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By Jennigay Coetzer

Good listening skills are vitally important when being interviewed by the media. People in general tend to be bad listeners, and in worst case scenarios will wait impatiently for the person to finish speaking to put their point of view across, going so far as interrupting in order to do so.

I come across this problem all the time as a journalist when I am interviewing spokespeople for articles, and in the mock interview sessions I conduct during the media training workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions I run.

When trying to interact with bad listeners, they are so intent on downloading their points of view that they often end up having their own parallel conversation and don’t even realise they have lost the attention of their audience.

Spokespeople who don’t listen properly are often so preoccupied with what they want to say next that they misunderstand the questions they are being asked and preempt what the journalist was going to say. This is irritating for the journalist and unproductive for both parties. It is not conducive to building good media relationships, and could well railroad the interview.

Bad listeners also often speak too fast, which puts journalists under pressure and eventually makes it impossible for them to absorb the overload of information being downloaded to them.

In the case of a print media journalist, this could result in a fragmented article, with the spokesperson’s comments taken out of context. There is also a risk of the journalist making incorrect assumptions to fill the gaps in the fragmented information he or she has managed to absorb.

To get the best results from a media interview, spokespeople need to engage in a two-way interaction with journalists, tune into their wavelength and really listen to the questions they are asking. This will help the spokesperson to gauge how their viewpoints are being received, pick up on any interest signals being given out, and identify opportunities to put their company messages across subtly at the most appropriate moments.

It will also help build a relationship with the media interviewer, and is more likely to lead to further interview opportunities. It is much easier for any media interviewer to extract meaningful information from a spokesperson who is engaging in a two-way conversation. The same thing applies with radio and TV interviews.

It is also worth remembering that experienced journalists often have a broader understanding of the topics they write about than many of the spokespeople they are interviewing and can be a valuable source of market intelligence for a good listener.

A few years ago, I was doing some media training for a couple of top directors of a security company, and one of them said to me: “When I was practicing my listening skills on my wife last night, as you taught us during our last session, she said it was the first time I had listened to anything she had said in 20 years.”

The above article is an excerpt from a new book, The Media Spokesperson’s Handbook, by business and technology journalist Jennigay Coetzer, who also does media training, and runs article writing workshops. The book is expected to be published shortly.

Jennigay Coetzer’s first book, A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guideline to writing press releases is available from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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