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Who at Your Utility Warrants Media Training?

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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
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  • Jan 27, 2021
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The main spokespeople at your utility are probably pretty smooth when it comes to appearing on camera or speaking at public events.

They dress well, speak with confidence, look their interviewer in the face and have a pleasant demeanor. That’s as it should be – and what your PR folks are paid to do.

But there are times when other people – most notably the C-level folks and other executives – will be representing you in public. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t nearly as good, even if they think otherwise.

They may wear the wrong thing, stylish at it may be. They might not know they’re constantly saying “um” and “ah” or start each sentence with “I think.” They could be talking too fast or waving their hands. Perhaps they’re looking at the camera instead of the interviewer.

Maybe once every year or two anyone who might possibly represent the utility on some form of video (or radio) could use a media training course. Public relations firms charge and arm and a leg for these courses, but they’re not hard to do yourself.

You’re going to want to set up a video camera to capture everyone’s performance: A picture really is worth 1,000 words. Conduct practice interviews and play them back, so you can spot problems.

What are some of the most common problems?

Too often, executives lapse into industry jargon. If you’re being interviewed for a general audience, use plain language. And keep your answers short; TV is looking for “sound bites” that last only a few seconds. You don’t have lots of time to get points across.

In addition, a natural tendency on camera is to speed up your speech. Combat that by speaking in measured tones.

Remember that numbers are important. TV likes them for illustrative purposes. A few well-chosen numbers can really get a point across.

Avoid getting flustered, even when asked difficult questions. Maintaining professionalism is crucial, although you can challenge something you disagree with or know is incorrect.

A good way to avoid getting angry or upset during an interview is to practice beforehand. Prepare a list of questions you might reasonably assume would be asked and develop your answers in advance.

During an interview, it goes without saying that you should never lie. The same is true with saying “no comment,” although if you don’t know an answer, you can say that you’ll find out and get back to them – obviously follow up on that. And remember, never go “off the record,” whether there’s a camera around or not.

Finally, watch what you wear. Avoid patterns, stripes, overly bright colors and jewelry that might be distracting. Solid, dark colors work best for suits with a white or light blue shirt. A tie can offer some color, but stay away from loud patterns.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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