Practice Makes…Better

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    [The following is an excerpt from my newly published Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]

    I would love to be able to tell you that with regards to media interview skills, ‘practice makes perfect,’ but that would be disingenuous, a fancy way of saying it would be a lie.

    No amount of practice will make you a ‘perfect’ interview subject; similarly, one or two days of media training, alone, will not leave you with lasting skills in this area unless you practice them on your own.

    Some job descriptions – e.g., politician, celebrity, Fortune 100 CEO – have a lot of real life interview practice built in. Those individuals and subordinate spokespersons are going to get plenty of opportunity to refine their skills via actual interviews. But most of the people I have trained aren’t in that kind of job; instead, they are designated spokespersons who may not have to handle a really hard media interview for years after their initial training. However, just like a police officer who may never have to shoot a suspect for years after going through the police academy, they still have to maintain their skills so that when they’re needed, they are intuitively available.

    Methods of Practice

    All methods of practice should:

    • Simulate a situation/scenario that, realistically, could occur to you/your organization.
    • Simulate one or more of the types of interviews described earlier in the Media Logistics section of this manual.
    • Include some method of recording and playing back performance for self- or peer-critique.

    There are a wide variety of ways to simulate interviews realistically enough for spokespersons to practice and improve their skills. These include:

    1. Re-enact Media Training. Recreate the conditions under which you were media trained (e.g., tripod-mounted video camera of at least moderately high quality, someone to operate the camera, someone to play interviewer).
    2. Practice ‘Phoner’ Interviews. Let yourself be interviewed by telephone, which is the mostly likely scenario for most interviews, with video becoming increasingly likely when a crisis is particularly newsworthy.
    3. Staff Meeting Practices. Take 15-30 minutes at a staff meeting and put one or more spokespersons on the spot, with other staff members playing the role of media at a press conference.
    4. Webcam-Based Practice. You don’t have to have a media trainer return for a full training session to just get some ‘brush up’ practice periodically. Instead, hook up with him/her for an hour or two by webcam periodically. That’s not only useful for routine practice, but also for spot practice right before you have to give an important interview.

    I have trained countless executives who claimed to have been trained in the past – but who never practiced. Most of the time, their skills were little better than the novice trainee, and sometimes what they did remember was so out of context that they actually did worse than if they had remembered nothing at all about their past training.

    No, media training practice doesn’t make perfect, but it sure as heck makes you a better spokesperson.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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