I was speaking to a client earlier in the week about organising some media training and the reaction I got was one of fear and panic; but interestingly not related to the whole idea of speaking to a journalist, it was something much worse. What my client was really worried about was the affect that a dose of media training might have on him. In short, his biggest fear was sounding like yet another corporate robot. "A corporate robot?" I asked. "Yes", he replied. "Don't you think that you can always tell when someone is fresh off of the media training conveyor belt? They sound like a pre-controlled robot, even their voice becomes bland and robotic."
This got me thinking, what if he's right? Is it possible that a number of media training courses out there are doing nothing but petrifying delegates so much that they almost live in fear of speaking to a member of the media? In fact, are these courses going a step too far with over-planning, over-preparation or over-thinking? Could such a session lead to a complete change of personality or indeed, leave that person a shadow of his/her former self?
If this is happening across the country, then it is a real shame. I speak to journalists every day and I know for a fact that you need to have a bit of character about you, a bit of passion, a bit of charisma (if you will). I doubt many media professionals out there are looking to speak to lifeless, monotone characters who bore the life out of them. Media interviews (like PR), should be about great storytelling. For those five or ten minutes over the phone to a journalist - you are the storyteller. You need to be engaging, interesting, bold and energetic about your subject matter.
Of course, good media training should emphasise the importance of preparation and planning (in many ways this is vital for a truly successful interview), but not to the detriment of the entire conversation. I've always been a believer that over-planning and over-thinking something will always lead to other issues and it's really not a good idea to go down that route. I guess my final feeling is that any good media training session needs to find the right balance between scaring the inidvidual senseless and giving some useful tips and tricks to ensure you manage the discussion as you would in any other important business situation - with an element of control, a great deal of enthusiasm and probably a sense of humour and a bit of fire in your belly.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the concept of media training because I happen to think that done right, it can provide you with an extremely valuable set of tools for speaking with the media, but we mustn't forget that we are only human. It's ok not to know the answer to something, it's ok to give a professional response and get back to a journalist with the correct information as soon as you can (rather than landing yourself in it), and it is also ok to ignore awkward silences rather than fill them with waffle that could lead you off track.
A journalist will always come back to the people who know their stuff, but who are interesting, thought-provoking and engaging too. Does that mean taking the odd calculated risk? Maybe.