Media Training: Maybe Practice Can Make Perfect
I spend a lot of time on the sidelines in a slightly uncomfortable bright green folding cloth chair as my boys practice soccer and any other sport we manage to fit into our schedule. Recently, that time has made me think about the value of practice. We are taught at an early age that practice makes perfect, and you need to practice your craft. Before every opening statement or oral argument, my colleagues and I always “moot” the argument or practice in front of each other before the real thing. Yet, when it comes to interviews with the press, clients are often hesitant or even resistant to spend time practicing in a media training session.
Speaking to a reporter isn’t natural, especially in a recorded or live television interview. It’s not something you are just born knowing how to do.
Speaking to a reporter isn’t natural, especially in a recorded or live television interview. It’s not something you are just born knowing how to do. So, why not practice before the real “game”? In fact, on the few occasions I have had to do media interviews as a lawyer, I always practice. Even with years of experience telling other people’s stories on television, I still feel slightly uncomfortable on the other side of the lens. Also, your audience is different—what you say in front of a judge or even on a conference call with your client may need to be worded differently for newspaper readers or a television audience.
One formerly hesitant client is now a big believer in media training and illustrates my point that practice is really valuable. He was a very smart, well-educated, experienced CEO of a non-profit who knew his business better than anyone. Since we knew he was preparing to do a series of interviews on a new initiative, he reluctantly agreed to sit down with me, a camera, and a big screen that plays back video. At first, he didn’t think he needed it. After all, why does a CEO need to practice talking about what he does every single day? So, I turned the camera on and asked him the first question, a real softball. His answer, “Uh, can we start over?” So, I thought I would just try to warm him up with something off-topic. Since we had just eaten lunch together, I asked him, “What kind of sandwich did you have?” His answer: “Um, turkey, I mean, ham. What?” So, I turned the camera off, we talked for a few more minutes, and the awkward guy speaking gibberish suddenly transformed into the eloquent CEO I knew well. A camera can do that to you.
During the session, we talked about techniques, practiced what we expected were real questions, and by the end of the session, this client was just as comfortable with a camera in front of him as without it. In fact, at the end, he told his communications person that he could do all the interviews from now on because he was really good at this. With some hard work and practice, he was a great interview, effectively communicated his message, and of course, had much more confidence. He realized that certain answers said a certain way communicated his message more effectively and that he did not want to say other things he felt detracted from his mission. All the rewording, outtakes, and discussion took place safely during practice without consequences, so he was more than game-ready when the time came.
While I love media training as the trainer because I love seeing quick, tangible results and clients gain confidence, the trainees are often resistant and uncomfortable. Yet, time after time, they say it was worth it. Perhaps, like athletes or even moms on the sideline, it’s valuable to start investing in practice time. Instead of trying to dodge it, embrace the opportunity for a dress rehearsal before the real thing.