By Robert Taylor
I always start my media training by telling delegates that the lessons they're about to learn will help them not just in media interviews but throughout their lives. That's because we live in the Twitter age, where it's ever more important to communicate short, sharp impactful messages that really stand out from the crowd - the very skills that media training teaches.
The two aspects of great media interviews are also the hallmarks of great communication generally: know what you want to say, and say it well.
Consider the volume of information that passes in front of people every day of the year. The vast majority goes to waste, with people remembering and acting upon a tiny fraction of it - perhaps 1%. So for the person giving this information, or doing the communicating, that 1% must be the most important thing they want to say.
The simpler your message the better. Think of these great one-liners: "We will fight them on the beaches"; "I have a dream"; "Ich bin ein Berliner"; "The lady's not for turning"; "Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime". They stand the test of time precisely because they are simple and memorable, requiring no interpretation - qualities that apply whether you're selling widgets or explaining why people should vote for you.
But a good message needs to be backed up by evidence. It's all very well proclaiming that your idea will revolutionise people's lives, but you've got to answer "how?". That's where examples come in. Good human examples, with plenty of rich, colourful detail, are often the difference between a poor media interview and a good one - especially when backed up by a killer fact or statistic. Without them, people are left with an impressive-sounding but empty message. And their natural response is to say: "Yeah, right!".
But getting your message right is only half the battle. How you say it is just as important. The best tone of voice for a media interview is also perfect for life generally: intelligent and sincere, warm and enthusiastic.
We've all heard people saying things that make perfect sense - but we don't want to agree with them because, frankly, we don't like them. Richard Dawkins is the perfect example of this. He is fearsomely bright, knowledgeable and articulate. His arguments often appear irrefutable. But he fails to convince as many people as he might because he comes across as dismissive and condescending towards those who think differently ... and horribly smug.
When you're trying to argue your case you don't succeed by trashing those with a different view. Rather, you give a little. You show that you understand why people might have that view, and then you warmly and diplomatically express your own view. Listen to radio debates, and you hear people losing arguments all the time even though they have logic on their side - because listeners simply don't warm to them. Being likeable is equally important whether you're trying to win your colleagues over to a new way of working, or whether you're debating with a fellow guest on Newsnight.
How many times do you hear people say "look on the bright side"? When you hear someone say this, take note; they are using a media training technique called "bridging". Knowing that your audience will only remember and act upon a fraction of what you say, you should waste as little time as possible talking about things unrelated to your key message. This means "bridging" back to your messages. Don't worry if it sounds repetitive. After all, your message will only sink in once your audience has heard it a few times.
I once heard Peter Mandelson talking about this, and because his message was succinct and powerful, I remember it 15 years later word for word. "It's only when you are sick to death of repeating the same message over and over again," he said, "that your audience is just beginning to be receptive to it." So take every opportunity you can to bridge to your message. "Look on the bright side" is an example of how people bridge in ordinary conversations from a negative to a positive. It's an invaluable technique to have at your disposal.
I keep my media training as simple as possible, basing it on a few key lessons, each applicable throughout business life. And as I always say, interview techniques are merely microcosms of how we should communicate every day of the week.
About The Author
Robert Taylor is a Media Trainer/Media Skills Specialist & Keynote Speaker.