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Five things… to know about media training

By Patrick Southwell:

When most people think about media training, they instantly imagine a grilling on a difficult topic. And it’s important to know how to deal with a crisis. But most of the time, media training isn’t about preparing for battle, it’s about knowing what a journalist wants and gaining the confidence to deliver it.

So, we’ve summarised the five things we help our clients achieve with the media training sessions we run.

1. Understand how to tell a story

Journalists are after one thing: a story. We explain how to provide one. We think there are three key elements:

  • First: people. Set up the story with your protagonist – this is usually a customer or audience group.

  • Second: problem. What challenges did they face, which led them to go on a quest or journey?

  • Thirdly: solution. How did the person solve the problem they faced and what was the outcome? Importantly, what was your role in helping them?

2. Understand interview techniques

Every journalist is different. Each has their own way of getting what they want. It’s up to the interviewee to spot those methods and respond to them.

For example, Louis Theroux sometimes befriends his interviewees, killing them with kindness to get a killer line. Other times he just lets them hang themselves. He’ll say, “Go on…” or simply, “Meaning…?” handing them the proverbial rope of space and silence to just keep on stringing themselves up.

Person writing in a notebook

3. Understand how to deliver messages

This is all about confidence, clarity and control.

Confidence comes from preparation, reading up about the journalist and knowing what to expect. Clarity comes from knowing your key messages and landing them consistently. Try to have just three and use the stories you tell to get them over in short, quotable ways. Control is all about taking charge. The simplest way to do this is to start at the end. Make your point first and then substantiate it.

4. Understand how to deal with tough questions

This is the bit most people are worried about. We offer practical ways to pivot back to the story and key messages. It’s known as bridging and it offers a verbal way to take a question, park it and then focus on the point you want to deliver.

5. Understand what happens next

It’s surprising how many organisations think they hold the balance of power when speaking to journalists. But we all need to remember that we have a free press in the UKand we should be very grateful for that.

So, no, you can’t check the article before publication. No, you can’t ask them to use a certain headline. No, you can’t make them wait for you to dig out all the details.

But of course, if you go into an interview understanding the rules of engagement, the story to tell, techniques to expect, how to deliver messages, and ready for difficult questions, you’ll be fine. In fact, you might come to love it.

If you’re interested in media training, let us know. You might also want to read some more tips that we have about speaking to the media. Good luck!


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