Katie Heathman is a media trainer and senior lecturer in journalism at Liverpool John Moores University.
Media training is a strange notion isn’t it?
After all, nobody sees the need for accountancy training to help us deal with meetings with our financial advisors, or lawyer training to handle tricky legal eagles, so why do we need media training?
Like it or loathe it we all live in a media-driven world. With limitless ways of getting your business message out there it makes sense to learn how to do it well. That’s the theory anyway, but media training itself has a confused image, to say the least – let’s call it the good, the bad and the ugly.
Starting with the “ugly”. Politicians, universally acknowledged as consummate media performers, have undoubtedly made us all more than a little cynical when it comes to the idea of being ‘trained’ to handle media interviews. Well schooled in the art of avoiding the question and dodging the straight reply, to the point at which many observers will be screaming, “Answer the question!!!” at their TV or radio, these media-savvy pros can be extremely frustrating.
Then there’s the “bad”. You can usually spot an over-trained interviewee. They always start with the name of the interviewer, presumably because they have been told this is disarming, and they have lots of linguistic techniques up their sleeve to use in any situation. The bad news is that these people don’t make good interviewees and they often drive journalists up the proverbial wall because what they are looking for is a natural talker, a ‘good’ voice – whether it is broadcast or in print.
So there’s our third category, the “good’ face of media training. These are people who understand the way the media think because their trainers have taken the time to explain it to them and put their training in context. They aren’t giving a ‘performance’, they are meeting their interviewer on a level playing field because they know the rules of the game. They answer questions directly but they don’t lose sight of their key messages because both they, and the journalist, know that this is a trade off for moving the story on and delivering the information that is required clearly, concisely and effectively.
Understanding how journalists work, appreciating the demands of their hectic working day and knowing how you can help them to do their job is the result of media training at its best.
You see, it’s not so strange after all.