Modern Day Media Training: The Dos and Don’ts

In my 25 years working in the broadcast media, I came across many more contributors who’d been badly media trained than those who’d been coached wisely. It seemed to me that a whole generation of media trainers had taken real human beings and instructed them to sound less authentic. This was enormously frustrating when, in my view, a good broadcast interview should sound listenable, accessible and genuine.

You only have to look at a successful communicator in the worlds of politics or news broadcasting. Yes, there needs to be some polish and content. Certainly, there needs to be a speaking voice that people can understand. But my favourite communicators also do it their own way and stay true to themselves in the way they come across in an interview.

In which case, you might ask why do media training? Well, when done right it builds on someone’s natural communication skills and inspires clarity and confidence. It’s vital that CEOs, for example, are media-ready in order to fulfil their role as the voice of their company, which can require sharing specialist knowledge or navigating sensitive topics and pointed questions.

When an off-hand remark or even facial expression can make headlines and have company-wide implications, it’s understandable that CEOs can find the prospect of appearing on-air daunting, but full media training (with regular refreshers) will empower them to handle any interview with confidence and in their own natural style.

It’s good for a broadcaster as well as a contributor if a guest feels at ease. Whether I was producing or presenting, I always liked whoever came into my studio to feel ready to engage and play a full part in a discussion.

So what media training tips can I pass on to someone preparing to go on the radio or TV?

Be yourself. Do speak clearly and make sure you don’t gabble. I don’t want you to radically change your accent or dialect. Don’t use industry jargon or acronyms—keep your answers conversational and straightforward. My dream guest sounded like they were talking to a friend, not to an inquisitor.

Think visuals. These days it’s worth bearing in mind that any interview you do, whether it’s online (via something like Zoom or Facetime) or in a studio setting, you’re highly likely to be in vision. The pandemic saw broadcasters embrace Zoom, Facetime and Skype as a means to interview guests. Someone can now appear on the air from their home or office with high-quality picture and audio.

Many radio broadcasters are tending to leave the camera turned on for an interview. This allows them to stream the pictures live on their websites and also to clip the video of the interview afterwards for use on social media. And don’t forget that clip of a radio interview can also feature on TV. Just look at the BBC TV News and you’ll see clips taken from BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5live.

It’s good to think about several things before any broadcast interview via Zoom.

Framing – Make sure your laptop/mobile is level and not looking up your nose or down onto your hair. The top of your head should be at the top of the screen otherwise the rolling news and idents at the bottom of the screen might block out your face.

Backdrop – Something clean and simple and without distractions.

Lighting – Don’t sit in front of a bright light or window. Your face will be cast into darkness.

Clothing – Make sure your clothes are smart and the pattern isn’t too busy for the screen.

Look at ease – If you look and feel comfortable then someone watching or listening will feel the same way.

Whether you are online or in a studio, messaging is all-important in any broadcast interview.

There’s little point making a TV or radio appearance if you don’t put across what you want to say. And while I always advocate answering whatever question you’re asked, you don’t have to stop there. It’s perfectly possible to answer a question but go on and weave into any answer a key message that’s important to you.

Don’t have reams of notes and paperwork in front of you for a broadcast interview. A few words on a post-it note are all you need to prompt you if you “dry” during the conversation. This post-it note can be stuck right by your laptop/mobile phone lens so that your eyes don’t wander away from that all-important camera. All you need is a couple of key stats or a few words about your key message. Remember you are the expert. You are on-air talking about something you know well.

Brand mentions really aren’t complicated. At the BBC I expected no guest to mention a brand more than once in an interview. And usually, that person would have been introduced as being a spokesperson from a particular organisation. That’s your brand mention done right there! There are subtle ways to mention a brand without it sounding like a clunking namedrop, such as:

  • Mentioning research done by your organisation
  • Mentioning a key page on an organisation’s website.

You’ll risk not appearing on a news programme again if you use a live broadcast interview as free advertising. It’s far better to be seen as an expert on your sector who producers can turn to again and again for sage wisdom.

Make sure you do your homework

Listen to or watch the programme you are going to appear on if you possibly can. Previous editions are scattered all over the internet thanks to the curation of BBC Sounds, BBC iPlayer, the Global Player etc. It’s a great way to get an idea of how long interviews last, the style of the questioning you might face and a sense of who the presenter is that’ll be asking you the questions.

Think about what you’re going to be asked. No producer worth their salt will provide you with the exact questions in advance, but you’ll know the overarching subject matter you’re going to be talking about. Have a think about the likely questions—and especially put some thought into the tougher question you might face and how you’d answer that.

A media appearance can be very beneficial. It has the potential to reach an audience of millions, remaining one of the most effective marketing tools at a brand’s disposal. But put some thought into it before that red light turns on and you’ll shine all the brighter. Broadcast Revolution’s media training sessions are designed to help you do just that.

Words: Mike Young