5 Media Training Lessons About Parsing Your Words So You Are Never Taken Out of Context
By Gerard Braud –
CEOs and other executives – in fact an enormous number of spokespeople I meet in media training classes — all complain that in their past, “The media took me out of context.”
As we look at public relations lessons from political campaigns this week, we can examine the failed presidential campaign of Mitt Romney and a troubling day when he was, in my observations, taken out of context.
The headlines quoted Romney as saying, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
Lesson #1: Someone is going to edit what you say. Let it be you. (See Don’t Talk to the Media Until…)
Lesson #2: Great quotes are seldom spontaneous. They are best written by a professional writer and then practiced relentlessly by the spokesperson until they appear to be spontaneous.
Lesson #3: It is important to parse every word of a great quote. Parsing words is the difference between a bad quote, a good quote, and a great quote.
On the day in question, Mitt Romney was trying to make the point that the middle class needed help. Many articles provided his entire quote, but the headlines took the entire quote out of context.
The full quote said, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor — we have a safety net there,” he said. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich — they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
A well written, well practiced, and well delivered quote with parsed words might have said, “The poor of our country have social programs to help them. The rich have their wealth to support them. But the middle class may be the group most in need of help from Washington and if I’m elected, I’ll work to help the 90-95 percent of Americans who are considered middle class.”
According to my parsing, each part of the quote can stand alone as a fair statement with no negative impact:
“The poor of our country have social programs to help them.”
“The rich have their wealth to support them.”
“The middle class may be the group most in need of help from Washington and if I’m elected, I’ll work to help the 90-95 percent of Americans who are considered middle class.”
5 lessons for all spokespeople:
1) It is important to parse words.
2) It is important to write quotes before you plan to deliver them.
3) It is important to break down the sentences of your quote to make sure each thought can stand on it’s own without being taken out of context.
4) It is important to undergo frequent media training.
5) It is also important to remember that, “Someone is going to edit what you say. It might as well be you.”