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Media Training 201: The Reporters Have Done Their Homework. Have You Done Yours?

Just about anyone who has been in the public eye has a story of the media interview that went south. "I talked to that reporter for an hour and all they used was a ten-second sound bite!" or, "He said he wanted to ask me about X when that was just a way to get in the door so he could talk about Y." Chances are, the reporter came armed with questions and if he really did his homework, knew what answers to expect. You should be just as prepared. Media training can't make the tough questions go away, but it can give you the tools to control the interview. Here are some tips:

? Anticipate the toughest questions and prepare/rehearse your answers in advance. Know going in what YOUR goal is for the interview. Are you releasing new information or reacting to an event or story that's already out there?

? Be able to cover key points in a conversational manner. Don't memorize. It will sound like it.

? Collect information from the reporter before the interview?

What is the deadline?

What is the story about? What is the hook/interest angle?

How do I fit into the story? What do you want? Quote? Statement? Interview?

Who else have you spoken with? What did they say? (This will also give an indication of where the story is heading. Are the other interviewees credible?)

What documents do you have have/need? (Does the reporter have a document you haven't seen? Have them fax or e-mail a copy before the interview.)

When will the story run? How long will it be? (There's a big difference between a minute-thirty TV news story, and a long, background article in the morning paper.)

? Have a mini-tape recorder handy. Tell the reporter that you'll be taping the interview, so you have a copy of what is said. This lets her know you're not a rookie.

? Beware of the reporter on a "fishing expedition". Wide-ranging, vague questions can be tricky and potentially dangerous. Reporters are fond of "What if" scenarios or "Could it happen here?" Clarify what she's going for. "I think what you're asking is?" It's O.K. to admit you don't understand the question or can't predict the future. If you find the interview veering off-course, bring it back on track. "You said we'd be talking about X and I'll be happy to answer your questions about that."

? Don't say "off the record" or believe something will be "off the record." There's no such thing as "off the record."

? Use simple terminology. If the subject is complicated, and the reporter is not up to speed, provide a simple verbal primer on the topic before the interview begins or give the reporter a handout of key information.

? Practice. Attend media training. See yourself on camera so you know what the audience will see.

The simple strategy of "tell 'em what you're gonna to tell 'em, tell 'em, and then tell 'em what you told 'em" is tried and true when it comes to the media interview. That leads to another tip. Know when to stop talking. Many a damaging sound bite has been uttered when the interviewee's guard was down, after he/she thought the interview was over.

©2005. All Rights Reserved

Through their workshops, seminars and consulting projects, Nancy Stern MA and Jody Hammond, MA, help people keep connected through conscious communication and savvy media skills. They can be reached for communication skills and media training at 800-280-2666 or on the web at http://www.onthespotmediatraining.com

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