Here’s a little secret which you may not expect to see in a media training blog.
The first time I acted as an organisation’s spokesperson on television, I did it without having had any media training.
I had recently started working as comms officer for a police force. I joined at a time when it was managing a long-running incident which had attracted a lot of media interest.
On one of my first days, a request came in from a regional television station asking for an on-screen update.
To this day I’m still not quite sure what happened, but somehow it was suggested that I would do the interview and, keen to impress in my new role, I agreed.
It was a short-notice request. On the one hand that was a good thing as there wasn’t the opportunity for the nerves to truly kick in.
But on the other side of the coin, I didn’t have the chance to really think about or prepare what I wanted to get across.
In fact, I’m not sure I knew what I did want to get across. I think the height of my ambition was to still have a job once it was broadcast.
So how did it go?
Well, let’s just say I’m glad YouTube wasn’t around at the time.
What I do remember from watching it back was how terrible my body language was. I didn’t know where to look and I swayed uncontrollably throughout the whole thing, which looked very distracting on screen.
There was also a lot of errs and umms. These are obviously very natural and something we all use in everyday conversation, but when used excessively, as I did, it becomes another distraction.
There was certainly no clear message in what I said, but I did at least include an example which brought a little human interest into the content.
There were also some small things which stood out, like my top button being undone and tie not being as well knotted as it should have been.
It all looked horribly awkward.
In reality, I didn’t crash and burn and it could have gone much, much worse. But that was more by luck than judgement. And having an understanding journalist who realised I had been reluctantly put into the spotlight must have helped.
That said, I was hastily booked on to an intensive one-to-one media training course in a bid to prevent a similar performance in the future.
Knowing what I know now, both from doing more interviews and from working for a media training company, I think I escaped very lightly.
With a tougher subject, or a less sympathetic reporter, it had the potential to be disastrous.
The thing that stuck in my mind was just how alien it felt to be put in front of the camera. And I had been working in the media all my career – just on the other side.
Had I had some media training at that point, I’m certain I would have felt more at ease with the situation I found myself in.
For a start, I would have known how to stand and where I should look in order to maintain good eye contact.
I also would have better understood the importance of having clarity on the message I wanted to get across and how I would say it.
And I think I would have spent less time worrying about what I was going to be asked and focused more on the point I wanted to make.
Here are some other reasons why I wish I had been on a media training course before I made my spokesperson debut.
Looking back I didn’t have any control over the interview. I didn’t attempt to steer it. I hadn’t heard of things like bridging and signposting at that time. Had I faced really tough questions I wouldn’t have been able to navigate my way away from them.
Had the interview become a little hostile, I don’t think I would have really known how to act. I’m not convinced I would have even fully understood the importance of maintaining my composure.
Knowing what I know, I was ill-prepared for the tricks and traps which a spokesperson can fall into during an interview. Would I have known about the importance of not repeating a journalist's negative language? Would I have known to look out for the ‘and finally’ or ‘while you are here’ questions? How about the two part question? Absolutely not.
Media interviews present a great opportunity and it is hard to rival the exposure they can create.
Regular media training is crucial to help spokespeople avoid making those sorts of mistakes and ensure their message gets across successfully.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.