Media training doesn’t work—at least as practiced by many organizations. A single workshop does not an effective spokesperson make. Rather, media training done right requires a sustained approach to continuing communications education.
Sadly, too many communications officers are either enablers or clueless. I can only shake my head in dismay when I see otherwise intelligent people shun the need for sustained professional development. A single workshop is by no means similar to an item you check off your weekend “honey do” list.
Enablers Need Not Apply
Communications pros bear some of the blame for enabling poor educational habits. Too many of our colleagues lack the spine to deal honestly with agency clients or senior executives in their organizations. Communicators who fail to champion an approach that integrates lifelong learning into media training for their clients or principals are guilty of communications malpractice.
Don’t misunderstand me. I teach media training for a living, so I know its value both for an organization and its leaders. One media training workshop is a nice step. But it is only one of many steps that successful spokespeople must take. If your media training consultant is not adamant about ongoing professional development, it’s time to read them the riot act.
Here’s the plain truth: After nearly two decades leading media training workshops, I have discovered no magic elixir with the ability to transform my clients into stellar communicators in a single day. What I can do during a first workshop, however, is begin to design a long-term road map for them.
The Necessary Tonic
What is the number one method for encouraging this professional development? Recognize that improvement begins with emphasizing strengths. Addressing weaknesses, on the other hand, is a continuing proposition. Some clients don’t like to hear this, but here goes: If you engage a media training consultant whose only talent is harping on weaknesses, you need to look elsewhere—now!
How can you find an expert capable of guiding you along the path? Ask lots of questions. To get you started, you will find a list of 20 questions in the white paper, A Buyer’s Guide to Communications Training Consultants.
Next, create a plan. Here are some areas to consider:
- Where do you excel? A focus on strengths should represent the cornerstone of any meaningful media training effort, for that is where improvement will come most readily and rapidly. That is not to say, however, that your consultant should ignore limitations, so…
- How can you address shortfalls? Even the most polished media sources have communications challenges. The smart ones know where these challenges rest and, over time, seek out expert counsel to either sharpen or minimize them.
- In what types of settings do you enjoy the most success? Some leaders prefer live television interviews over an extended Q&A with a print reporter. Others thrive on radio talk shows or satellite media tours. Still others shine when presenting to professional societies, clients, or auditoriums filled with large crowds. And there are those who stand out when testifying before lawmakers or regulators. Here again, play to strengths.
- How intensive are your training needs? You may be about to launch a major campaign necessitating concerted learning over a relatively compact timeframe. Or your goal may be to raise the profile of your CEO over an extended period or to prepare a newly elevated individual about to occupy the corner office.
- What are your preferred learning styles? The experiential learning provided by a media training workshop represents the gold standard. But think beyond the day of your training. Some of us learn by reading, some by watching, others by listening. Determine which extended learning formats work best for the individuals involved. They may get maximum benefit from reviewing the video of their training workshop, listening to a podcast, engaging in brief yet regular refresher sessions, or reading anything from books to short articles.
Accepting Personal Responsibility
The notion of personal responsibility looms large. The only way your leaders can sharpen their communications edge is to accept personal responsibility for their learning. At the same time, communications pros also bear responsibility for continuously seeking out ways to inspire, motivate, and, yes, nag if that proves effective.
The path to long-lasting professional development should be an exciting journey. It gives executives the opportunity to shine in areas where they excel. And it empowers them with new strategies that can help them overcome, in the long run, their communications challenges.
Leadership today demands a continuing communications education plan. It is the job of every communicator to take responsibility for fostering this commitment to sustained professional development among their clients and members of their leadership teams. Those who fail to hold themselves—and their organizations—accountable in this regard can expect a loud knock on the door delivering a summons for professional malpractice.