What do you say and when do you say it? Is it better to say something rather than nothing at all? Media attention brings great opportunity or huge risk, depending on your preparation.
This week I’ve spent time with the organisers of TEDx Dundee to interview some of its sponsors ahead of the conference on Saturday 21st May. It is set to be a great day that will provide the platform for some of the city’s leading business people to share their knowledge and experiences.
It got me thinking: what knowledge do I have to share? I really enjoyed interviewing the sponsors, and look forward to interviewing more of the participants and attendees on the day. I’ve facilitated media training in the past and it’s a role I enjoy immensely.
Whether in a relaxed setting such as TEDx, or in an evolving crisis situation, it’s fair to say that very few people enjoy having a camera and microphone directed at them. Coaching people to give a clear and concise message is a very rewarding experience with great PR potential at best, and limiting reputation damage at worst.
In true TEDx spirit, my “knowledge share” is to give you a few pointers on media relations in case you find yourself at the other end of a microphone or lens…
Be a Boy Scout – always be prepared
Attempts to ‘wing it’ are destined for failure. Make sure you know the key message you want to get across – human examples and anecdotes are a good way to engage the audience. Interviewing for TEDx was safe waters, but you should consider the negative questions a journalist may ask. Is there anything else is on the media agenda that you could potentially get asked about? Are you aware of social media posts that could pique a journalist’s interest? Consider these scenarios and plan how you would respond.
Play the game
The journalist is there to ask questions, you are there to answer them; play the game but take control. Answer the question, but continue to get across your key message.
Interviews are a great opportunity for you to get your message across to large audiences so make the most of the opportunity. Stay in control and stay on message and do not be led by the reporter.
Steer clear of robot talk
You don’t want to be a corporate robot; people respond to people and if they can’t understand what you are saying then you’re not getting your message across. Explain things clearly with everyday terms – think about how you tell the story to your friends or family and steer clear of jargon, technical language, corporate speak and acronyms. In interviews with specialist publications you can afford to use more technical language, but remember your audience and make sure your message is easily understood by them.
People trust (or distrust) people. They are fascinated by stories about people not policies, protocols or initiatives. Human examples will bring your answers to life, capture the audience’s attention and help make your message memorable. It’s all in the preparation as you may not be able to think under pressure. Remember your audience and be appropriate – recounting a funny story in a crisis situation is not appropriate; likewise it’s important to show empathy and you can be sorry that something has happened but be careful about apologising as this can imply blame.
Never ever say ‘no comment’
Do you have something to hide? Take control of the interview and direct the questioning back to more comfortable ground. It would be completely realistic to say that you don’t have access to that information at the moment, or, if in a crisis scenario, it’s too early in the situation to say with certainty. A simple ‘no comment’ will just antagonise a journalist whose job it is to find the story.
Repeat after me – don’t say negative words.
Don’t be led by the journalist. Journalists will sometimes use negative phrases in their questions that the interviewee repeats, even when they are defending themselves and rebutting the accusation. For example, the reporter may say: “This is very disappointing isn’t it? Aren’t you disappointed?” And the interviewee could answer: “I wouldn’t say it is disappointing….”But they just have. Think of how the piece will be used and the sound bite of your interview (either press or print) that will have your name attributed to the negative language.
You’re not a fortuneteller
Journalists are obsessed with the future and love to speculate about it. They will invite you to do the same with questions such as ‘what would happen if…’. It may be fascinating for the media but it is very risky for the interviewee. Be particularly careful about this in a crisis situation when speculating on the cause of an incident or its consequences could be very dangerous.
“Off the record” means nothing
This phrase means different things to different people and this confusion means it is fraught with danger. The term has no legal significance and is purely a matter of trust between you and the reporter. Everything you say to a journalist could be used and attributed to you. This applies to the lift, in the toilets and the queue for the canteen – be careful what you say and to whom. And let’s not forget that horrible Gordon Brown moment when he forgot his microphone which caught his reference to a “bigoted woman”.
Watch your tone
Remember your audience and the message you are delivering. A dull, flat, monotone will ensure it does not get heard. If you are being interviewed for TEDx it’s OK to be fun, energetic and enthusiastic. If you find yourself in a crisis situation, your tone would be very different.
CommsBank works in association with Midas Media to provide a full range of media training solutions. I’ve seen firsthand how a short training exercise can increase confidence and refine the corporate message of a business. Media attention can be a great opportunity, or a great risk, depending on your preparation.
I hope these hints have been helpful. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below or please get in touch to share your successes or your worries.