Classic Media Training Advice

Straightforward in theory, challenging in real-life situations.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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Here is some clas­sic media train­ing advice.

From stay­ing on mes­sage to man­aging your emo­tions, these guidelines will pre­pare you for the spot­light and ensure your com­mu­nic­a­tions are clear, stra­tegic, and impactful.

Here we go:

Classic Media Training Advice

Classic media training advice.
Classic media train­ing advice.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

Classic Media Training Advice

Speaking with a report­er while adher­ing to best prac­tices in media train­ing is straight­for­ward in the­ory but dif­fi­cult in real-life situations.

Here is some clas­sic media train­ing advice:

  • Never spec­u­late. Anything you say before a report­er could be recor­ded and used against you later. Therefore, avoid spec­u­lat­ing since you might be proven wrong, or your guesses could be con­veyed as faulty state­ments of facts to dis­cred­it you later.
  • Stay on mes­sage. Develop 3 – 4 key points you want to con­vey and con­sist­ently steer the con­ver­sa­tion back to those mes­sages. This helps ensure that your core mes­sages are com­mu­nic­ated clearly and fre­quently. 1Silfwer, J. (2024, May 2). The Core Message. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​r​e​-​m​e​s​s​a​ge/
  • Be pre­pared. Before any media inter­ac­tion, famil­i­ar­ise your­self with the journ­al­ist, their recent work, and the media out­let’s audi­ence. Preparation will help you tail­or your mes­sages and anti­cip­ate poten­tial ques­tions. 2Silfwer, J. (2022, June 28). Media Spokesperson Training: Get Your Message Across. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​m​e​d​i​a​-​s​p​o​k​e​s​p​e​r​s​on/
  • Avoid jar­gon. Speak in plain lan­guage to ensure your audi­ence under­stands your mes­sage. Industry-spe­cif­ic terms can con­fuse listen­ers and dilute the impact of your mes­sage. 3Silfwer, J. (2015, October 9). The Platitude Sickness: The Trash of Corporate Writing. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​l​a​t​i​t​u​d​e​-​s​i​c​k​n​e​ss/
  • Be con­cise. Offer brief, clear responses to avoid mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion. Long, com­plic­ated answers can lead to snip­pets being taken out of context.
  • Use bridging tech­niques. If asked a dif­fi­cult or off-top­ic ques­tion, use bridging phrases like “What’s import­ant to remem­ber is…” to trans­ition back to your key messages.
  • Never lie. Always tell the truth. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Lying can dam­age your repu­ta­tion and cred­ib­il­ity if the truth emerges later.
  • Monitor your body lan­guage. Non-verbal cues can say as much as your words. Maintain an open pos­ture and eye con­tact to con­vey hon­esty and confidence.
  • Practice. Rehearse your key points and poten­tial ques­tions with a col­league or a media train­er to refine your deliv­ery and tim­ing. If pos­sible, do it on cam­era for easi­er review.
  • Manage your emo­tions. Remain calm and com­posed, even if the ques­tion­ing becomes aggress­ive. Emotional responses can be por­trayed negatively.
  • Correct mis­takes. If you mis­speak, cor­rect your­self imme­di­ately. This pre­vents mis­in­form­a­tion from spread­ing and shows your com­mit­ment to accuracy.
  • Control the pace. Speak slowly and clearly to give your­self time to think and to ensure your points are understood.
  • Use examples and anec­dotes. Personal stor­ies or spe­cif­ic examples can make your mes­sage more relat­able and memorable.
  • Know when to stop talk­ing. After mak­ing a point, it’s okay to stop speak­ing. Filling silence with unne­ces­sary elab­or­a­tion can lead to errors or off-mes­sage statements.
  • Anticipate dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Prepare for tough ques­tions in advance so you can handle them con­fid­ently without being caught off guard.
  • No blame-gam­ing. Emphasise hope­ful aspects and solu­tions rather than dwell­ing on neg­at­ive issues or blame.
  • Avoid non-apo­lo­gies. Either you’re truly sorry and wish to apo­lo­gise — or you don’t. There’s no in-between. Make up your mind before­hand. 4Silfwer, J. (2020, July 26). When a Public Apology is Warranted (And When It’s Not). Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​a​p​o​l​o​gy/
  • Avoid “no com­ment.” This phrase can appear evas­ive. If you can’t dis­cuss a top­ic, explain why, per­haps cit­ing pri­vacy or leg­al reas­ons. 5Silfwer, J. (2020, May 23). Corporate Cringe. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​r​p​o​r​a​t​e​-​c​r​i​n​ge/
  • Be mind­ful of the back­ground. The set­ting of your inter­view can also send mes­sages. Ensure the envir­on­ment reflects the image you wish to convey.
  • Respect dead­lines. Understanding a journalist’s dead­line and respond­ing promptly can help shape the story and foster a pos­it­ive relationship.
  • Follow up. After the inter­view, promptly send any prom­ised inform­a­tion or cla­ri­fic­a­tions. This helps ensure accur­acy and main­tains a pro­fes­sion­al relationship.

Learn more: Classic Media Training Advice

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Media Spokesperson Training

Media spokesperson training.
Media spokes­per­son training.
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Media Spokesperson Training

I love coach­ing media spokespeople. Here’s how to approach your very first media train­ing as a media train­er yourself:

  • Train for an actu­al appear­ance. General media train­ing is inef­fi­cient. There should be an actu­al media appear­ance com­ing up. The upcom­ing media appear­ance will sharpen our prac­tice ses­sions. The real­ity of the situ­ation will make a huge difference.
  • Roll the cam­era already. When we have a rough idea of what the spokes­per­son should say, I don’t both­er about ton­al­ity, gim­micks, per­so­nas, choice of clothes, etc. Instead, I start the video cam­era. Go! Since there is little pre­par­a­tion, we can quickly identi­fy the problems.
  • Allow for self-cor­rec­tion. After each attempt, I play the video back. As we watch the foot­age, I ask the per­son in train­ing what they think. Sometimes, there’s nervous laughter. Sometimes, there’s uncom­fort­able squirm­ing. Other times, the mood gets ser­i­ous. But without me hav­ing to give any notes what­so­ever, the spokes­per­son imme­di­ately self-cor­rects. After exper­i­en­cing a cata­logue of emo­tions from watch­ing one­self deliv­er cor­por­ate cringe unpre­pared, the spokes­per­son soon wants to try again. We will keep doing this until the spokes­per­son is “done” and ready for care­ful input from the media trainer.
  • Use Socratic ques­tion­ing. Instead of giv­ing notes, I prac­tice Socratic ques­tion­ing. “Did you like or dis­like the way you delivered the mes­sage? How did it feel when you changed your approach?” These types of ques­tions can admit­tedly be annoy­ing, but the spokes­per­son is often too engaged in their per­form­ance to both­er about how I behave. Some might seek my approv­al dur­ing the pro­cess, but it’s easy to deflect and redir­ect their ques­tions back at them. “What parts did you like? What parts do you want to change?” 
  • Explain the pro­cess at the end. When we’re near­ing the end of the train­ing ses­sion, either by sheer fatigue or schedul­ing con­straints, some spokes­per­sons start to think about my role in all of this. “Why is Jerry not giv­ing, only ask­ing me ques­tions instead of giv­ing feed­back? Why is Jerry not telling me what to do — or what not to do?” Leaders want to know that they’re get­ting their money’s worth. So, I typ­ic­ally end the first train­ing ses­sion by explain­ing that media train­ing should allow the media spokes­per­son to ”excav­ate” their best media per­sona. It’s always some­where, but they must pull it out themselves. 

Learn more: Media Spokesperson Training: Get Your Message Across

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Classic Media Training Mistakes

Media training mistakes.
Media train­ing mistakes.
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Classic Media Training Mistakes

Standing before a cam­era or a micro­phone can be stress­ful, espe­cially dur­ing a crisis. Therefore, many lead­ers, politi­cians, and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als invest in pro­fes­sion­al media training.

However, media train­ing can be taken too far.

Answers Without Substance

  • Typical media train­ing advice: If the report­er asks, “Is it unsafe to work for you?” You often can­’t say ‘yes.’ Just because it was unsafe once at one loc­a­tion does­n’t mean all related work envir­on­ments are unsafe. You can­’t say ‘no,’ either. It was unsafe in this spe­cif­ic situ­ation. You’re being cornered! The only thing you can do is focus on what you actu­ally can say.
  • How this advice back­fires: Being “media trained,” a spokes­per­son can get over-con­fid­ent in their abil­it­ies. And so, they believe that they can get away with card-stack­ing and talk­ing them­selves out of the situ­ation. Reporters are trained to spot this beha­viour, and instead of let­ting the spokes­per­son off the hook, they start prob­ing even harder.
  • What to do instead: Prepare your Q&A bet­ter. You must have some­thing of sub­stance to say before enter­ing the inter­view situ­ation. Even if you could talk out of a tricky ques­tion without say­ing any­thing of sub­stance, the audi­ence will dis­like you for avoid­ing the question.

Exaggerating the Bridge Technique 

  • Typical media train­ing advice: Use the bridge tech­nique. While unable or unwill­ing to accept the fun­da­ment­als of the ques­tion, the inter­viewee can add con­text, and by doing so, it’s often pos­sible to slide over to pre­pared state­ments and talk­ing points. 6Silfwer, J. (2022, June 28). Media Spokesperson Training: Get Your Message Across. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​m​e​d​i​a​-​s​p​o​k​e​s​p​e​r​s​on/
  • How this advice back­fires: It’s easy to grasp the mech­an­ics of the bridge tech­nique. The report­er asks a ques­tion, does­n’t answer it, and then dis­cusses what you want to high­light. Too often, media-trained spokespeople take this tech­nique way too far. It’s impol­ite at best and does­n’t look good on camera.
  • What to do instead: When you’ve answered a ques­tion, adding addi­tion­al con­text or insight into your ini­ti­at­ive can be help­ful to the report­er. But always ensure you add con­text or insight rel­ev­ant to the ori­gin­al question.

Parrotting Your Key Message

  • Typical media train­ing advice: Prepare a short­l­ist with key state­ments you want to con­vey. These state­ments will help when pressed by a reporter. 
  • How this advice back­fires: At times, media-trained spokes­per­sons might decide to repeat their pre­pared state­ments word-for-word, over and over again. An irrit­ated report­er could quickly pun­ish you by air­ing this type of “par­rot beha­viour” — and it’ll be ter­rible both on cam­era and in audio. 7Silfwer, J. (2020, May 23). Corporate Cringe. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​r​p​o​r​a​t​e​-​c​r​i​n​ge/
  • What to do instead: Write down single words to rep­res­ent your inten­ded talk­ing points, and remem­ber these instead of actu­al phrases. Don’t mem­or­ise word-for-word state­ments. And most import­antly, don’t say the same thing repeatedly.

Staring Down the Reporter

  • Typical media train­ing advice: Most journ­al­ists use a com­mon trick to remain silent instead of fir­ing anoth­er ques­tion. For most people, this silence is awk­ward and unpleas­ant. To escape this unpleas­ant­ness, they start talk­ing aim­lessly. The rule of thumb is to be com­fort­able and allow for a little quiet now and then.
  • How this advice back­fires: Allowing for silence is essen­tial, but you do not need to sit there and stare intensely for 30 seconds. Because this does­n’t look good, either. Many media-trained spokes­per­sons apply this advice by tri­umphantly try­ing to stare down the reporter.
  • What to do instead: If the report­er is ser­i­ous about stay­ing quiet for a long time, care­fully use the bridge tech­nique to add more con­text and insight. But take a few moments in silence to think about what you’ll say before you open your mouth. The key is not to be afraid of silence, feel the need to fill these pauses with excess­ive talk, or enter some star­ing con­test with the reporter.

Relying on Non-Apologies

  • Typical media train­ing advice: Don’t be afraid to apo­lo­gise. Making an apo­logy pub­licly is some­times just the right thing to do. The import­ant thing here is not to sound like a robot but to make sure you genu­inely empathise.
  • How this advice back­fires: More often than not, media-trained spokespeople say things like, “We’re sorry they feel this way,” “We’re sorry if this did­n’t come across,” or “We’re sorry that you’re sorry.” These state­ments are also known as non-apo­lo­gies — and every­one right­fully hates them. 8Silfwer, J. (2020, July 26). When a Public Apology is Warranted (And When It’s Not). Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​a​p​o​l​o​gy/
  • What to do instead: Connecting through emo­tions means talk­ing and act­ing like a human being. Don’t say that you’re sad; be sad. And even more import­antly, avoid non-apo­lo­gies alto­geth­er. It’s about your feel­ings on the mat­ter, not theirs. If you can­’t express human emo­tions like empathy dur­ing dif­fi­cult times, see a ther­ap­ist, not a reporter.

Using Platitudes and Jargon

  • Typical media train­ing advice: Never spec­u­late. Nothing good ever came from second-guess­ing any­thing in front of a report­er. Stick to what you know.
  • How this advice back­fires: Media-trained spokespeople rarely say things like “no com­ment” or “I can neither con­firm nor deny.” They know bet­ter. However, resort­ing, as many do, to plat­it­udes and jar­gon instead is not a much bet­ter strategy. 9Silfwer, J. (2015, October 9). The Platitude Sickness: The Trash of Corporate Writing. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​l​a​t​i​t​u​d​e​-​s​i​c​k​n​e​ss/
  • What to do instead: Avoid cor­por­ate cringe. Talk like you would with someone you met on the street ask­ing for dir­ec­tions you do not know, and nev­er resort to platitudes.

Transposing Human Emotions

  • Typical media train­ing advice: The story is always about people, so you should focus on those dir­ectly involved. Addressing share­hold­ers, mar­kets, and cus­tom­ers will have to come second.
  • How this advice back­fires: To address the human aspect, many spokespeople make the mis­take of try­ing too hard to reas­sure people. But it’s nev­er a good idea to tell people not to worry if they aren’t ready. If you con­tra­dict people’s feel­ings, you’re act­ively dis­qual­i­fy­ing their real emotions.
  • What to do instead: Don’t talk about oth­er people as if you have magic­al insights into how they feel. Once again, it’s about your feel­ings, not theirs.

Learn more: Classic Media Training Mistakes

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: The Prominence Paradox

The paradox of prominence.
The para­dox of prominence.
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The Paradox of Prominence

The ever-loom­ing “dark side” of what drives people’s interest can be chal­len­ging for pub­lic rela­tions (PR) and com­mu­nic­a­tions pro­fes­sion­als. This phe­nomen­on, where every strength inher­ently pos­sesses a cor­res­pond­ing down­side, can be called the “para­dox of prominence.” 

An example of this para­dox is the halo effect, where phys­ic­al attract­ive­ness becomes an asset for a spokes­per­son. Attractiveness often leads to pos­it­ive biases; attract­ive indi­vidu­als are fre­quently per­ceived as more cred­ible and com­pet­ent. 10Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beau­ti­ful is good, but…: A meta-ana­lyt­ic review of research on the phys­ic­al attract­ive­ness ste­reo­type. … Continue read­ing 11Silfwer, J. (2023, December 17). The Halo Effect: Why Attractiveness Matters in PR. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​h​a​l​o​-​e​f​f​e​ct/

However, this same attrib­ute can spark neg­at­ive reac­tions. Critics might claim that the indi­vidu­al’s suc­cess or vis­ib­il­ity is primar­ily due to their looks, under­min­ing their com­pet­en­cies. This dual­ity illus­trates how the qual­it­ies that draw pos­it­ive atten­tion can sim­ul­tan­eously attract cri­ti­cism and scepticism.

Competence, anoth­er valu­able trait, often encoun­ters sim­il­ar pit­falls. Highly com­pet­ent indi­vidu­als inspire con­fid­ence and admir­a­tion. Nevertheless, this com­pet­ence can be per­ceived neg­at­ively when will­fully inter­preted as arrog­ance. Studies sug­gest that while com­pet­ence garners respect, it can also lead to social pen­al­ties, such as envy and resent­ment. 12Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A mod­el of (often mixed) ste­reo­type con­tent: Competence and warmth respect­ively fol­low from per­ceived status and com­pet­i­tion. Journal of … Continue read­ing

Examples of the Paradox of Prominence

The para­dox of prom­in­ence seems to be an inher­ent aspect of human interest dynamics. 

ProminencePositive OutcomeNegative Outcome
Physical attract­ive­nessEnhanced cred­ib­il­ity and trustAccusations of super­fi­cial success
High com­pet­enceRespected and trus­ted as an expertPerceived as arrog­ant or unapproachable
CharismaAbility to inspire and attract followersViewed as manip­u­lat­ive or insincere
Strong advocacyIncreased sup­port and mobil­iz­a­tion for a causeTarget of intense cri­ti­cism from opponents
WealthSeen as suc­cess­ful and influentialResentment and accus­a­tions of greed or unfairness
AssertivenessEffective lead­er­ship and decision-makingLabeled as dom­in­eer­ing or aggressive
InnovationAdmired for cre­ativ­ity and forward-thinkingResistance to change and cri­ti­cism from traditionalists
High vis­ib­il­ityGreater recog­ni­tion and influenceIncreased scru­tiny and loss of privacy
GenerosityViewed as kind-hearted and philanthropicSuspected of ulteri­or motives
Success in com­pet­it­ive fieldsRole mod­el and sym­bol of achievementEnvy and attempts to under­mine accomplishments

We must recog­nise that with every increase in vis­ib­il­ity, there is a cor­res­pond­ing increase in scru­tiny and criticism.

Pick Your Opponents Wisely

Public aware­ness comes with inev­it­able costs.

In the quest for great­er vis­ib­il­ity and influ­ence, it is crit­ic­al to acknow­ledge that “being uni­ver­sally well-liked” is a naïve and unreal­ist­ic goal. 

  • Public rela­tions pro­fes­sion­als must stra­tegic­ally decide the audi­ences they aim to attract and — of equal import­ance! — the adversar­ies they are will­ing to con­tend with.

By stra­tegic­ally har­ness­ing this para­dox, pub­lic rela­tions pro­fes­sion­als can man­age pub­lic per­cep­tion by inter­n­al­ising expec­ted “down­sides” as addi­tion­al aware­ness drivers. 

Learn more: The Paradox of Prominence

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PR Resource: Free Media PR Course

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Silfwer, J. (2024, May 2). The Core Message. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​r​e​-​m​e​s​s​a​ge/
2, 6 Silfwer, J. (2022, June 28). Media Spokesperson Training: Get Your Message Across. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​m​e​d​i​a​-​s​p​o​k​e​s​p​e​r​s​on/
3, 9 Silfwer, J. (2015, October 9). The Platitude Sickness: The Trash of Corporate Writing. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​l​a​t​i​t​u​d​e​-​s​i​c​k​n​e​ss/
4, 8 Silfwer, J. (2020, July 26). When a Public Apology is Warranted (And When It’s Not). Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​p​u​b​l​i​c​-​a​p​o​l​o​gy/
5, 7 Silfwer, J. (2020, May 23). Corporate Cringe. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​r​p​o​r​a​t​e​-​c​r​i​n​ge/
10 Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beau­ti­ful is good, but…: A meta-ana­lyt­ic review of research on the phys­ic­al attract­ive­ness ste­reo­type. Psychological Bulletin, 110(1), 109 – 128. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​0​033 – 2909.110.1.109
11 Silfwer, J. (2023, December 17). The Halo Effect: Why Attractiveness Matters in PR. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​h​a​l​o​-​e​f​f​e​ct/
12 Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A mod­el of (often mixed) ste­reo­type con­tent: Competence and warmth respect­ively fol­low from per­ceived status and com­pet­i­tion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(6), 878 – 902. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​0​022 – 3514.82.6.878
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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