After almost 20 years as a media trainer, I’m still fascinated to see the different preconceived ideas people have about the training. Some of the common misconceptions are that it’s all about ‘spin doctoring’, ‘weasel words’, dodging questions and turning people into amorphous company mouthpieces.
That’s only the case if media training is done in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. In fact, good media training is about preparing confident and skilled spokespeople who can convey an organisation’s message in the media with clarity, honesty and empathy. Media of all descriptions are more likely to be willing vehicles of that message – and to seek out your spokespeople – if it is presented in an authentic and easily digested form.
Respectfully, the media is a means to an end. Getting your message to your target audience, so they do, think of feel something about you is the end game. After all the audience is why we communicate. Good media training develops skills that in turn allow people to be better communicators in any high stake’s communication situation. Time and time again people walk away from training sessions feeling more comfortable and confident ahead of not only media interviews but appearances in front of other important stakeholders – think online webinars, in person and or online conference round tables or recording videos for socials. Good media training ensures consistency of messaging across traditional and non-traditional media including socials.
One of the things we teach in media training is the importance of presenting information clearly and simply, and politely correcting misconceptions. So, in keeping with that, here are some simple facts about what makes good media training in response to some common myths:
Myth: Media training is only for organisations and people who have something to hide or need to ‘spin’ themselves out of trouble.
Fact: Good media training does prepare you to deal with difficult situations (not necessarily of your own doing), but the important focus is on managing perceptions in the first place. By giving your organisation a ‘human face’ of approachable, thought-provoking and authoritative but conversational spokespeople, you can build trust and respect while the going is good. This is not only good for business anyway but gives you a solid foundation if things do get tough for you.
Myth: Media training is only good for traditional media and it’s all about socials these days, so we don’t really need it.
Fact: While organisations are right to have a keen eye on their social media channels, traditional media outlets continue to maintain significant influence, boast superior reach and credibility, and still have sharp teeth. You would dismiss them at your peril. The other fact is good media training stays up to date with the latest platforms and media trends and incorporates skills for using and interacting with social media into its programs.
Myth: Media training teaches people to ‘spin’ the facts, dodge questions and be inauthentic company mouthpieces.
Fact: Honesty and authenticity are at the heart of all good media training. The best communicators, in all forms, are human, relatable and engaging. This means letting your personality shine through and building on your own skills and style. You must also understand what your audience needs to hear from you, be able to correct misinformation in a constructive way, and show empathy in what you say and how you say it. When good media trainers talk about controlling the message and managing the media, they are referring to your own confidence and control over what you say – especially when you are faced with difficult questions and situations – rather than obfuscation or manipulation of others.
Myth: Media training is run by ex-journalists who take great delight in ‘breaking’ you to make their point and show off their skills.
Fact: While many media trainers are current or former journalists, the good ones are trustworthy and genuine coaches with qualifications in adult education. Their approach is to build skills and confidence, and to provide plenty of opportunities to practise and refresh techniques in a safe environment. The aim is to set appropriate scenarios and challenges, tailored to the participants – never to shock or embarrass. Also, the good thing about the trainer being a journalist (and/or enlisting the help of working journalists during training) is you can gain some insights into where journalists are coming from, which can help immeasurably when you are preparing to face the media. See my five steps to a successful media interview here.
Myth: Media training is a ‘one size fits all’ program that promotes techniques anyone with common sense should know.
Fact: It’s true that the techniques are not exactly rocket science but that’s the beauty of good media training. It focuses on sticking to the basics, keeping things clear and simple – which, because we are human, most of us forget when cast into the spotlight. The good trainers also make sure every session and scenario is tailored to the participant/s’ level. Experienced spokespeople should be challenged to move out of the shallows while beginners should always start well within their depth.
As you would expect, there’s a variety of media training services on offer for executives and frontline spokespeople. However, good media training, simply put, should leave people feeling more confident to take part in an interview with a journalist regardless of whether the news is good, bad or indifferent. It will focus on skills development rather than spin. A key element of this is giving spokespeople simple techniques that allow them to embed media stories with important but newsworthy messages that a spokesperson can deliver naturally. Sounding real and coming across with authority is essential. Read my five steps to achieving this here.