Media Training Tips and Cautionary Tales

In the high-risk, high-reward world of media training, major stumbles during television interviews are seared indefinitely in the public’s memory. Nailing an interview is not so easy, even for well-known public figures and corporate executives.

Media relies on basic principles and varied techniques. Today we’re focusing on seven tips–and what can happen when interviewees ignore them. As noted below, not everyone is as well-versed in handling the media as Joe Torre, (left) a former Major League Baseball manager.

Preparation is key since winging it is never a good idea. Interviewees need to wrap their heads around not only the core topics, but also the show, the interviewer and his or her questioning style. An example of what not to do? Herman Cain appeared completely clueless when asked about Libya during a video interview in Milwaukee last November, leaving several seconds of awkward, empty air time.

Keep answers brief, limited to quick sound bites. While Vice President Joe Biden is well known for his rambling remarks, the communicator in chief may need to heed this tip as well: During NYU’s Hospitality Investment Conference in June, NBC’s Chuck Todd predicted that President Obama may not win the first debate this fall, because [almost] no one has cut his remarks short during his term in office–and debates have strict time limits.

Beware softball questions. “What newspapers and magazines do you read?” is not a technically difficult question. Still, it was enough to trip up Sarah Palin during her now-infamous interview with Katie Couric during the 2008 Presidential election that was later parodied on SNL.

Body language says it all. Appearing nervous, impatient or defensive is a cardinal no-no. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg provided a classic case of what not to do when he sweated profusely during an early public appearance at the All Things D tech conference in June 2010.

Channel the audience’s mindset. Sadly, Mitt Romney didn’t follow this advice when speaking to NBC’s Brian Williams recently about the security readiness of the London Olympics officials. His pre-games criticism about the potential security shortfall offended the proud British public.

Set the right tone based on the nature of the interview. Serious topics such as crises demand somber reactions, but otherwise likability is generally preferred. That pointer was lost on Alexis Stewart, who came off as icy during an interview to promote her book last October.

Stay on message to avoid being taken out of context. The most notable faux pas involve those who stray into outlier territory by being politically incorrect. Injecting personal anecdotes and experiences works well to avoid blandness, but going too far carries greater risks. Specific instances of non-P.C. comments are too numerous to mention. They’re invariably followed by painful public apologies, and those require advanced media training.