Media Training in Stages: The Value of Simulated Exercises

A few weeks ago I wrote about the concept of “Media Training in Stages”—an approach that supports the view that an effective professional development program involves more than a one-off workshop.

In a previous entry, we discussed the importance of messaging in any media training workshop. Today we’ll examine another key element: The value of simulated exercises.

cameraman

On camera practice represents a vital piece of preparing your spokespeople to go before the microphone and the reporter’s notebook. I’ve observed during my years as a communications training consultant that the most enduring learning moments take place when participants view and critique the video following these simulations.

Strengths vs. Challenges

Why? These exercises offer proof positive how the executives perform, both positive and negative. To be sure, most start their self-critique with, “I could have done better at…” That’s why I make it a point to ask very directly, “What worked well for you in that interview?” I want them focusing on their strengths, for research shows that is where improvement will come most quickly and readily.

Only then will we turn to their communications challenges. Why hold off on that aspect? A couple of reasons. One, too much of an emphasis on the negatives could prove demotivating. Two, these factors involve a much less friendly learning curve. They will become better spokespeople sooner if we accentuate strengths first.

Simulation Scenarios

What do these simulated interviews look like? They can take a variety of formats depending on the media outreach planned. I’ve prepared executives for interviews in studio, via telephone, on satellite media tours, and more.

Let us examine those three formats as case studies. On camera interviews can take place either standing or seated, again depending on the format they expect to encounter. I typically play the reporter (which, I admit, is lots of fun, giving me a chance to flex my former journalistic muscles). The questioning can be straightforward or challenging, depending on the issue at hand and the degree of public animus toward the company or individual. We nearly always shoot them with a light kit or, in the case of a field interview, the light mounted on the camera. This gives the simulation a more realistic feel.

Additionally, I always use videographers who have shot news for one of the networks or a local TV station. This not only provides an added dose of reality, it also spares me from the logistics of operating the gear; I need to pay attention to other things. (Additional note: If your communications training consultant claims she can run the video gear herself, you’re better off finding another consultant. Your video and audio will be low quality and she will be distracted when technical glitches arise. You shouldn’t have to pay for that).

Telephone interviews are conducted with both the participant and me on mic. However, I make it a point to avoid eye contact, and will often go outside the room and use our mobile phones. Why? Again, it’s to simulate the real thing as much as possible. Since there is no eye contact in real life, we practice it the same way. We also record these interviews to video in order to critique both verbal and nonverbal performance.

Satellite media tours are challenging, for many spokespeople are not practiced at staring into a camera lens and wearing an IFB (interruptible foldback; that’s the earpiece that allows you to hear the questions posed by the anchor in a distant city). Here again, I avoid eye contact to give a more realistic flavor.

Your Favorite Simulations

You may have experienced other types of interviews when preparing for your media campaigns. Indeed, I’ve got more than two dozen separate simulations in my back pocket for use when leading media training workshops. My clients gain access to many of them when they receive Face the Press with Confidence: The Media Interview Companion upon completion of their workshop. It gives them added ideas for future practice.

What other formats have you found useful in your rehearsal regime? Share your selections in the “Leave a reply” section below.

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