26 Apr

“What Do I Do With My Hands?” A Media Training Guide

By Erika Turan

April 2024

As one of Cincinnati’s leading public relations, marketing and creative services agencies, we often coordinate media coverage for our clients, helping them to connect their news to a broader audience. Media relations is an art and a science unto itself, with nuances around finding the right media outlet and journalist or reporter to cover a particular story, following up on pitches and crafting compelling news releases. Once all the effort of backgrounding, researching the right media, writing a news release and a media pitch are done and you’ve successfully landed an interview for your client, make sure you don’t lose sight of a critical piece of preparation: media training.

While your spokesperson is likely an expert in their field and has in-depth knowledge of what they’ll be interviewed about, most of us aren’t accustomed to media interviews. Placing an unprepared person in a media interview can lead to a messy or meandering interview for the reporter, and a lot of anxiety for your spokesperson.

But media training fixes that! Rasor’s team recently provided in-depth media training for more than a dozen people who are part of the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project, helping to prep potential spokespeople for what it looks like and feels like to be interviewed by media so when the time comes, they’ll be able to comfortably and concisely convey important information.

In addition to helping your spokesperson feel more comfortable and ensuring your message will be better conveyed, media training helps to protect your brand. If your spokesperson is representing an amusement park or brewery, you might want them to convey enthusiasm, fun, and words like “we’re excited to welcome families to our best season ever.” Picture how that might go if your spokesperson shows no emotion and says things like, “I mean, like, I guess we have a lot of stuff to do, so people like to come here.” Wah wah. (If you want to entertain yourself with some examples of media interviews gone wrong, check this out.)

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some key components to media preparation you should consider before a spokesperson conducts an interview.

  1. What to wear. Help your spokesperson feel at ease by giving them some guidance on what to wear to a media interview (and help them sidestep misrepresenting your company if they wear something inappropriate). This guidance can vary widely: if your spokesperson is a member of the C-suite or an executive, suggest professional dress. If your spokesperson is in a specific profession where they wear something on the job like scrubs, a uniform, an apron etc., it might be appropriate to recommend that. Avoid accessories that can be distracting (it might not be the right time to wear life-sized candy cane earrings), casual dress that doesn’t reflect the role, or small patterns that can “dance” on a TV screen.
  • What to say. While it’s not a good idea to try to memorize what to say, preparing for how to answer questions goes a long way towards a clear and informative interview. Focus on concise talking points and specific messages that reflect the news or story you want to tell, and make sure your spokesperson knows details like a web address, time and date of event, phone number and so on. Memorizing what to say can go sideways because the spokesperson isn’t giving a speech, and if they can’t pivot to answer questions, the interview will fall flat and they may end up looking foolish.
  • What not to say. Spokespersons should be coached to understand that for them, there’s really no such thing as “off the record.” Going off the record is an acceptable but somewhat rare procedure. PR practitioners and journalists understand the rules, but you probably don’t want your spokesperson offhandedly saying, “Everything at the hospital is going well now, but off the record, last month we had a Legionella issue that got a whole bunch of patients sick.”
  • What to expect. Help your spokesperson feel at ease by providing them with all the details of what to expect in a media interview. This might include where to go for the interview, how to access the TV or radio station, what time to arrive, and if they need to have any props available. Or it might include providing links for a virtual interview, and a backup phone number to call in case the links don’t work.
  • What you can (and cannot) control. Make sure your spokesperson understands the basics. No, they cannot review the story before it airs (that’s called advertising). No, they can’t demand when or where the story is published. No, you can’t control it if the story doesn’t end up being used at all. No, you can’t find out which stories will run before, after or around your story. (I’ve had clients ask me to do all these things.)

But yes, you can ask for a correction if there’s an error in the story or headline. And yes, you can help your spokesperson craft succinct messages that are more likely to help the final story run in a way that’s accurate and informative.

Media training can be a full-blown, daylong event if you’re prepping a CEO to field a deluge of media around big news, like the move of corporate headquarters or a big expansion. It can be just an hour if you’re training an employee to talk about a service or product in the company that they’re already an expert on. Or it can just be a few minutes, if it’s a hospital patient who is sharing their personal story and simply needs tips like, “don’t look at the camera, and try to relax. It’s just a conversation.”

As the saying goes, practice makes perfected, so when time permits, help your spokesperson with practice interviews. Media training is all about keeping it simple and generating sound bites that the media can pick up on. If our team here at Rasor can be of help with your media relations, reach out. We enjoy helping people tell their stories.

Oh, and what to do with your hands? Try clasping them gently in front of you, at waist height. It looks natural, gives your hands a purpose, and keeps you from over-gesturing. Rock on, media stars!