How to respond to the media

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Being prepared is better than being scared when it comes to responding to the media…

I was leading a workshop recently, on the topic of how to respond to the media, when I had a question I really hadn’t expected. “Is it an obligation to do an interview with any reporter who wants one?” a participant asked me.

This seemed an odd line of questioning to me, given that I’d been hired to train people how to deal with the media, not whether to. But perhaps the point is worth emphasizing here: If you want to tell your side of the story, you need to agree to interviews. (Also, you have no right to complain about media coverage if you’ve been offered an interview on the subject of interest, and you turned it down.)

Just don’t do interviews without being prepared. Being prepared means understanding the three to five points that you want to make and practicing them with a friend or colleague first, so you are ready when the microphone or tape recorder is put under your mouth. If you have enough time, you might even try preparing a soundbite. This is a sentence or phrase that is brief, evocative and memorable. It may involve an analogy, or, possibly, even a rhyme. The famous Johnnie Cochran phrase, “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” (uttered at the O.J. Simpson trial), is a good example of a soundbite. Research in the US has shown that soundbites are usually 27 words or fewer in print and nine seconds or shorter in video.

Being scared doesn’t help you do a better job of media interviews. The best strategy is, simply, to be prepared. My soundbite? Being prepared is better than being scared.

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