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Posted: May 23, 2012

Talking to the media tipsheet

Learn to speak in sound bites

Esty Atlas

Lots of well-known people you think of as extraverts hate public speaking.  It’s not a normal activity for most people; it’s a learned activity.  But, in today’s socially-empowered landscape where practically every word or action is publicly posted, an organization’s public reputation is on the firing line every day. 

Good news:  there are tips and techniques for presenting yourself, your ideas, your products/services in any communicating situation so you WON’T lose credibility or be misquoted. 

If you only take away one crucial tip from this article, understand that you cannot be quoted out of context if you speak in well-trained, short “sound bites” and nothing more.  No matter what question is asked of you, no matter how often the reporter “rephrases” a contentious topic to try and trap you into a corner, you can learn how to successfully navigate any interview or public presentation.

Tip #1: The reason to accept a media interview is for your profession and organization, not the reporter.
Tip #2: Approach any interview as an opportunity, not an obligation.
Tip #3: Understand that whenever you conduct a public meeting that involves your customers, you’d better have your message points clearly defined and practiced in advance. 
Tip #4: Reporters today are your customers, too, not just traditional broadcast media.  Customers blog, comment publicly, and are recalling boards of directors with great frequency.
Tip #5: Master the rules of engagement to make the most of your public opportunities.
Tip #6: Learn the “Three C’s” of public speaking: ▫ Cooperate ▫ Communicate Clearly ▫ Control the Message
Tip #7: Currently, 7.3 seconds is a typical broadcast soundbite.  Do not have a conversation.  That’s when people say things that get taken out of context. 
Tip #8: A concise “talking point” should stay within 24 words no matter how complicated the topic is.
Tip #9: Pre-plan 3-4 main topic points and stick to them.  Do not be held at the mercy of the question.

Clearly, working with a trained professional who has media experience will prepare and guide you during a series of workshops that practice, role-play, videotape, craft message points to work with you on your presentation; not only what you say, but how you look saying it. 

You need to convey authority, sincerity, concern, and speak slowly with ease.  The way to achieve this is by putting your ideas in the language in which you express them; through tone, appearance, eyes, and facial expression.  These are what most make a strong and lasting impression. Enthusiasm is the greatest business asset.  This characteristic alone can convince and dominate an audience.

Point 1: It all begins with careful preparation.  Your media trainer must learn what you think the issues are as well as what your customers believe them to be.  The points you want to convey don’t just come off the top of anyone’s head.  They are meticulously crafted and practiced.  The most polished, smoothly delivered spontaneous-sounding talks are the result of many hours of rehearsal.  2-3 weeks ahead of any talk, interview, or public presentation is a good time frame to begin formulating your ‘talking points;’ the key messages you want to convey. 

Point 2: A good interview is spoken, not read or memorized.  Use short sentences and speak in the active voice “I believe”, not “it is believed.” 

Point 3: Write the way you would speak to someone sitting across the dinner table from you. 

Point 4: Provide a clear understanding that you are working on your customer’s (public’s) best interests, by explaining HOW your decisions benefit them.

Point 5: It is essential that two separate sessions be videotaped.  The first takes place at the beginning of training so you see how you currently respond to questions.  Then, after additional training, the second videotaping will show marked improvement on both visual presentation and in your responses to the very same questions, or even more contentious ones.  You will be ready, with confidence, to address ‘hot topics’ no matter who asks them.

So when someone wonders, “WHY media training?”  The reason is simple.
Any organization’s most valuable asset is its good name and reputation.  Media training is an essential tool to anyone serving public customers and dealing with public matters that require customer support.

Esty Atlas is a four-time Emmy award-winning writer, specializing in leadership communications, media and public relations. 303-919-2425; email: estycreative@yahoo.com or www.estycreative.com

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Readers Respond

It's good, I'm glad you wrote it. By David Sneed on 2012 05 23
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