Are some of the people you interview sounding a little rehearsed these days? More and more officials, professionals and business executives are being coached on how to deal with the media. And while that can be a good thing, it isn’t always.
Many doctors and lawyers have been advised to avoid acronyms and technical language so they can be understood more easily by the general public. Nothing wrong with that. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, is a master at making complex science information understandable, as he did in a recent interview with the NewsHour about the meteor that exploded over Russia.
But much of what’s called media training doesn’t actually focus on helping professionals make the complicated clear. Take the email I received last week, for no known reason, from a DC-based media training and coaching firm entitled 3 steps to a successful media interview. Step one: Research the reporter and media outlet “to discover what the ultimate purpose [of the interview] is.” Steps two and three: Prepare three strategic messages and practice delivering them out loud at least three times.
The simplest way to prepare is to create a list of potential questions and answer each question out loud. The more you practice, the more you will be prepared to respond during an actual media interview. Practice your key messages and hone them down to their most powerful bits of information.
No wonder it’s so hard to get a sound bite that doesn’t sound canned or planned from some people. They’ve been rehearsing their responses, over and over. And you can bet they’ve been taught how to “bridge to message,” a technique for getting their point across no matter what they’re asked. You know you’ve been bridged when the interviewee says something like, “That’s an interesting question but the key issue is…”
If you expect to have any hope of knocking these folks off script, invest some time in developing a question or two they never dreamed you’d ask. And don’t be afraid to ask the same basic question more than once in a slightly different way. You just might get lucky.
What annoys you most about media-trained interviewees? If you’ve succeeded in getting something spontaneous out of one, please let us all know how you did it. They’re sharing techniques with each other. Why shouldn’t we journalists share ours?
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