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Media and Crisis Management

Media Training – Don’t Let it Screw Up Your Natural Communications Style

Posted on: July 28th, 2012

Crisis Management: Media Training – Don’t Let it Screw Up Your Natural Communications StyleCrisis communications

Every professional should get media coaching.  Seriously.  Even if you never talk to a reporter it will improve your communications to all audiences.  Since just about every PR firm now provides this service be careful, as you are about to learn, whom you select.

Sit back, relax (this is a bit longer than usual) and read on or put it off until you have an extra minute or two.  This is a think piece that concerns how you express yourself.  Here we go…

The CEO told me was perplexed and angry. He’d traveled to a big city for media coaching and was confused.  The coach had ostensibly taught him and his key managers how to talk to the media effectively. He did not feel better prepared. What bothered him most was that the coach told him to speak twice as loud to TV reporters. Later, during an actual interview, the CEO said he was distracted by 1) the sound of his own, now much louder, voice, and 2) wondering whether he was loud enough while simultaneously determining what to say to the reporter. He felt the coaching attempted to re-invent him rather than improve.

The CEO then asked the COO what she thought of the same coaching experience. She could not remember anything she said in the mock interviews. She was preoccupied with implementing the coaching rules rather than what she was saying. How she spoke took precedence over what she said.

Believe me, I know from personal experience how coaching goes astray.  Throughout two decades as a TV news anchor coaches often counseled colleagues and me.

A few helped: most hurt.  At worst, the poor coaches undercut confidence, distracted from content, and suppressed individuality in pursuit of a pre-conceived notion of how a “good anchor” should perform. Here are a few personal examples and their impact:

  • A coach in Iowa told me to talk twice as fast. When I returned home to my newscast, several viewers asked if something were wrong with me as I went through my new “machine gun delivery” period.   The coach altered the way I naturally delivered the news.
  • Another coach advised underlining the most important words in the scripts and punching them more strongly than other words. My delivery became stilted, hyped and artificial.
  • Still another coach insisted that I gesture more. So, I turned into a TV dervish for a time as my hands self-consciously flew about my face. That was a hard inauthentic habit to undo.
  • Once, after an anchor coach visited a competing TV news operation, almost overnight every on-air person began wildly gesturing on camera. It was a farce.  Hardly an authentic anchor was on the air.
  • Since becoming a crisis consultant I once worked with a badly coached client. While we drafted important messages to deliver he asked how to incorporate communication techniques he had learned previously. Not one tip would have improved his delivery or, most importantly, authentically reassured the public that he and his company were operating in the public’s best interest. Cosmetics, not content, were the emphasis of what he’d been taught.

So if gimmicks and cosmetics don’t work, then what does?  What is right?

Reflect on how you talk every day.  You are unaware of your voice, hands, and face.   You are absorbed in an idea.  Communication is uncalculated.  You speak naturally. Hands may fly, expressions change, and the voice rise, fall, start, stop; not from choreography but from authenticity.  Actor schools teach, “Natural speech has no punctuation.”

Speaking of actors.  They avoid what they call indicating. An indicating actor calculates his behavior on stage rather than allowing it to flow spontaneously out of real emotion and motivation.  Paul Newman used to say, “Don’t let them catch you acting.”

On CNN’s The Larry King Show, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas discussed their craft. Hopkins said, “I don’t want to push too much, because you don’t have to… you have to lay back and just let it happen. Learn the lines… and just let it happen… let the lines fall out of the mouth.” Banderas added, “There is a tendency in actors to sell the story… you become obvious… the audiences like when you are not trying to sell them anything, that you are living not acting…”

This applies to talking to the media and other audiences as well.  You cannot simply put on speaking behaviors like a suit of clothes. Know what you want to say and let genuine internal feelings inform how you say it. They can roll out effortlessly when you know, accept, and understand your message and give yourself the freedom to express it. It’s inside-out, not cosmetics.

Ask your prospective media coach to explain how he or she will assist you. Ask former clients how they felt after the experience. Were they empowered or choreographed? Did they learn principles and philosophies or techniques? Was the experience value-based or performance-based? Was content preeminent or secondary?   Obtain recommendations of others. Select a coach who helps you be a better you not a different you.

People just want you to be real.

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