The A-Z of Media Training

A is for Ambition

It can be easier to talk about your work when you’ve got outcomes,  fully formed analysis and results. It’s true that starting points – though vital to you – can leave the audience underwhelmed. Similarily aspirations may be a bit woolly. But an ambition -matched with the follow through of what your work could achieve – can really hit home.  Exploration can be exciting. And it’s not about over-promising, instead it’s opening up a sense of the potential. 

B is for Briskness

We’re talking a trot here; a canter in a conversation is just too fast …and a gallop? Nothing will sink in. But a sense of purpose, the drive to shortcut to the important stuff and an urgency in tone can all make the audience sit up and take notice. Remember variety is engaging, so walk through unfamiliar concepts and be careful not to speed over what’s  familiar to you but is likely to be new to the viewer or listener.

C is for Collateral Damage

A term to drop in the file marked “sanitising language” and then leave it there. People use bland language to cover up the messy, the nasty and the worrying. The audience immediately are sceptical of any spokesperson who peppers their sentences with such phrases and the interviewer feels entitled to dig deeper and challenge the guest on what they really mean. “Efficiency savings” should be filed too.

D is for Deadpan
 
An over-mobile face can lead you into trouble. What you think is simply an animated expression can morph into revealing too much of what you’re thinking or feeling.The grimace that signals “ that went badly” the smile at something contentious: “ oh here we go – I was nervous that might pop up”  are just two unnecessary and unhelpful give aways. Instead focus on energy and animation coming through your voice. Aim for stillness in how you look.
 
E is for Edge
 

A word that’s close to our hearts of course, and an ingredient  that every good on air conversation contains. It’s the things that sharpen a guest’s contribution, that cuts through all the stuff  people might  be doing to reach the audience. It can be in the way you talk – that concern you bring to a troubling subject for example. In terms of content – that specific and telling example or a stonking stat are both ways to sharpen the conversational flow.

F is for Fine tuning

Overlong preparation can be counter productive but some advance thinking and talking is essential. By saying that illustration aloud you’ll be able to gauge if you need to cut back on the background and get to the really revealing details quicker. It’s not about scripting but it is about testing important elements out conversationally. Share your ideas with a non – specialist in your field; a good indicator of how your words will land with a mainstream audience.

G is for Gratitude 

Getting an interview request is a form of affirmation- journalists are interested in what you are doing or saying. But don’t let a warm glow cloud your judgement. As producers while we’re trying to get you signed up to the process we can be sweetness and light, but we could be jotting down at the same time the sort of challenging areas the presenter might lob at you when the camera is rolling. Accept that interviews can be robust but draw strength from effective preparation.

H is for Heritage 

A word that has associations of Tudor piles and gothic churches for many – but not for some scientists. It can mean to researchers the background and history of investigations in a particular field. And there lies the problem. A mass media audience does not have time in the flow of an interview to work out what you mean. So healthcheck your terms – is there ambiguity? If so, explain it – or find another way of describing what matters.

I is for Indent

There is no “right” length to an interview answer but it might be  helpful to visualise your wording as if it was laid out on a page. A paragraph should embody a single thought so a few sentences is a pretty good baseline for an answer that allows you to get in to a bit of substance but is also digestible for the presenter and audience. Expand on some responses; be sharper with others. Variety is good. A para that last a whole page is never good –  so edit yourself or you will be interrupted.

J is for Jokes
 
Some of our delegates are worried they won’t be sparky enough and look to comedy as a way of brightening up their delivery. it is a dangerous path. Some jokes will simply fall flat. At other times it might make you appear flippant on a subject which some people might be taking very seriously. Then there’s the hazard of pre – records where subsequent editing might remove the necessary context to the one liner. Leave the funnies to stand up pros – you will be sparky enough if you’ve worked on compelling content.
 
K is for Knighthood 
 
So it’s Professor Dame ( insert surname) right? A tad complicated but producers are bright enough to cope with protocol and you should always be introduced in the way you wish. Audiences like to hear from people who’ve earned their spurs and achieved their doctorate or have gained seniority as a Director of a project, become a CEO or have been appointed Head Of Operations. It’s especially important in a challenging situation – it shows the organisation is taking the issue seriously and is fielding a senior spokesperson.
 
L is for Lighting
 
The glare of studio spots can be unforgiving,  especially in HD when blemishes and wrinkles look so much clearer. They can also generate heat fostering that unnecessary blush. So always take the advice of the professionals and accept make up if offered. When you are undertaking the interview in what we call “quality” then you’ll not really have any say on the lighting. Skype is a different matter. It’s your responsibility to look good. So avoid film noir shadows  by getting plenty of natural light in to the room. 
 
M is for Meeting
 
It’s one of those words which is wholly and unredeemably dull. I would add to the list policy and review. They all smack of stodgy process and procedure and also, to be frank with you, they don’t really tell the audience  much either. If the core of what you want to say is centred around any of this tiresome trio then alarm bells should ring. Think more about the outcomes of the meeting or the purpose of the review. And talk about ministers or councils rather than policy makers. 
 

N is for Niche

Even if the newspaper reporter you’re briefing has some knowledge of your field or sector, in no way will they have the specialist knowledge you possess. They might want to appear on your wavelength, but don’t assume they understand the fine detail. Give context if that will help them make sense of your work. Remind them of past significant developments if that establishes the importance of what you’re doing now. It’ll help ensure that what’s published more accurately reflects what you do.

O is for Ommmm

Many guests aspire to maintain a zen-like calmness on air and then beat themselves up when they feel uptight. The reality is that studios are almost designed to foster stress and it’s probably better to accept nerves are part of the package. Utilise that adrenaline – it can help energise your delivery and make you quicker witted in navigating tough questions. Just apply the brakes so nerves are not allowed to accelerate your answers to a breakneck speed.

P is for Prologue

You haven’t got time for this classical device in an interview. “Where this all began” may sound a grand opening and is a favourite for some organisations  who want to show the road taken. But broadcast audiences are a tough bunch. Rather than rely on past glories what are you achieving now? How relevant are you to making life better in the 2020s and beyond? Answer these questions and you will be more persuasive – and more concise.

Q is for Quest

Audiences can enjoy detective work as long as the investigation has distinctiveness and some nifty twists and turns. Uncovering a forgotten manuscript, gleaning a design from a formation of birds both offer fascinating colour. Avoid posing questions though. Both presenters and the people watching are looking for answers or at the very least interesting  observations on the direction  of travel.

R is for Regular
 
The regular army – the words don’t carry the same brio as special forces do they? Regular is average, medium. Middle of the road can be a little dull. We emphatically don’t want you to overdramatise in a bid to appear a little different. But when talking about the familiar do try and think of interesting trends or what the exceptions to the familiar rule tell us. Shed light on less unremarked aspects to bring a certain newness to the subject.

S is for Slick

Don’t be -even if your presenter is a bit of a smoothie. Under pressure, we can sometimes adopt the characteristics of the person with whom we’re trying to engage. It’s that chameleon quality that can lead us into trouble. Let’s face it, smoothness is often part of a veneer that can easily segue into phoney. Instead allow the natural bumps of your character to show. A deliberateness if you tend to ponder – an excitement if you’re prone to enthusiasm. Audiences warm to thereal. That’s especially important with your language. Remember report speak can sound mellifluous but it’s often a bit of a switch off – and can mean very little.

T is for Talent

The ironic label underpaid producers give the starsfor whom they write questions and briefs. Stars have egos and sometimes therefore feel it’s beneath them to stick towhat their staff have come up with on your topic. This doesn’t make off air briefings redundant – far from it – but it does mean you should always be ready for the curved ballMr or Ms Talent throws into the mix. Pause – so you have a moment to regroup.

U is for Uk

Or one of the four nations. Or the region loosely called the East of England. If your audience is primarily from the “home“ country always bear that in mind when you are taking about a story with an international reach. Can the UK learn from the recycling practices in India? Are there shared characteristics between rural deprivation in the southern USA and where your regional audience are watching you in Devon and Cornwall? This isn’t being parochial. It is about connecting and bringing a topic close to home.

V is for Visuals

Radio likes pictures. Webcams are being more frequently employed, blurring the distinction between TV and audio. But what applies to every radio outlet is that they’ll have a website and will also be keen to freshen their Twitter feeds with pics of guests or clips from interviews. Preparation should include choosing an outfit fit to be seen and reviewing the visual etiquette for being in a studio. Also bear in mind that a stonking visual to accompany your print interview may win you more space for your subject on the newsstands and online.

W is for Waste

We always say you should play an interview back – not least because you need to balance that critical self talk we always do about our performance with marking the positives you’ve achieved. But one useful critical question to ask is “Did I waste time at any point?” Did your example meander? Were you slow to get to the impact of what you’re doing? Logging the hot air where something tangible could have been said will really help you improve in your next interview encounter.

X is for X Factor

Get your priorities right. Yes, you do need to up your game for a media encounter but that doesn’t mean transforming yourself into some sort of performer. The audience will quickly cotton on if you are over-egging the subject, or adopting some one-off media traits. Believe in yourself. Allow the colour of your natural voice to come through, and use the language you’d normally adopt if explaining something to a friend. Most importantly focus on reaching the audience by connecting one to one with your interviewer. in your head imagine chatting round the kitchen table rather than delivering from a stage.

Y is for Yes

I’ll add No to this section too. Either an affirmation or a denial is refreshing because we rarely witness spokespeople – especially politicians – using them. We can avoid them out of caution but if you’re clear it’s a yes – say it. Such directness goes down well, it shows a candour – you’re being straight talking. That doesn’t means you can’t be nuanced at other points in the interview, in fact the audience is more likely to buy in to some complexity because you’ve already won them over.

A double helping

We thought we would mark the end of our first cycle of the alphabet with two slices of the Z cake …..

Z is for Zoom

Zoom “burnout” is already entering our vocabulary of these troubled times. We are becoming increasingly familiar – and often quite weary – of remote engagement. Just don’t become sloppy when it’s not just your long suffering work colleagues who are viewing you but a mass media audience, watching your performance via Skype and so on. Apply some visual hygiene – a cluttered table or piles of clothes tossed on that bed in the background is not the right impression to give.

Z is for Zeitgeist

When this international calamity starts to be overcome, there’ll be more space for other stories. But let’s learn from coverage of COVID – 19. We have a thirst for experts on the virus, but increasingly they’ll be challenged a little more as we become a little more knowledgeable too. With any unfolding episode, a spokesperson should be sharply aware of the backstory. What snippets of knowledge or insights is the audience likely to bring to this new media encounter? The journo will be mindful of this and if you are too, it will help you anticipate lines of questioning – as well as assumptions and misconceptions that may have to be corrected.