Have you ever seen someone lose their cool during a television interview – (Joe Biden, maybe?) Perhaps you remember an interview where the person struggled to answer a question, or answered it badly – (Sarah Palin springs to mind.) Think back to some of the presidential candidate interviews, as well as interviews with high profile celebrities and business executives discussing various controversial issues and happenings. We’ve seen all kinds of interviews and reactions – good and bad – but usually the ones that stand out and are most easily remembered are those that have gone terribly wrong.

You don’t want that kind of negative publicity for your company and executives, so it’s really important that your professionals are properly media trained. There’s a big difference between knowing a subject and being able to express your knowledge successfully. Effective media training will help you define and refine your key messages and determine how to deliver them succinctly, with poise and confidence.

Think of media training as an extensive preparation for any interview situation. It incorporates analyzing key messages and how to communicate them with supporting facts or anecdotes, as well as staying on message point by using blocking and bridging techniques when an interviewer may interrupt an expert or tread into unwelcome territory. It also involves crafting appropriate responses to fit the specific media outlet/interview format and story angle, as well as well as how to dress and what type of body language to use.

While it’s absolutely necessary to prepare and practice prior to each specific interview opportunity, media training in general will help executives think about the bigger picture and how the messages they communicate reflect on them and the company as a whole.

There’s a great deal to think about in advance of a media interview, but remember that the main goal is to focus the reporter on a few key messages that are accurate, clear, concise, and memorable. And, if an interview is well-executed, the chances that those messages will make it into the final news story are much greater.

Here are just a handful of the many tactics involved in a media training session that can benefit your firm and your executives:

Refine corporate messages. What are the top three key messages that you want the interviewer (and audience) to remember about your company? These messages should tie in to your overall corporate communications and marketing strategy. During the media training session, ask your executives to share what they believe are the top three corporate messages, and then discuss as a group to refine them. They need to be comfortable with these “approved” messages and should practice weaving them in naturally during practice interviews.

Know the reporter/media outlet. A little bit of studying is necessary here. Part of preparing for the interview is taking a look at other interviews and stories the reporter/journalist has done in the past. Get a feel for his/her style and make sure you know what you’re getting into. For instance, who is the publication’s audience and what messages would be relevant for them? Also, make sure the focus and direction of the interview is clear, as well as the format. Is it live or taped, are there other experts being interviewed, and if so, from what angle?

Anticipate feared questions. If you dread it, you’ll get it! Don’t let difficult or uncomfortable questions sabotage the interview. Your executives should be ready to tackle tough questions just in case they arise. Each person should make a list of his/her top feared questions, and prepare sample answers. These should be open for group discussion and refinement.

Master blocking and bridging. Let’s say that one of your executives is asked a question which falls outside of his/her comfort zone. Rather than the “I can’t comment on that,” try another approach – blocking the unwelcome question and bridging it back to a message point. Bridging is a powerful means for taking charge of and controlling the interview.

Below are some examples of bridging statements. These should be followed up with an appropriate message point in order to redirect the interview back to what is most important to communicate.

  • “I think the more important question is …”
  • “Here is what’s at the heart of this matter …”
  • “And what this all means is …”
  • “Before we continue, let me emphasize that …”
  • “What’s most important to remember is …”
  • “This is an important point because …”
  • “As I said before …”

Role-play in mock interviews. Reporters and journalists have very different interview styles, and depending on the context of the interview, you’ll want your executives to not only be prepared, but also expect the unexpected. Have each person participate in a few role-playing interview scenarios, switching between playing reporter and interviewee. Even better – record these practice interviews and play them back for group feedback and discussion. Did the interviewee appear nervous? Did he/she answer the questions well, incorporating company-specific key messages? Did he/she provide too much or too little information? It’s good to offer constructive criticism as a reality check. Not everyone will hit the mark on the first try, but after several of these practice interviews, it should become easier.

Media interviews can be nerve-wracking, but using professional media training tactics and techniques will help your executives be better prepared and feel more confident in interview situations.

Has your firm worked with a media training partner or agency to conduct a session for your executives and/or spokespeople? Or have you created your own internal media training program? Tell us about your experiences and success stories in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what aspect of media training was most interesting and beneficial to your employees!