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By Jennigay Coetzer

When being interviewed by journalists and other members of the media a good spokesperson will interact in conversational layman’s terms, listen carefully and respond directly to questions without preamble, and will not preempt the journalist’s questions.

Media training, will help spokespeople to acquire and hone the techniques that will enable them to give and get the best value in media interviews, but here are some tips to be getting on with.

Whether being interviewed by a journalist from a print publication or on radio or TV, imagine you are speaking directly to the audience. Don’t leave it to the journalist to interpret what you are saying.

This could be dangerous, especially if you don’t get the opportunity to check the article before publication. Speak clearly and deliberately slow down your pace, especially if you are a fast talker.

When interacting with print journalists don’t jump in to fill the silence gaps – they need to assimilate the information you are imparting, discard what is not useful, and take notes.
Similarly, radio listeners and TV viewers will need to be able to absorb the information being imparted, and it is difficult to do this if the spokesperson is speaking too quickly.

Portray confidence, but don’t be arrogant and don’t assume the audience has prior knowledge of the topic you are discussing. Avoid marketing speak, industry jargon, unexplained acronyms and over-descriptive words like UNIQUE.

Don’t keep punting your company’s name, and know how much time has been allotted for the interview. Don’t waffle! Those who lack content waffle – lots of words about nothing, which could result in a fragmented article.

If the media interviewer is knowledgeable about the topic being discussed, give him or her credit for this, acknowledge their comments and take the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas with them.

A knowledgeable journalist, will want to control the interview. So it is no good trying to download a pre-structured format of what you want to tell them, as if you were giving a presentation.

Those that do this run the risk of railroading their interview and could end up talking on parallel lines with the journalist – i.e. each having their own, different conversation. So go with the flow and watch out for opportunities to slip in your messages – without going into sales mode.

If the journalist is inexperienced, adopt the role of mentor and take this opportunity to educate them on the topic, without being superior or condescending. If you do this, the trainee could become a valuable media ally as he or she becomes more experienced and moves from one publication to another, as tends to happen.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist with 25 years experience. She  has run more than 150 media training workshops and writing skills workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions. She can be contacted on +27-(0)83-212-5754 or at: jennigay@icon.co.za.

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