Media training isn’t about dissembling, Jezza

I was disappointed to read Jeremy Paxman’s comments in The Times (you’ll need to subscribe or hand over some cash to read it I’m afraid, Mr. Murdoch is like that) on Saturday in which he covered the political leaders’ debate. The specific passage that annoyed me was the reference to politicians who’d received media training “probably carried out by some shabby member of our trade earning a few bob”.

Now, I’m turning 50 next week, so as a mere slip of a lad had to ask my mum about this “few bob” thing. Apparently it’s not very much money, but leaving that aside the idea that there’s anything wrong with media training is utterly baseless.

Find an expert

Let’s say, for example, you’re a politician and you’re not a natural in front of the camera. For the sake of argument we’ll call you “Ed”. You have a lot to say but you know what? You know you’re perceived as a little awkward and the media has started picking on you even when you eat a bacon sandwich in public.

So, should you carry on regardless or should you get some help with your presentation skills? Just so you can make your view known on equal terms with some of the more fluent broadcasters present (we’ll call them Nicola, David and Nick, again completely at random)?

Note, I haven’t mentioned dissembling. I haven’t mentioned lying or avoiding issues, just speaking on equal terms. That’s what this is about.

Coaching can be good

Think about what happens when people want to do well in other areas. Three years ago we hosted the Olympics in London. Our athletes did pretty well, but they didn’t do it without a decent coach who had expertise. Andy Murray is no doubt preparing to try and win Wimbledon a second time; he is doing so with the aid of Amélie Mauresmo, same as he did with Ivan Lendl when he actually won.

Nobody accuses him of not playing his own game. Nobody says he’s avoiding the other player’s shots by making sure he’s prepared for them.

It’s not an exact parallel I grant you. However, the idea that it’s somehow wrong to get a bit of coaching for an event that’s likely to stretch you is frankly ridiculous.

Bad media training

There are instances in which people offer poor advice. I’ve sat there in media training sessions while the PR people who’ve commissioned me have come out with the dreaded Mehrabian myth – in which people quote Prof. Albert Mehrabian stating that 93% of communication is non-verbal – and it’s nonsense, his own view is 23 minutes into this interview here. He never said it and it’s quoted completely out of context.

I’ve also heard the PR person commissioning me stating that it doesn’t matter what the journalist asks, you should just come out with your statement regardless. Fine, go ahead, I’ll just find a more co-operative interviewee and you won’t find me quoting you in the future. I tend not to work with those clients again.

Nobody should say all media trainers are good or that it will all help you communicate. I agree, some of the polish on some of the politicians last Thursday was a little excessive.

However, at its best, media training is a perfectly respectable thing to have and to seek. It helps people who may not be the best interviewees to understand the process and put their view fluently and in language the journalist will report – so the reader or viewer (remember them?) can make up their own mind rather than have a journalist write someone off because they’re a poor speaker.

And that’s got to be a good thing. Hasn’t it?

For information on my media training service click here.

Image: Flickr: Duncan Hull

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