2020 media training—10 tips for developing effective spokespersons

by | Jan 13, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

Corporate reputation, and how external and internal stakeholders perceive companies and their leadership, are significantly influenced by media coverage. And while the use of social media as a source of news has sharply increased in recent years, offline and online print and broadcast media content continues to play a critical role in shaping stakeholder perception and impacting brand equity, reputation and the bottom line.

As a result, organizations around the world recognize that the ability to represent themselves effectively before the news media is not a nice-to-have but a must-have in the 21st century. Skilled spokespersons who know how to make the most of media interview opportunities are in high demand.

But how can we turn otherwise successful managers into experienced spokespersons regardless of their professional training and the functional areas they represent? The answer is recurring media skills building in the form of on-camera media interview group training and one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching.

Here are 10 tips for optimizing on-camera media interview and spokesperson skills building.

1. Customization is essential

Neither group media interview training nor one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching should follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, format, content and delivery must be tailored to the company’s and the individual participant’s needs. Tools such as a pre-training questionnaire and phone interview should be used to assess training participants’ media interview experience, strengths and weaknesses, etc., and to customize each session.

The objective is to provide skills building that is challenging but not too advanced. Once a preliminary outline has been produced, the proposed format, content and materials should be discussed, and each training or coaching component fine-tuned. After each skills-building session, participant feedback should be collected, analyzed and used to improve future media interview group training and one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching.

2. A pleasant and realistic learning experience

Creating a supportive media training and spokesperson coaching environment that enables constructive feedback and builds confidence along with competency is critical. Participants should embrace the idea that media interviews present valuable opportunities to deliver targeted messages to specific stakeholders using the reporter or blogger as a filter. Following the investment in media interview skills building, managers should have the confidence and ability to seek media interview opportunities and make the most of them.

To achieve this goal, media interview training and one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching must cover message development as well as non-verbal and verbal message delivery. Each session should include enough on-camera practice time, reviews of taped practice interviews, and real-life interview examples that illustrate good and bad media interview performances.

3. Experienced trainers and coaches

In order to prepare managers to conduct effective interviews with print, broadcast and social media, utilizing trainers and coaches with deep media training and journalistic experience is vital. In addition to conducting on-camera media interview practices that introduce different types of media interviews, trainers and coaches must be able to convey fundamentals, including the role and needs of print, broadcast and social media.

Trainers and coaches should also be involved in the pre-training assessment as well as skills-building session follow-up and evaluation. Furthermore, participant feedback provided verbally and via a post-training questionnaire should be actively sought to improve future media interview group training and one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching.

4. Overcoming media interview uneasiness

Many managers are reluctant to conduct media interviews for a variety of reasons. Chief among them, however, are the unfamiliarity with the task at hand and the corresponding fear of failure. That is especially true in times of crisis. “Is the reporter out to get me?” is all too often a debilitating thought in the back of the employee’s mind.

While the feeling of uncertainty and the perceived lack of control over the interview process and outcome are both real and hard to pin down, the recipe for media interview success is clear: those who go through recurring on-camera training, prepare thoroughly for each media interview opportunity, and stick to their key messages during each interview, tend to do well.

5. Training and coaching frequency

How frequently group media training and one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching should occur depends on several factors including the participants’ level of experience, the number and importance of upcoming media interview opportunities, and the anticipated emergence of strategic issues that may result in heightened media attention and stakeholder pressure. In the corporate world, offering training to designated primary and backup spokespersons, as well as to topical experts, at least once every year is common practice.

In many cases, key managers new to the company are automatically enrolled in group media training but may elect to go through one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching instead. In the end, practice makes perfect. Simply put, recurring media training and spokesperson skills coaching, along with seizing media interview opportunities, will inevitably enhance media interview skills and lead to better interview performances.

6. Ideal number of training participants

A key consideration for any group media training is how much on-camera time and instruction participants will need to acquire the desired knowledge and skills. In general, the more on-camera time and individualized instruction are needed, the fewer participants should be included in a group training. In some cases, it may be advisable to switch from a group media training format to one-on-one spokesperson coaching sessions in order to maximize individual learning.

The number of media training participants in one session is also determined by other factors such as the desire to have a specific group – for instance those recently appointed as spokespersons or the members of the crisis response team – attend the same training session. However, to allow enough time for on-camera interview practice and review, the number of participants for a full-day group media training should not exceed eight.

7. Utilizing a professional videographer and studio

A professional videographer and high-tech recording equipment make on-camera media interview practices more realistic and typically produce superior quality video clips for performance review. Likewise, the use of a TV studio and a radio studio to prepare for important broadcast media interview opportunities often results in better training and coaching outcomes that improve the probability of a successful media interview.

In addition, an experienced professional videographer can share important tricks of the trade. This could include explaining what clothing colors and patterns are most suitable for TV and at what angle the best camera shot can be taken. Similarly, a radio veteran will be able to shed light on how to best conduct a radio interview. Such advice increases the likelihood that media interview training and spokesperson skills coaching participants will conduct more effective media interviews in the future.

8. Advantages of scenario-based training

Using realistic scenarios in on-camera media interview group training and one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching is another way in which participant learning can be increased. Depending on the organization, media interview group training that is centered around a crisis scenario may also be referred to as scenario-based crisis communication training.

The inclusion of training scenarios in media interview training typically involves decision making across multiple functional areas and business units, enhances training participant collaboration, and regularly leads to better results regarding message development and media interview performance. Even managers who meet for the first time at the beginning of a full-day training session often find a way to work as a cohesive unit by the end of a scenario-based media interview group training.

9. Social media training content

Due to social media’s continuous rise in importance, and because shrinking news rooms increasingly result in journalists with traditional media outlets turning to social media for story ideas, fact checking, etc., comprehensive media interview training and coaching must include information on social media. The related training content should, for example, explain social media characteristics, highlight differences between traditional and social media, and may also include a mock interview with a blogger. Additionally, media trainers and coaches should share how bloggers work and what it takes to successfully pitch to them. Information concerning the latest use of Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social media platforms, as well as reputational risks associated with social media, should also be addressed.

10. Further enhancing media interview skills

It takes a lot of practice to become comfortable with developing compelling key messages, distilling them into memorable sound bites, and staying on message during a media interview. That is especially true when the interview is being conducted in response to a crisis. Tip sheets on “Media Interview Preparation Steps” and “Reporters’ Interview Techniques and How to React” are therefore appreciated by managers no matter how many media interview skills building sessions they have participated in.

Other proven tools to increase media interview performance are lists of what to do and what not to do when talking to reporters, as well as information concerning what stakeholders need to learn during a crisis. Finally, developing a good relationship with one’s media interview trainer or coach, and turning to them when the need for advice arises outside the training room, are recommended.

Without a doubt, being a spokesperson is a tough job. Not only must spokespersons speak and think well on their feet, they also have to keep pace with the dizzying amount of information from within the organization, as well as more and more traditional and social media content.

Organizations that enable their official spokespersons and executive leadership to develop media interview skills before media interview opportunities arise are much more likely to reap the benefits of successful media interviews. It is hence a good idea to devise a formal media interview and spokesperson skills building approach and implement an annual group training and one-on-one coaching schedule as soon as possible.

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Oliver S. Schmidt

Oliver S. Schmidt is President & CEO of C4CS, LLC, with 25+ years of consulting, training, and executive coaching experience in strategic communication, crisis management, and organizational leadership.

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