Anthony Caruana (pictured below) is a freelance tech and business journalist that has written for every major masthead in Australia. He’s also co-founder and CEO of Media-Wize, a media training agency helping founders and fast growth companies tell their stories. In this guest post, Caruana says with the right media training, any brand can tell a positive story…
In his part manifesto-part autobiography titled On Writing, Stephen King said that not everyone can be a brilliant writer. But with effort, everyone could be a very good writer. The same goes with being a reliable performer in front of a camera or microphone. Being a great media spokesperson may come naturally to some, but anyone can do do a good job in an interview – with the right training and preparation.
We’ve all seen people crumble when they’ve been seemingly sideswiped by an unexpected question. My first direct experience of this was watching the CEO of the company I worked for eviscerated during a live TV interview. The question that stumped him was one he ought to have been prepared for and the combination of being flustered as he was unprepared and his appearance – he had a fairly wild mop of silver hair – made him look like an out-of-touch executive with little understanding of the critical infrastructure he was in charge of.
The reality was nothing like that. He was, in fact, a very competent executive who had been instrumental in creating a world-leading organisation. But, in front of the camera that night, he was severely humbled.
Preparing for a media interview is about more than simply answering a few questions on the fly. Being calm and confident requires preparation and practice. I do a regular spot on ABC radio. It’s about 30-minutes long and covers some news and responding to talkback callers. For that half-hour, where the host and I might cover three or four stories, we prepare about six with notes on the details as well as some potential questions that could come from callers. As it’s live radio and time is tight, we don’t rehearse but I spend time reviewing the content thoroughly, anticipating questions I’ll get and rehearsing my answers.
The aim is not to sound like a robot, parroting back canned responses. The aim is to reduce my cognitive load so that I can dedicate more brain power to unexpected questions. When we conduct media training with clients, one of the primary aims is to help them minimise the effort it takes to deal with the expected questions so they can dedicate more grey matter to challenging questions.
How people look in front of the camera is also critical. Beyond good grooming, posture and how it changes when you’re under pressure, tone of voice, the use of language and lots of other factors can make the difference between a great media spokesperson and a train wreck.
Fans of The West Wing will remember Toby Zeigler’s short run at being press secretary when the inimitable CJ Cregg moved into a different job. Zeigler’s lack of preparation caught him out and relegated him to the back office.
Walk into any successful business and you’ll find that there’s a budget, a marketing strategy, disaster recovery and business continuity plans and there’s training available for almost every business function.
But ask when the last time anyone did any serious media training and chances are you’ll be met with blank stares. Why is it that businesses feel they need to plan everything but when it comes to speaking publicly, on the record, to the media they think they can just ‘wing it’?
Preparing for an interview is about a lot more than just anticipating a few questions. It’s about being able to think on your feet and present a confident presence that doesn’t undermine your business. It’s about learning techniques that allow you to take a potentially attacking question and turn it into an opportunity to tell a positive story.
Opportunities to front the press and tell positive stories or add commentary to issues that are in the news is a great way to give your company prominence and be seen as a leader. Are you ready for that?