Stating the (media training) obvious...

25th April, 2014

Media Training IS all about training people to talk to the media, of course it is, but the key message here is that that’s just part of the equation.

Talking on its own doesn’t cut it.

Media training is about teaching a spokesperson to listen, then think — to pause... then talk. And sometimes that silence is the most important part. A pause is a key media training technique, a tool to help you achieve your goal.

Consider the classic, taught-it-from-the cradle, positive and engaging ways to answer questions: “I’m glad you asked me that question!” or “That’s a great question” or “That’s right, John! I can call you John, can’t I?”

All great at the dinner table. But in the gladiatorial atmosphere of the modern media interview... I think not.

Firstly, you’re not answering the question, secondly, you’re in danger of appearing smarmy, and thirdly, crucially, the journalist KNOWS you’re playing for time.

Your journalist — and the notional listener/viewer/reader sat on their shoulder listening — want an answer, not platitudes or pleasantries. They can be friends later. Maybe.

The first words you utter need to be an answer to the question. Anything else will ring alarm bells.

Once you’ve answered the question you can volunteer a key message, sow a seed for the next question, or bridge to a completely new subject.

But those first few words are crucial.

That’s why you need to think about them. Every time a journalist asks a question, you should be following a checklist: “Do I understand the question? Do I have an answer? Can I back my answer up with evidence? Can I add a key message?”... and only once you’ve run through that checklist should you start talking.

The optimum answer in a medium interview is one that answers the question AND satisfies your agenda, gets across some of your message, achieves your objective.

And the Gold Star answer does all that as a result of good preparation, a few seconds thought, a dip into the mental larder of messages and facts, and silent, thoughtful process of sentence construction. That Gold Star answer includes attention-grabbing phraseology and a clear indication of your decency and likeability. And the answerer knows where they are going to finish before they start.

That’s why the pause is crucial. At the start of the learning process, that pause can feel like a gaping chasm of dead air. But it’s a tactic worth adopting because every time that chasm gets narrower and that answer gets better. And every time that happens confidence soars.