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Avoid a Media Trainwreck for Your Utility With Media Training

image credit: Photo 47906534 © Wellphotos |
Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
  • 1,004 items added with 507,993 views
  • Mar 17, 2022

I was watching local television news the other day and cringed during one particular interview where a spokesman was struggling mightily to answer routine questions.

He looked flustered, said “um” and “ah” near constantly, waved his hands about and generally seemed uncomfortable.

Maybe he was thrust into duty on short notice, but he left a bad impression, even though he seemed sincere.

And as I continued to watch the broadcast, I was struck by the overall low quality of the corporate spokespeople interviewed. They weren’t as bad as the other guy, but they certainly weren’t making a positive impression.

These weren’t small organizations – these were people either paid to represent the company or were executives trying to put their best foot forward.

In the public relations industry, media training can be a no-lose proposition. The costs are minimal (and you can charge a lot for the service), and it’s difficult to not impart at least some wisdom on your clients.

Well, here’s a little secret, especially if money is tight: You can probably do much of the training on your own. There are no proprietary secrets.

If you have even a cheap video camera around, use it to tape practice interviews. On playbacks, point out the obvious problems. A picture may say a thousand words, but video says way more than that.

Anyone in the utility who might be interviewed – the CEO and other C-level executives, your PR team, anyone leading a team in the field – is worthy of training.

Let’s talk about a few things.

Clothes Make the Man (and the Woman)

You have to dress the part to make an impression. That usually means dressing professionally.

Women should stick to solid-colored business suits. The same is true for men, who should wear a plain white or light blue dress shirt paired with a muted pattern tie.

Bold stripes, plaids, patterns and floral outfits can be distracting and aren’t always picked up by a television camera.

Depending upon where the interview is shot, light can be a factor and reflect off of large or shiny objects. Keep jewelry to a minimum.

Remember that these are guidelines. If your utiity’s spokesperson is in the field in the rain during weather damage assessments, a suit would be out of place. Or if you’re at a charity golf tournament, golf attire is fine.

In summary: Don’t look like a slob.


Your mother was right: You need to sit up straight or stand up straight. You don’t need to look like a robot, but slouching is never a good look.

Meantime, when you’re being interviewed, be alert and engaged.

When you speak, slow your speech down slightly to combat the natural tendency to speak more rapidly than normal.

Talk the Talk

As mentioned earlier, practice speaking before a camera.

It’s difficult, especially if you’re inexperienced, but work to reduce the number of times you utter “uh” or “ah” or phrases such as “I think” or “you know. A short pause is fine as a space filler if you’re momentarily at a loss for the right words.

Also, remember to be careful when it comes to industry jargon. The terms you throw around casually at your utility may well mean nothing to the public. Use the simplest words you can. If you must use jargon, explain what it means.

Hands down

Don’t “talk” with your hands. Again, you may not even realize you’re moving your hands around as you speak, but on camera it’s distracting.

Clasp your hands together and place them on your lap or the desk if you’re seated. Keep them at your side if standing, but try not to look like Frankenstein.

The prep isn’t the worst part.

Avoid going into interviews cold. Beforehand, gather any information you’re likely to need. Then draw up a list of likely questions and come up with answers to them. Remember, you are the expert on the subject, so the likelihood that you get surprised by a question should be minimal.

Hands off

People don’t realize it, but many of us “talk” with our hands. On camera, it comes across as distracting (and you’ll look foolish if you do it excessively).

If you’re seated, fold your hands together, placing them on a desk/table or on your lap. If you’re standing, keep them at your side, while trying not to look like Frankenstein.

Words (hopefully) with friends

Reporters aren’t looking for long, drawn-out answers; they are looking for short bursts of quotable materials known as “sound bites.” If you can, keep most of your responses to about 10 seconds. The reporter can always ask another question if they need more information.

As always, avoid jargon and use small words instead of big ones. You’re connecting with the masses, not trying to impress your college English professor.

Never tell a lie or even something that you think is true but aren’t 100% sure. If you don’t know the answer to something, it’s OK to say that, especially if you know someone who does know the answer. You can tell the reporter you’ll get back to them with the information.

Don’t go off the record anytime there’s a camera around, even if it’s turned off.

Media interviews are an unpleasant part of the job for many people, but a bit of training can reduce your jitters and improve your performance – not to mention the utility’s reputation.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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