Is It Time to Call a Media Trainer?

by Sheryl Nance-Nash

4 min read

In this era of podcasts, webinars, video blogs, 24/7 news, and YouTube, sooner or later small-business owners will find themselves speaking into a microphone. Is it time to consider media training?

“I once had a client who for 25 years thought he was the King of the Keynote Presentation, the Sultan of the Sound Bite — that is, until I put him and his colleagues through media training,” says Dan Sondhelm, partner and senior vice president at SunStar Strategic, a public relations and marketing consulting firm.

“The turning point for him was watching his videotaped interview from the first round. He was shocked. He didn’t realize that he was so bald and overweight, that he sat hunched over, and that he couldn’t understand what he was saying when he heard himself speak.”

A reality check can be harsh. But with only 30 seconds to impress someone, you — and your business — can hardly afford to blow a chance to shine.

“Without media training, even the brightest people tend to bury their best ideas in a sea of clutter. If you’re not familiar with live TV, you may be like a deer in headlights when you sit before the camera lights,” warns Mark Stevens, CEO of marketing and business advisory firm MSCO.

Do you need media training? Here’s what you need to know to decide whether it’s a worthy investment.

Is It Worth the Money?

Maybe you’re not sure you want to fit media training into your already tight budget. But before you nix the idea, consider this: “Positive media attention can be the most powerful business growth factor; it trumps advertising,” says Maggie Jessup, co-author of Fame 101: Powerful Personal Branding and Publicity for Amazing Success. “Would you have more interest in the cosmetic dentist with a full-page ad in a magazine, or the one interviewed on the new cool methods to achieve a Hollywood smile?”

What’s more, one extremely negative story about your business can take a huge toll on sales — or even shut you down. Doug Spero, CEO of Triangle Media Coaching, notes: “You think nothing of buying various forms of insurance to protect [your] business from theft or liability. Why not spend the few extra dollars for ‘media insurance’?”

So, you’re probably wondering how much media training costs. It varies, of course. But Louis Grossman, principal at Grossman Public Relations Counselors, says a good ballpark estimate is from $2,500 for a cursory course to $6,000 for on-camera role-playing.

What You Can Expect

Without a doubt, most small-business owners can learn a lot from media training. For example: “One thing that is important to realize is that an interview is not a conversation; it is an opportunity to deliver a message,” says Lori Russo, managing director of Stanton Communications.

“Learning to go through the process of developing that message — and delivering it consistently — is critically important, especially for entrepreneurs who are naturally passionate about their businesses and can tend to be expansive rather than focused in their responses.”

Russo says her firm’s spokesperson-training session covers, among other topics: delivering key messages without jargon; adapting message points for various media; developing and delivering powerful sound bites; thinking like a reporter and providing information in the most “media-friendly” way; identifying potential problem areas and devising effective tactics for turning difficult questions into opportunities; using verbal and nonverbal language to emphasize key points; and eliminating distracting vocal patterns and physical gestures.

Cohn & Wolfe’s typical half-day workshop for up to four individuals (in the $5,000 to $7,000 range) includes instruction, interaction, mock interviews on camera, and critique of interview playbacks. It also generally involves additional exercises, such as timed podcast interviews that result in a real-time wire story, says Stephen Brown, a managing director.

Media trainers can also prepare you to handle crisis communications, Jessup says. “Things go wrong in life and certainly in every business. Sometimes these incidents are potentially company crippling. How the face of that company responds to that situation may very well determine whether the company survives.”

Hiring a Media Trainer

As with everything else related to your business, you will need to do some research to find a trainer who meets your needs. Public relations firms generally offer media training as a service. Need help finding one? Begin your search with an organization such as the Public Relations Society of America.

Once you’ve identified a few candidates, find out what their niches are and talk to their references. “If you’re being trained by someone who specializes in training politicians, and you’re doing a cooking segment, it’s not a great fit,” says Jeff Heisner, vice president of BottomLine Media Coaching.

Independent practitioners also provide media training. Deborah Genovesi, owner of Communications Copilot, recommends looking for someone who has actually been on-camera and has deep brand/PR/marketing agency experience. “It’s helpful to know all sides of the media equation,” she says. “Even if I am training someone who wants to do YouTube videos and has no current plan to reach out to TV, it still comes down to knowing what to say and how to best say it.”

The bottom line: It’s hard not to benefit from media training.

According to Genovesi, “The same tips you use to be great in a media interviews serve you very well in attracting new business and establishing yourself as a go-to expert in your field. What you learn will help you not only when you’re out speaking, but also at networking meetings. The skills will help you be a star, regardless of the audience.”

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