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You may feel that a book from a professional footballer would offer little in the way of inspiration for a media training blog.
But actually, you would be wrong.
Peter Crouch’s book ‘How to be a footballer’ actually contains a whole chapter on his views and experiences of media interviews during his career.
And that makes some sense. If you consider the media demands on the modern footballer, with pre and post-match interviews from broadcast and print media, some players will have far more experience of talking to journalists than many high-profile corporate spokespeople.
The chapter in Crouch’s book provides some interesting points, fears and insights which are certainly worth sharing.
“Be a robot after scoring goals but not in interviews. Be yourself, not someone else’s idea of who you should be. You don’t want players to trip up but you want them to be honest and you don’t want them to be scared to say something.”
Some of this advice sounds like it is taken from one of our media training courses (although we have no opinion on goal celebrations).
We stress to our delegates the importance of creating a natural sounding conversation. If they sound like corporate speaking robots they run the risk of irritating the journalist and alienating the audience.
The more authentic a spokesperson sounds, the more likely those listening, watching and reading are to believe what they are saying.
The most impactful spokespeople are those that show they are human, express feelings and show emotions and vulnerabilities.
This can be as simple as admitting mistakes, sharing what keeps them up at night, what makes them nervous or what makes them excited. Obviously its vital that spokespeople select their vulnerabilities and concerns carefully to strike the right balance and tone.
“Look at the passion that Jurgen Klopp speaks with. His bond with Liverpool supporters is more intense because they can see that he cares. They can see who he really is.”
Journalists want to talk to spokespeople who are passionate and enthusiastic about their subjects.
It is vital for keeping audiences listening and watching.
It is also worth remembering that audiences are likely to remember little of what a spokesperson has said in an interview – perhaps just one key message.
But they will remember how they made them feel, whether it is reassured, excited, motivated or, at the other end of the spectrum, cold and uninspired.
When we talk about passion and excitement during our media training courses we stress the importance of it not sounding contrived. Don’t use phrases like “I’m excited to announce” or “I am passionate about…”
That sounds scripted and unnatural. It is all about showing, not telling. Show the audience why your announcement is relevant, important and worth knowing by conveying passion and excitement.
“I would look out at the vast sea of faces and think, right, don’t be the one who makes the headlines here.”
Ah, the fear of saying the wrong thing in a media interview or press conference.
It is a perfectly understandable emotion, whether you are a high-profile sports star or a brand spokesperson – being asked to carry out a media interview typically evokes feelings of fear and flattery in equal measure.
These feelings are natural. But the fear can be a great hindrance.
One of the best ways of making sure you don’t say something which captures attention for the wrong reasons is to not only to prepare the message you want to get across, but to also anticipate and plan how to respond to negative and wider issues that could be brought into the interview.
It is also important to stress that while an interview gaffe from an England striker can make easy and uncomfortable tabloid fodder, for most people a mistake in a media interview is highly unlikely to get much attention, let alone be career limiting.
We find that people who act as media spokespeople tend to climb the corporate ladder faster than those that don’t because they are perceived as being brave, ambitious and willing to speak out. And of course, their professional profile is naturally more evident.
“I understand not all are naturals. Carlton Cole (a former striker) is a lovely bloke but could occasionally have that brain-freeze we all experience when you look like a man trying to remember the alphabet in Japanese.”
Brain-freeze, or brain fade as we refer to it on our media training courses, is something many spokespeople fear.
“What will I do if my mind goes blank?”
If this does happen to you in a media interview, one of the best ways to handle it is to simply be honest, saying something like ‘sorry I’ve lost my train of thought’ and asking the reporter to repeat the question.
You certainly won’t be the first person that this has ever happened to and so your audience, unless they are very hostile, will understand and probably sympathise.
It is worth remembering that a lot of interviews are pre-recorded and in this format you can ask the reporter if you can answer the question again.
If it is a live interview, the journalist will try to help you through the brain fade. It is their job to keep you on air and keep the programme running. It is not in their interests to see you fail.
“You would be taken in a car after training to the media centre, press officers on either side of you, telling you to talk about this but not that, to make sure you got these points across, to repeat this dull sentence when you were asked about Sven’s (former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson) morals. I’d be honest with the handlers: stop trying to steer me, you’re making things worse. Just let them ask me questions.”
This quote on the striker's experiences of dealing with the media during the 2010 World Cup takes us pretty much back to the beginning of the media training blog and the dangers of creating a corporate speaking robot.
Over-coaching and telling spokespeople exactly what to say in response to a question needs to be avoided.
Public relations professional should encourage their spokespeople to be succinct without taking away elements that make them unique and natural. Most spokespeople, with experience and media training, will know to choose their words wisely and will be able to self-edit.
The other risk with coaching so close to the interview or press conference is that it is likely to leave the spokesperson feeling muddled and confused and consequently much more likely to suffer the brain fade we discussed earlier.
It has often been said of Peter Crouch that he has a ‘good touch for a big man’. He also appears to have a good technique when it comes to media interviews.
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.
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