Media Training 16: Practice, even if you only have 5 minutes

By, Gerard Braud

In our last lesson we talked about how to structure a media training class and how I always tell the executives I train that they must practice before every interview, even if they only have 5 minutes.  I’d like to expand on that and explain why this is so important.

I was training an executive who is the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. As I often do, I asked to see some video tape of his previous interviews so I could know more about the person I was training and his natural strengths and weaknesses.

A video tape arrived at my office, featuring the CEO conducting a news conference at a major trade show for his industry.  It was downright painful to watch. This executive was rambling extensively. There was little or no emotion in his voice. He seemed to be reading a long laundry list of accomplishments and corporate goals. For all practical purpose, the news conference had no focus.

At the start of our training session I pulled out the video tape and suggested we watch it.

“Oh you don’t want to watch that,” he said. “I was terrible in that. Trust me… I did that presentation 3 times that day. The third time I was great.”

So I asked him to break down who was in the audience for each of the 3 presentations. As it turns out the first time he did it, the audience was composed of stock analysts. The second news conference was held for mainstream media. The third news conference was held for trade publications.

As he explained who his audiences were, he quickly realized that his worst performance was for his most critical audience. He failed to perform at his best for stock analysts who can potentially have the greatest positive or negative impact on his company. If you think back to lesson 2 you’ll remember my admonition – If you could attach a dollar to every word that you say, would you make money or lose money.

I asked if he practiced the news conference at all on the day before. He told me no, because he didn’t have time. I then pointed out to him that if he had practiced 3 times the day before, his would have done a great job in front of his most financially critical audience.

Practice makes perfect and even if you have only a few minutes before heading out to talk to the media, you need to practice and role play with a colleague or coach.

What we want to say, what we think we’re going to say and what actually comes out of our mouths when we start talking are all very different.

A “back stage” practice changes all of that. It only requires someone to ask you a few questions, starting with the very basics. You really want to make sure you can nail your opening lines and command the audience’s attention. You want to make sure you can eliminate any of the stutters, stumbles and misspeaks that often happen in the first sentence.

I find that if a spokesperson can have 2 good practice sessions, their third time – which is the real event – will go smoothly.

Obviously, in an ideal world I would like to see the spokesperson practice for more than just 5 minutes, but 5 minutes is better than nothing.

So often, spokespeople fail to spend any time in preparation, especially if it is a good news story. As often happens, they attempt to “wing it.” As a result, their good news story may get little or no coverage because they failed to deliver a great opening statement and then failed to really clearly state their key messages in great quotes. Generally, the spokesperson who does not practice in advance will have a monotone delivery and like my CEO friend, will stand at the podium and offer a long laundry list will very little focus

The bottom line is, you need to always carve out time to practice, because what you say will affect your organization’s bottom line.

In our next lesson, we’ll take a closer look at good news stories and how you can get the media to say Wow!

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