lecture (lectures in which trainees do brief exercises) and practical exercises, including videotaped practice interviews. The most valuable part of the training often occurs immediately following each practice interview, when we watch the interview back and discuss the answer the trainee gave versus the one they could give. My goal as a trainer is to push trainees just past their personal comfort levels—wherever that may be—but not so far past it that it becomes destructive. If I do my job right, each trainee should leave the room feeling more confident about their ability to deliver an effective interview, not perseverating about their flaws.

 

3. What has been one of the most challenging media encounters that you, your clients or your organization have faced?

One of the most challenging media encounters I remember was a challenge one government client was facing. It was one of those cases where there simply were no perfect answers—their choices, for rather complicated reasons, ranged between bad, really bad, and terrible. Therefore, choosing the “bad” option was the best of a lousy bunch of choices, but they weren’t going to get any credit from the public or the media for making the most rational choice of the bunch.

In those cases, spokespersons are usually best served by acknowledging that they get that it’s not a perfect choice. Before the public can hear anything else that the person will say, they have to believe that the person “gets it.” Therefore, I usually advise people to acknowledge the obvious truth early, explain their choice without defensiveness, and to use more relatable “human speak” instead of lapsing into “expert speak.” 

 

4. Can you recall any clients in particular that you have seen successfully improve and implement your media training tactics in the news?

Yes. I can’t share their names because we sign confidentiality agreements with our clients, but I can share something that is very common for many of our clients.

One of the biggest challenges for me as a trainer is to help clients become less defensive when talking about more controversial parts of their work. That defensiveness is a natural human instinct, and it makes sense—people immersed in a project tend to be aware of their project’s flaws—and that defensiveness tends to sneak into their answers. But what gets lost far too often are the positives about that project.

As an example, a defensive answer to a question might look like this:

“Well, we can’t solve everyone’s problem, but we certainly can help some people.”

Versus this:

“We’re quite proud that we’ve been able to improve so many people’s lives, and we’re determined to continue growing the program so we can help even more people.”

 

5. What advice would you give a potential media trainer on how to prepare a client for an interview?

Remember that knowing all of the right answers and teaching all of the right answers are two very different things. To the degree the client comes up with the answers themselves, they’ll have greater ownership over them. My success as a trainer is often measured by how deft I am at leading them to those answers without them even realizing that I’ve done so.

 

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