by Gerard Braud
The title of this article may sound counter-intuitive, so let me explain further. Don’t talk to the media, but to the media’s audience.
Each time you are about to engage with the media, ask yourself, who is the audience and how smart are they? The general rule is that the average person who watches TV news has a 6th-grade education. And, the average person who reads a newspaper reads at an 8th-grade reading level. Those listening to radio news fall into those same ranges.
When you do a media interview, a podcast, send out a news release, or are asked for a quote, you need to be talking to those people and using words and language that those people understand.
Drop all the big words. You don’t win any prizes for being multi-syllabic.
Can the corporate jargon. “Synergistic win-win collaboration” means nothing to anyone but you.
Say goodbye to the government speak and ax the acronyms. Neither your audience nor the media should need to be a code talker to decipher what you are saying.
Imagine you are asked to speak at career day to a 6th-grade class at your local school, what will you say? In fact, my assignment for you is to call a local school and ask to speak at the next career day. It’s a great exercise.
OK, so the skeptics out there may disagree.
Here are the things I hear from the skeptics:
- My audience is different.
- Well I’ll just tell the media what I know. It’s their job to simplify it.
- I don’t want to dumb it down.
- What will my peers think?
My answer is bull, more bull, definitely bull and absolutely bull.
If your goal is for the media to get it right, then simplify the information for them. Do their job for them. Do the translation for your audience.
No one wants you to dumb it down and I’m not asking you to dumb it down. I want you to simplify it. There is a difference. I want you to be inclusive. I want you to respect what the audience may or may not already know. Be kind. Help them out.
If you are concerned about how smart you will look to your peers, seldom will your peers be your audience when you do a media interview. Chances are your potential customers are your audience. Doctors should not use technical medical information but should use bedside patient language. Corporate people should not use corporate speak but customer speak.
Research also shows that even people with college degrees and advanced degrees prefer to read at an 8th-grade level. Information overload means they really want to be able to skim and quickly digest everything they have to read, whether it is a newspaper, e-mail, website or memo.
It is your responsibility to communicate in a way that the media’s audience will understand. You have a responsibility to communicate in a way that is easy for the media to understand, digest and repeat.
So our first rule is “don’t talk to the media.”
In the next media training lesson, we’ll talk about the connection between profit and a media interview.
For the full 29-day online course on media training and 29 secrets you need to know before you open your mouth to a reporter, visit here.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
More crisis communications articles: