Do You Speak “Media?”

Posted on March 18, 2013

Do You Speak “Media?”


Whenever I conduct media training sessions on behalf of Duffey, I always tell the story of when I was still in college at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and – at that time – a broadcast journalism major. I had aspirations and dreams of being the next Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric – a woman who could tell important stories with professionalism and grace while confronting hard issues with determination and fervor.

It was during this time I took part in a movement called the Birmingham Pledge, which sought to continue to strengthen race relations in a city that was once an extreme hotbed of Civil Rights strife during the 1960s. As hundreds of participants filed out of the 16th Street Baptist Church where we had attended a unification pep rally for this Pledge, I was filled with immense pride and hope.

On the steps of the church, catching random men and women exiting, was a camera crew from a local television station. I was thrilled when they asked if I would go on camera to talk about the Birmingham Pledge – “BUT OF COURSE!” I could give my thoughts on this beautiful movement! I could tell the public how important I felt taking part in this Pledge was for the continued healing of my hometown and to unify future generations to see beyond skin color or any other difference! My statement was going to be perfect!

The reporter intros the piece, turns to me and asks, “What do you think about the Birmingham Pledge?”

I looked into the camera and noticed the red “record” dot lit like Rudolph’s nose. It was my shot. Here we go – enter the most eloquent statement on race relations Birmingham, Alabama has ever heard!

“I think it’s GRAYYYYYTTTTT!”

Yes, “I think it’s great!” was what came out. And not just that – it came out in my most southern/country/you-must’ve-been-raised-in-a-barn accent. My moment of glory – gone!

I tell this story because this happens to many spokespersons when it is time to give an interview or at the times when we must speak to media on certain subjects. We could have something completely different (and perfect) running through our heads, but when the time comes, we tend to misrepresent our true message – and ultimately the organizations for which we speak.

If you are a subject matter expert or you are approached to discuss a topic on behalf of a company or group, practice the following pre-interview tips to ensure you speak proper “media” when necessary: 

  • Write down all the questions you hope they DO ask you, as well as the answers to these questions. These are the questions you would feel comfortable and secure in answering (because you know the topic!)
  • Write down all the questions you hope they DON’T ask you, as well as the answers. These are the tough or less-than-optimal questions that are either contentious or difficult/sensitive to approach.
  • Write down your MUST AIRS. These are three to five statements that you’d really like an audience to hear. Think of these as the perfect sound bites for print or broadcast media (and I promise you “It’s great” shouldn’t be one of them).
  • REHEARSE all of the above to achieve maximum effect. Have someone else serve as the reporter and enact mock interviews. Stand in front of a mirror and practice. There is nothing more important to answering well than rehearsing your lines!
By following these steps prior to an interview, you have a better chance at successfully relaying to the all-important public the message(s) you want them to hear – without your own internal, camera-shy alter ego getting in the way. And, when you perfect the media language, you know what that will be?



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