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How do you keep a webinar lively?

Media training yesterday, a lively event, and one of the delegates asked me how he should make his webinars lively. He found them difficult because there was no immediate comeback from the audience. I agree; I’ve sat through a number of them and am presenting one to fully launch my online media training course, currently in preview.

It’s an issue. My colleague who’s arranging Wednesday’s event has attended webinars in which the text box has been full of people not talking business but arranging where to go for a curry in the evening. So here are some tips that I’ll be using as presenter:

  • Find some typical audience members beforehand and ask what they would like to see in terms of content. Address it and address them by name during the webinar. The audience needs to know you’re listening as well as broadcasting, and talking to them.
  • Watch that text box and don’t blame people if they’re distracted – it’s my job to keep them engaged, not their duty to support me.
  • Keep it short and all points brief. Allow for the audience to have different priorities from mine.
  • Have an expert handle the technology while I handle the content. Yes, I could “pilot” the thing reasonably well but no, if I’m trying to focus on presenting as well I don’t think that will work.
  • Don’t single people out and ask them questions – I’ve seen this in webinars, someone’s suddenly handed the chance to speak and unless they wanted it, it just embarrasses them.
  • Keep the pace going – lapses in energy are emphasised rather than helped on video.
  • Take all the feedback I can so the next one is even better!

And of course if there are any media training or press interview issues people would like me to address at 3pm on Wednesday you’re more than welcome to leave them as comments to this message – more details on how to log in will follow.

Have an argument in public – the press loves it

One of the golden rules of media engagement is not to have an argument when the press is looking. It’s too much fun for us to report. There have been good examples in the media very recently.

They come from the top, too. Our government has taken to falling out in public in the UK, and if the opposition weren’t tearing itself to shreds at the same time more people would notice. Lately we’ve seen:

  • Boris Johnson telling Saudi Arabia some home truths as he sees them – and being slapped down by Downing Street immediately;
  • Former education secretary Nicky Morgan criticising Theresa May for spending money on expensive designer trousers, getting banned from Downing Street as a result and most recently getting slapped down by a Tory Grandee for trivialising the Brexit vote.

So, other than annoying the government – and believe me there are plenty of examples from the other side, just consider the attempts to unseat Jeremy Corbyn over the summer – what do these stories share in common? I’ll tell you: they are the most brilliant fun to write about because we love to see the rich and powerful making fools of themselves and falling out.

But if you were to do something similar in business, how would it work out for you?

Market shares

When I first started working for the technology press there were two stories I wrote every month. They had similar topics and covered market shares from software companies. First, there was the periodic row between Microsoft and WordPerfect over who was ahead in the word processing market.

Each claimed leadership. Each subscribed to different market research figures, so thought they were correct and would issue press releases making contrary claims at the same time. Call them up for quotes, put the other company’s figures to them and without fail you’d end up with a highly entertaining story about organisations taking chunks out of each other.

It was the same in the accounting software market. Sage, still the market leader, would issue a press release confirming this periodically, and its then rival Pegasus would jump up and say “no they’re not!” – and we’d report it.

They were easy stories to write. The quotes were genuine. And once, I asked one of our readers what they thought.

Guess what, this stuff doesn’t play well

The magazine on which I was working was aimed at technology dealers. They depended on IT to earn their livings, and predictably enough, they were left wondering why their suppliers spent so much time bickering in the press instead of marketing their products to make more opportunity for their sales partners.

Likewise, fun though Theresa’s trousers are, Nicky Morgan’s local Tory party is suggesting it has no idea what she’s playing at. Whatever your politics, you can see that’s unhelpful given that she’s a Conservative MP.

We’ll always publish this stuff. Punch-ups make brilliant copy and the readers find them entertaining. However, you don’t work for us. The stakeholder readers, the ones at whom you’re aiming, might well end up despising you for what you’re doing. So avoid getting involved in verbal fisticuffs – and get some strategies under your belt to avoid being dragged into them.

Photo: Flickr: DFID

Do you worry that the press is going to take you down an unwanted rat-hole in an interview? I can help – fill in the form below or call 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Broadcast interview: A word on dress code

A while ago I watched a public speaking competition. All of the contestants were excellent but one speaker stood out, not because she was better than the rest but because unfortunately she was wearing clanky jewellery with a lapel microphone (also known as a lavalier). You could hear her clearly enough but the clunk, clunk, clunk of the necklace was just as distinct.

This can also be a problem in a broadcast interview. The camera operator or sound person will almost certainly want you to wear a lavalier, and it will pick up any noise nearby. So when preparing for a broadcast interview the first thing to watch for is anything noisy on your person.

A broadcast interview and a crisp white shirt?

When I media train in person I have a choice of shirts in which I look reasonably OK. The first is the old fallback, the crisp white shirt. The second is a selection of finely striped shirts – I kid myself they hide the middle-aged spread (if they don’t, just don’t tell me). Experience has told me, however, that neither is particularly good on video.

The stripes, though fine in person, can end up looking a little grey on a screen. The sparkly, distinct detail on the shirt ends up looking indistinct even in high definition; if someone’s watching on their phone or other device it can actually look a bit grubby.

Brilliant white is better but not under studio lights. It can end up glaring at the camera, so the operator has to turn the lighting down or apply a filter – so I end up looking grey rather than the shirt! Off-white, pink, blue, are all good and will look fine in the studio.

Suit you, sir

The other thing to do is to wear something that fits and in which you’re comfortable. Buying something particularly swish and wearing it for the first time, which is more of a problem for the female population than the “a suit always works” male contingent, can make people feel self-conscious.

For men like me (think “over 50”) a decent suit is indispensable but be honest, does it really fit? It can be worth visiting a tailor. I have particularly square shoulders (tailors call this “squareback” which doesn’t make me feel great) so off-the-peg suits always ruck up at the back. I started with A Suit That Fits (please note that’s a sponsored link) and it’s not as expensive as you might think (more than Marks and Sparks but less than a designer suit); many local tailoring establishments will be just as efficient at making something that works on your shape.

Finally, the newsreader Sir Trevor Macdonald always said it’s a good idea to do your jacket up and sit on the tail, so it looks smooth. Bitter experience a little while ago says this works fine if you’re reasonably slim and svelte; any signs of a belly and you’ll look like a sack of potatoes. Without wishing to incriminate myself, I’ve been doing my interviews with the jacket undone lately!

Broadcast: always acknowledge the question

One of the techniques I teach in media training sessions is bridging from one subject to another, and this is particularly important in broadcast interviews. It’s a three-phase process, you acknowledge the question, you bridge to your chosen subject and continue – acknowledge, bridge, continue, a, b, c. Ideally you then return to the question otherwise you look like a particularly arrogant politician on a bad day.

I’m sometimes in media training sessions hosted by external companies, mainly in the PR field, and I hear them say things like “Don’t worry about what the journalist has asked, just ignore it and make the point.” In principle I can see why this would appeal. In practice it fails dismally because the broadcast nature of the interview shows that you’re ignoring people and being discourteous.

Here’s a well-known interview from BBC Radio 5. The background is that Blackberry had just released its Blackberry 10 smartphone. Broadcaster Nicky Campbell wants to know whether Blackberry had learned anything from the iPhone. It’s three minutes long, have a listen.

Awful, isn’t it? So what could he have done better?

Never forget “a” in a broadcast

OK, try replaying some of those quotes in your head, but this time add a little something. Add the “acknowledge” part of a, b, c.

This could be a phrase like:

“There will always be fresh competition in the market, but…”

“The market has grown with a lot of great new phones from a lot of companies. What we focus on is…”

Or even:

“Apple is a great company with great designs.”

So instead of “Blackberry is a unique proposition” in answer to “What have you learned from Apple?” you get something like “Apple is a great company with great designs. Blackberry, though, has a unique proposition…” and then continue.

So we get “Have you learned anything from the iPhone?” and instead of “Blackberry was one of the inventors of the smartphone market” you get “Good quality competition is always welcome. Blackberry was one of the inventors of the smartphone market…”

In a written interview this isn’t so terrible because nobody except the interviewer can hear you ignoring the question and putting your rehearsed platitudes out there instead. In broadcasting, as you can hear from the interview above, it’s perfectly audible.

I’m not saying Campbell would or should have let the guy off the hook after that. But the interviewee would have sounded less slippery.

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Media mistakes 8: The interview won’t be on your terms

Press interviews can go wrong for a number of reasons. One I’ve seen often is that the interviewee believes that by stating what they want to be interviewed about, they can stop the journalist asking difficult questions or straying into other areas.

I heard an interview on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme once in which someone had a press launch of an innovation coming up at 10.00am. Their PR had got them a slot on “Today” when they said they would be launching at 10 – the interviewer pointed out that they’d come on a radio show at 7.30, so presumably had something to say, and the interviewee declined to comment any further. The obvious question, which the interviewer was too polite to ask, was: in that case, why are you on this programme?

Another time they had an interviewee on talking about something and they slipped another question in at the end. The answer was “That’s cheeky, you’ve already asked me to come on and talk about that and I refused.”

The fact is, we don’t work for you – we might well co-operate and it can work really well, but we’re not your employee and you may not tell us what we may and may not discuss.

We’ll think it’s our interview

When I had a staff job in the 1990s I had one of the worst interview experiences ever. The idea was promising: a PR person had a client who sold into the education sector. They suggested my magazine should sit in on, and report on, a negotiation. We all thought that was a terrific idea.

The trouble started when the client’s client turned up 45 minutes late and claimed my publication had changed the time (which was entirely fictional). He then produced an old copy of the magazine, from a time before I worked on it, and said he was following up the interview that had been published in that issue.

This was of course drivel.

He then accused me of not doing my research, said I should have spoken to his PR person who would have explained this was a followup to the original piece. My guess is that this was how she’d sold the idea to him; when we put it to him that we should witness a negotiation, he said that was out of the question.

It wasn’t a great interview and I don’t think we ran anything. I suspect the main culprit was the troublemaker’s PR, mis-selling and failing to explain stuff to the stroppy individual in question and no doubt hoping he’d co-operate once he was on site. He didn’t.

His own problem was that he assumed (wrongly) that his PR person had set the meeting up, but even if she’d done so, his assumption that the journalist would be writing what he wanted us to was flawed.

Freedom of speech

The thing is, our duty as journalists is to our readers. We have obligations to our sources and subjects of course. If I write something inaccurate about you, I won’t enjoy hearing about it but I’m human and I know I can make mistakes. I will want to correct it very quickly indeed. I am also obliged to be fair. If someone is saying something about you and your company, I owe you the right of reply if I intend to report their comments.

But we have the freedom to ask and write whatever we wish beyond those parameters. Obviously you have the right to decline to answer a question, or to refuse an interview that’s unlikely to be good use of your time. Those things stem from the same freedoms that allow us to ask the questions we want in the first place. And very often it’s in our interest to ask about the things your business is promoting – when it works, it works very well.

But when you’re inviting a conversation with a journalist, remember we’re independent, we don’t work for you any more than you work for us and we’re going to ask whatever questions we think our readers would want us to address. That’s how it works and it’s unlikely to change. And that’s why it’s important to prepare for interviews and have strategies in place in case the conversation starts to move away from the areas you want to discuss.

Do you need help with press interaction? Email me by clicking here and we’ll talk.