Sunday, July 13, 2008

Getting ready for the media

Sometimes, a great on-air press opportunity for your organization can be a bad thing. If you're not ready for an on-camera, or on-air interview, a great press opportunity can actually backfire - and make your organization look unprepared at best, and unprofessional at worst.

[photo credit: ccarlstead]

I've referred my readers to the Spin Project many times before for great, basic information about how to interact with the media. Their latest tutorial on Broadcast Media and Spokesperson Skills is another wonderful resource for those preparing to go on the air to represent their organization. There are many other, similarly useful guides available online and off. I encourage you to seek them out and use them often.

That said, no matter what reference materials you use to prepare, there is one, immutable truth about appearing on-air:
It isn’t what you say, it’s what they hear.
No matter how prepared you are, how eloquent you are, or how on-message you are, if your audience hears something other than you intended them to, it isn't their fault - it's yours.

So, how do you ensure your message gets across?
1. Preparation:
The key to any press appearance is preparation. You need to know your material so well that the lights, cameras, tough questions and combative opponents don't throw you off of your key messages. Your organization's history, mission, impact, evolution, growth and challenges are all fair game. You need to be able to answer questions about any of them eloquently, accurately, and - most importantly - in 7 seconds or less.

2. Appearance:
When you're on television - what you say is judged by how you look. Your messages will be lost if you don't appear to be credible source - no matter how much you know about your topic.

Be sure to dress well. When in doubt, be conservative. For television appearances, avoid bright colors as well as too much black or white neutral colors are best. Never wear clothing with patterns, stripes, dots or floral designs. Avoid big jewelry, button, slogans or flashy watches. Wear makeup (yes, even men) and smile. Sit-up straight, use natural hand gestures, and make eye contact with the interviewer - don't look around or be distracted by movement off-camera. And above all, stay calm - no matter how argumentative the other guests, or the host might be. It's your job to appear as the most reasonable and rational person on the show.

Some other things you can do to appear comfortable and confident on-air are:
  • Watch, or listen to, previous episodes of the show to familiarize yourself with its format, environment and audience.
  • Know the name of the interviewer and any other guests you’ll be appearing with.
  • Know the slant of the piece or topic of the show.
  • Know how long you’ll be on the air, and know your key messages (the facts you want to get across to the interviewer & audience) inside and out so you will be sure to deliver them during the interview.
  • Speak slowly - focus on pronouncing each word fully, pausing between sentences, and adding extra emphasis to key points.
  • SMILE! If you're on television you will appear to be more relaxed, and if you're on the radio it will sweeten the tone of your voice - which makes you sound more interesting.
  • Before the interview begins, warm up your voice and be sure you have access to a glass of water to keep yourself hydrated.
  • For radio interviews, be sure you're in a quiet room on a land-line with the call-waiting disabled, and be sure all other phones, radios and other devices are turned off (they can cause reverb and confusion).
3. Brevity:
Speak in a conversational tone but remember this is NOT a conversation, get to the point, speak with emphasis and be brief - good sound-bites are rarely more than 7 seconds long.
Be sure to pause so that the audience doesn't lose track of your point, and so that you don't appear to be rambling. Remember, you are the expert on your key points, speak with confidence - and avoid filler words or sentences (uh, um, ifs, ands, wherefores, maybes, etc. are more noticeable on air than they are in regular conversations).
Consistent practice, coaching and preparation will help you take advantage of the on-air press opportunities that come your way. It's smart to begin those efforts now, rather than waiting until you're scheduled to appear in the studio. When you have the chance to deliver your organization's message to thousands of viewers and listeners at once, you'll want to be sure you're ready.

Marketing vs. Conversation

Social Media Today ran a great post recently dealing with the difference between marketing and conversations.

The core message of the post was:
"Conversations are between two or more people. If marketers want to create buzz throughout the social web then they’d better represent a product/service that exceeds people’s expectations. Otherwise trying to interrupt conversations with a product or service that hasn’t performed well may in fact turn the conversations against you."
This is a key point that many organizations miss when they dive in to social networking. It's not enough to join in the conversation. You actually have to have something to say.

Social networking is not an internet phenomena - it's simply an extension of everyday conversations into an electronic medium. Just like at a cocktail party, if you were to walk up to a group of people that are already talking, you'd come off as odd if you were to immediately start speaking about something that's off-topic. Eventually the group would ignore you, and eventually they would shut you out of their conversation altogether if you didn't stop talking.

If you're trying to draw attention to your organization, project or idea in a social networking environment, begin by listening. Only chime in when you have something valuable to add to the conversation.

It's a good rule of thumb both online and off.