Media Training: Taking Our Own Advice

Over the course of our careers, we’ve both spent endless hours in media and messaging training sessions with our clients, where either we alone–or, more often, with a professional media trainer–put these folks through the paces before they were to appear on television. We worked on key messages, body language, posture, wardrobe, verbal and physical tics (i.e. ums, uhs and frequent repetition of a word or phrase like “absolutely,” “exactly,” or “I think”) and, most importantly, how to take control of an interview.

Sometimes, we witnessed the transformation of a raw natural talent into a superstar. Other times, we came to the conclusion that no amount of training would ever make a person into a TV personality. But regardless, we never realized how truly difficult it is to prep for a television appearance until we went through media training ourselves in preparation for the release of our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist.

We dedicate an entire chapter to using tips and tricks from the best media trainers, TV producers and on-air talent in the industry to help anyone prepare for a job interview, presentation or speaking engagement, so we knew it would be a good idea to be the trainees for once instead of the trainers.

As a result, we have a newfound respect for the people we’ve sat in those sessions with because the truth is: it’s hard work to come across as comfortable, confident and knowledgeable when there’s a video camera in your face. Here are some lessons we learned about how to knock a TV interview out of the ballpark:

1. Do your homework: We wrote an entire book about how to use PR techniques to get noticed, hired and rewarded in the workplace. But as much as you think you know, everyone can benefit from a refresher (including us!). Before our first media training session, we hadn’t re-read the book closely enough or settled on the key points we wanted to get across and, guess what, it showed! In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about how winging it is never advised, even if you think you’re good off the cuff. You’ll always do better with a little preparation. We learned that firsthand when we had to cover our eyes to watch ourselves on tape for the first time. It was not one of our shining moments!

2. Be you (just the best possible version of you): People say that on your wedding day you want to look like yourself, but better. Your hair should be perfect, your makeup in place, your skin glowing (and for the grooms, be clean-shaven with a fresh hair cut). The same goes for appearing on television. Even it’s just a practice session, you want to wear the right clothes and dial up your hair and makeup so you can see how you’ll come across on the big screen. The first time around, we wore muted, drab colors and minimal makeup–and it was not pretty to watch on TV. For the follow-up session, we picked bright colors, made sure our hair was off our face and applied a bit more makeup and powder than usual. Boy, did that extra care make a difference. We looked better and, as a result, felt more confident.

3. Keep it short and clear: A typical live television interview is 3-5 minutes long but when you’re the one being interviewed, it feels more like 3-5 seconds. Often you won’t be able to get to everything you want to discuss during that time so have your 3-4 key messages down and make sure you are able to address them in a simple, snappy way. Every second counts so if you can avoid “fillers” or pauses and jump right into what you want to say, you’ll get more in. Unless you watch yourself on camera, you likely won’t realize that most of us subconsciously use certain words or have nervous tics that will interfere with getting the message across in the time you have. For example, in our mock interviews, Jessica said “I think” often and Meryl used “actually” more than she would in real life. If we cut those words out, we’ll have time to give one more tip.

4. Use anecdotes, stats and examples: The best interviews are when a tip is followed by a real life example or backup information like an interesting statistic. It brings the advice to life in a way that viewers will understand and relate to. When we prepared for our second round of training, we made sure to have stories and info to illustrate our messages–and it made us far more engaging to listen to.

5. Dial your energy up to 11: We always tell our clients that they should wear more makeup and have higher energy on TV than they ever would in real life–almost to the point of feeling ridiculous. But to someone watching, they’ll seem normal. It’s really true. You want to smile, use hand gestures, have inflection in your voice and come across as excited about sharing the information you have. According to studies done at Princeton, Harvard and NYU, you have 1/10 of a second to make an impression. If you don’t come out of the gate in a TV interview with passion and enthusiasm, you’ll lose your viewer (and probably won’t get invited back).

Lastly, we learned that being on TV is invigorating, rewarding–and exhausting! But as we embark on our media tour for the book, we hope that we’ll gets lots of opportunities to share the wisdom we collected in Be Your Own Best Publicist with television viewers because, at the end of the day, our true goal is to help people stand out in the workplace in a positive way.

And we must give a special shout out to our fabulous media trainer–Joyce Newman of The Newman Group–who was patient and honest with us and gave generously of her time (and her advice, which is in the book for everyone to benefit from) to make sure we were ready for the big time.


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