Media training: view from the hot seat

As part of our ongoing internal training, senior Hill & Knowlton consultants participate in (are subjected to) our own media training refresher courses. It’s good for keeping us up to date on what’s being taught, and up to scratch on our own performance.

But even more importantly, it’s a very strong reminder of the experience we happily put our clients’ spokespeople through on a daily basis when we ask them to front up for interviews.

So having just suffered through my first refresher in a while, and my first training session on British soil, I thought it may be useful to share some of the things I just did wrong:

  1. I assumed I knew my material well enough to not rehearse. Despite the fact I’ve done this a dozen times, despite the fact I actually wrote the material three months ago and have been using it every day…I still botched the delivery. Don’t assume. (For our US readers I’m sure you’re familiar with the “if you assume then you make an ass out of U and ME” quote, which unfortunately doesn’t get quite the same the response here).
  2. I got frustrated. This is mostly because I could see the set-up coming, but heard the little voice inside me reminding me I hadn’t rehearsed. Displaying frustration just makes the footage of your burning failure all that more compelling.
  3. I lapsed into corporatese. But more importantly, it finally dawned on me why I did this. The problem with speaking plainly is that it’s clear what you mean, but it’s not very precise. Having studied science for a number of years I have a working understanding of the difference between “accurate” and “precise” – accurate meaning that if you do something a hundred times you’ll probably get a consistent result that could be completely wrong, and precise meaning that you’ll probably get the exact outcome you want, but with a lot of outliers. The problem with plain English is that small words are good for accuracy, big words are good for precision. There has to be a solution to this problem, but until someone posts it on here, let’s continue to aim for simplicity. Because honestly, if you need to make your response so precise that only polysyllabic words will do the job, then you probably should have already stopped speaking.

As a result…here’s one thing you need to do to fix all three of those problems. Know your message. Think it, write it down, say it out loud. Then say it again. Then get someone else to ask you questions (like your account manager, for example) and practice delivering it.

And you should also talk to Catherine Cross.

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