Media training is a process that helps you identify and communicate your message to your audience through the news media to a specific audience. It also helps you with your presentation skills inside and outside the courthouse.
Recently, I trained the partners of one of the top law firms in St. Louis. The agenda for media training was a four-page outline and it took the better part of an afternoon. We covered topics including:
- What is news?
- What are the different types of news media and how do they work?
- Advantages of being in the news?
- How to work with the news media?
- What reporters and producers want from you during interviews?
- How to respond to different questions,
- What to wear, gesturing while you speak, and connecting with the interviewer,
- How to get your message across succinctly,
- How to “bridge” back to your message, and much more.
We work with you to develop a main message and identify your key audiences. You may want to get your message across to an audience as large as a jury pool or generate public support for your client’s position. The audience can be as few as the judge(s) you may be appearing before. Training also is useful when you need to present a lot of information in a short period of time before a court.
Training is participatory, especially in the second half. Partners asked questions and made comments, struggled over messages and other issues. It was not a three-hour lecture! In fact, without their participation the process could not work. Each partner has a different perspective on the importance of a particular message and what the firm wants to convey. Each firm and company is different and has unique needs.
We reviewed the fundamentals of how the media works and how to take advantage of opportunities during an interview. Depending on the depth of knowledge of individual reporters, questions can be broad or very specific. They can be “friendly” or challenging. We also reviewed ways to manage an interview and techniques to “bridge” back to your message from a hostile question or a sensitive topic.
To that end, saying “No comment” is not a good option when you can say so much more! You can simply restate whatever is public record. Reporters have access to anything you file with the court. They can view it very soon after it is filed and they view filings regularly, so you need to be prepared to talk to a reporter before you file your documents, whether it is a motion to dismiss or a complaint.
Since most cases do not go to trial, why do you need media training? The process we go through is a process of identifying your key points and phrasing them to persuade or inform an audience. Media training is not just key to dealing with the press or electronic media. It helps you focus on what questions you can expect from clients, opposing counsel, the presiding judge and anyone else with an interest in the case at hand. It helps improve your presentations skills and even addresses how you want to look and act while presenting, in order to most effectively communicate your main points.
One of the most important aspects of the training is to know your rights during an interview. Too many times we read that counsel’s response was “No comment” or the person was unable to be reached for comment. Media training reviews what you can and cannot say, under the Rules of Professional Conduct (rules 3.6 and 7). The rules allow you to say much more than you think you can. Training gives you confidence, and it provides you with the tools to identify and communicate your main messages.
Agreeing to be interviewed about a pending case, a motion, or appeal is an opportunity. As a lawyer, you may know what questions will be asked and you know how to ask questions to elicit a desired outcome.
When you are on the other end of a reporter’s questions, however, you have no idea what you are about to be asked unless you set the ground rules in advance. That is another advantage of preparation before an interview. Too many lawyers/CEOs go into an interview with more confidence than knowledge. After all, you are the expert, right?
Wrong. Even some managing partners do not know the details of every case handled by the firm. If a reporter is on deadline, those details will never be part of the story because you were unprepared. So, it is important to find out in advance what a reporter wants and to set the interview parameters.
You have the right to know and limit the scope of the interview. You do not have the right to see the questions in advance. You have the right to speak or not to speak when a question is asked. You do not have the right to review the story before it is published.
In media training, we spend a lot of time teaching people to remain silent or simply tell a reporter that responding to the question would be inappropriate because the information is privileged or confidential. We give you the skills to address the question, then bridging back to your key points. We show you how to acknowledge a question, address it and then move back to the point you want to make, without appearing evasive. If a request for documents is made, and you do not have them, we emphasize getting them to the reporter as soon as possible.
Topping off the second half of the session, after all of the techniques and information you need has been discussed, it is time to put the training into action. We conduct two practice sessions per person. Practice sessions consist of being asked questions and answering them on camera. After the first interview, we replay the video and critique your performance.
After that is finished, we move on to another round of interviews and critiques. In almost every case, people do much better in the second interview.
The process works. It is not limited to television or newspaper interviews. The techniques you learn will make you a stronger presenter and better prepared to answer questions after your presentation. It also can be useful in business development, as part of a larger marketing plan.
To find out more about media training, contact Grandone Media Strategies. Training is customized and, depending on your unique needs, we may refer you to other media professionals with specific-industry expertise.
This is the first of a two-part series written by Jim Grandone, President of Grandone Media Strategies in Edwardsville. He can be reached at 618-692-1892, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.