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Media training

Media training: More words to avoid (Let’s shut the door on “open the kimono”)

I’m not sure why some executives say “Open the kimono” during a media interview.

I really have no idea why they use these words. But I wish they would permanently drop the phrase from all future interviews, Q&A sessions, and presentations.

In fact, it would be nice if they never uttered this phrase again. It’s so overused and so unsettling.

Think – just please think for one minute – about what they’re saying. “Open the kimono”? Of all the words in the English language, they’re choosing these three words to express their thoughts?

Enough said.

Media training: Words to avoid

Avoid repeating the host’s name.

You can say, “Thank you Jake” once – but that’s about it. Jake is not your audience. Jake’s audience is your audience. Every time you interject the host’s name, you’re weakening your connection with the real audience.

Make every second count. Sell your key messages and don’t waste a syllable.

Focus on connecting with the viewing/listening audience. Ditch time-eating, distracting interjections:

  • Well, Jake, that’s a good question
  • No, Jake, that’s not how I see it.
  • Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you this evening, Jake.
  • Here’s the number you want to remember, Jake [No.Jake isn’t the one who needs to remember this number. It’s the viewing/listening audience who needs to remember your key messages.]

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Media interviews: another phrase to avoid

I heard this on a media interview a few days ago:

“You don’t look seventy.”

Some thoughts:

  1. What does seventy look like? [Who knows?]
  2. Will the phrase create value for the audience? [No]
  3. Does this line rank as a key message? [Hardly]
  4. Will the phrase contribute to the ROI of that interview? [No]
  5. Since everything has an opportunity cost, the question becomes: “Does saying this take time away from saying something more important?” [Unfortunately yes]

Time is money and time is focus. Whenever speakers use unproductive lines in media interviews, they are cutting into their own message time and blunting the focus for their audience.

Omit needless/distracting lines.

stack of books

Media training: phrases to avoid

I had a one-year contract to work as a national media spokesperson for a tech company – traveling the USA to convey the client’s key messages.

My advice to anyone answering media questions? 1. Know the key messages you must work into each interview. 2. Identify the annoying phrases you must keep out.

As an executive coach, I watch a lot of media interviews and I hear a lot of annoying phrases.

What ranks at the top of the please-don’t-say-this-again list? Perhaps “at the end of the day.”  I watched an executive on a TV interview use it twice within a few minutes. That was two times too many.


Quote: Differences & Diversity

Media interviews talk about fixing the USA’s growing divisiveness. Corporate presentations talk about the need to encourage diversity. Government officials talk about “the bi-partisan need to come together” as a nation.

I ran across this quote from a commencement address given by President Kennedy back in 1963 at the American University in DC. The second sentence struck me, in particular the words “at least we can help make the world safe for diversity” … strong words (mostly 1 syllable) that convey a strong theme:

“So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

Make the World Safe for Diversity sounds like a good title for a speech.

Public speaking & media training: Statistic of the month

“It’s not normal for you to go to a community, weigh 100 children and have 30 of them close to dying.” (Susanna Raffalli, nutritional coordinator, speaking about the human devastation in Caritas Venezuela)


+ the impact of using the personal pronoun “you” to engage listeners in the statistic (“It’s not normal for you to go to a community … “)

+ the power of using round numbers: “100 children … 30 of them close to dying”. Round numbers are more quotable.

On a personal note:

For the sake of the children who are suffering so terribly in Venezuela, I hope you’ll find opportunities to share this statistic with others. The chaos in Venezuela gets precious little media attention in the US. I’m aware of Venezuela’s situation through international business communication colleagues who are trying to do their professional best in what has become a disaster zone.

Media interviews … Could you be doing a better job?

I’ve been coaching executives for media interviews. Much of this work is done over the phone. Many of the executives speak English as a second language. Some of the execs carry bad memories of bad media experiences. All wonder, “How can I keep calm when I’m asked a rude or rambling question?”

You can keep calm by giving yourself two fundamental rights: 1) The right to get your message across accurately; 2) The right to remain comfortable.

No one else can confer these rights. Only you can give yourself the basic rights to succeed in a tough interview or Q&A.

Attitude is everything.

Start now. List all the questions you might get.

Vary your questions. Don’t make it easy. Write down hard questions. Make them tricky, make them difficult. The better you prepare for worst-case questions now, the more confidence you’ll project in a media interview or a post-presentation Q&A session. Ask a colleague to help you with a few trial runs. Record your answers. Keep tightening them. Make each word count.

Above all, don’t come across as defensive.

Pay attention to your vocal tone when you answer. Does your voice convey confidence and clout? If your tone sounds defensive or annoyed, you’ll undercut your words. Seek speaker coaching if your voice is not up to par. One or two professional coaching sessions might be all you need to sound more confident when you speak.

Pay attention to your body language. Don’t glare. Don’t cross your arms. Don’t tap the desk. Don’t fiddle with a pen. Don’t shift weight from foot to foot.

Keep in mind: Interviewers and audiences have the right to ask questions! It’s your responsibility to rise to the occasion with strong answers.

Can You Say A Few Words? by Joan Detz


What do reporters say they would like from government Public Affairs offices?

When I attended the annual NAGC Communications School (National Association of Government Communicators), I heard reporters’ perspectives on dealing with Public Affairs offices.

The reporters’ biggest frustration? “It’s so hard for reporters to find the right number to call in a government agency. Please put those numbers on the website.”

So to all the PIOs reading this: Put clearly marked direct phone numbers on your agency’s website. Make everyone’s work easier. Nobody likes being stuck in a phone maze.

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How can writers/reporters/authors tap into the resources of government communicators?

Here’s a brief interview I did with Kathryn Stokes, president of the National Association of Government Communicators:

1.What was your first job in government communications? What is your current title?

I came to state government first as a contractor in the communications department tasked with writing the agency’s Continuity of Operations Plan, then was hired on as the Public Relations Manager.  Currently, I am the Strategic Affairs Officer [Mississippi Department of Employment Security] reporting to the Deputy Executive Director, CFO.  I manage the agency’s social media, provide backup for communications department, track agency performance measures, and manage executive projects.

2. How has government communications changed during your years in this field?

Since my tenure in government communications is relatively short [8 years], the primary changes I have seen are the adoption of social media and other technology we use to get our messages out.  In addition, changes in executive appointments have impacted how our agency communicates.  When new political appointees come on board, they seem to want to manage communications until they become comfortable with our skills.  Our most recent appointee has an English degree, so he wants to see all written communication.  However, he relies on his communications team for talking points if he has to appear on TV or radio, and has even engaged in the use of social media, something he was vehemently opposed to when he came on board 4 years ago.

3. What would you like journalists/writers/authors to know about working with government communicators? Or, put another way, how can government communicators serve as resources for journalists/writers/authors?

Journalists/writers/authors should look to government communications as the conduit for getting them the information they need. They should know we are not always the masters of our strategies; political appointees often control communications activities and although we do our best to facilitate their requests within their timelines, we rarely have control over getting the information/SME/spokesperson, etc., in a timely manner.  It would be helpful for them to know this when requesting information and to leave plenty of time for us to manage their requests.  It’s also a bit frustrating that they do not use our websites to gather information.  We often get requests for information that is readily available on our website.  At least in our case, we encourage journalists to get on our lists for e-mail blasts and to follow us on Twitter to keep abreast of timely information.

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