By Gerard Braud
The Big IF is what I call my philosophy of media training.
I ask every executive that I media train this all important question: If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money or lose money?
This is true for corporations that depend upon customers.
This is true for non-profits that depend upon donations.
This is true for government agencies that depend upon taxpayer and legislative approval for funding.
Say the wrong thing and your customers will buy elsewhere.
Say the wrong thing and your donations will dry up.
Say the wrong thing and funding to your government agency gets cut.
Say the wrong thing and lose your job. It is that serious.
Many executives are hesitant to carve out time in their schedule for media training. Why? Primarily because they think they are too busy. That translates into they are too busy doing things that help them or the organization make money (although, send them an invitation to a charity golf tournament and most will fit it into their schedule.).
Many people who do media interviews also let their egos get in the way. They are afraid to go through media training because they are afraid someone will see them mess up. It is for that very reason that I tell all of my media training students that at the end of class I insist they destroy the video tape used in our role playing interviews so that all of their mistakes stay in the training room.
The things I hear most often from executives who will not train are:
• I’ll just wing it.
• I’ll just be honest, shoot straight and tell them what I think.
• I don’t want to sound rehearsed. I like to be spontaneous.
My answer to that is that if you wing it, you’ll crash and burn.
As for honesty, I believe you should always be honest. The key to honesty is to choose every word carefully. For example, if we gathered a group of your biggest competitors in a room and asked you to unveil all the secrets to your business model and success, would you really tell them everything you know? Would you give them your playbook? It is a question of honesty after all. So if a reporter asks you the same question, will you tell them everything? They are going to print it and give it to your competitors.
As for being spontaneous, I spent 15 years in the media listening to people be spontaneous with me everyday. As they spoke, most days my general thought was, “I can’t believe this idiot just said that to me on camera.” By the time those comments were edited into my report and put on the evening news, most of those spontaneous, poorly worded comments were damaging to the spokesperson’s reputation, which also has a negative impact upon the organization’s revenue.
Was it fair for me to use the dumb, incriminating, negative things people said to me? Absolutely. After all, those people must have thought it was important because they said it to me. I’m just sharing their honesty with the public.
Let me also emphasize this. It’s one thing to look stupid in the news report. But the damage does not stop with the damage you do to your personal or organizational reputation. Every time you damage your reputation you lose money. How much you lose depends upon how big of a gaff you make and the specific topic.
When you say something stupid that gets in print, on the radio or on TV, you also destroy your credibility with your employees. You also cause embarrassment to your employees and you potentially have a negative effect on their productivity; that will cost you money also.
So I ask the question again: If you could attach a dollar to every word you say, would you make money or lose money?
A well prepared, well rehearsed, well internalized message makes people want to do business with you, buy your products or support your cause.
As for not wanting to sound rehearsed, it is important to realize that the old adage about practice makes perfect, is true.
Many people make the mistake of trying to memorize what they want to say. Memorizing means you only know the words in your head. The secret is to internalize what you want to say. Internalizing means you know it in your heart and you know it in your heart to be true.
In order to internalize your message, you first have to go through the process of learning it in your head before transferring it to your heart, then sending it from your heart to mouth.
If it is a lie, you cannot store the message in your heart and you will not be able to effectively verbalize it. So internalizing your message means that it is a well worded honest message.
My final tip on this topic is to treat every interview with the same importance that you treat every business deal. Before entering into a contract, countless hours are spent in preparation and negotiations. Why? Because it affects the bottom line. Well, the same due diligence and time needs to be put into preparing for a media interview. That means you need to schedule time to anticipate questions, prepare well worded answers, and to train and practice until you get every answer perfect every time. Then and only then should you do an interview with the media.
Every interview is as important as every business deal.
In our next lesson, we’ll take a look at the wants, needs and desires of the media.