Communications Corner

Media Training Seminar

On January 7th Doc Kokol, a communications specialist and Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives, visited FWRI to give a presentation and training day on the ins-and-out of working with the media. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Bigger words are not always better. In a media interview, most of your audience does not have a PhD in biology, like you may have, so you must adjust your language accordingly. Don’t speak to the reporter like they’re uneducated, but also don’t give a high-level explanation with lots of technical jargon. Remember, you’re not dumbing down your subject matter – you’re putting it into layman’s terms. A true expert can explain complex aspects of their field to a sixth grader.
  • Anticipate and practice. If you’re an expert in your field, you can probably anticipate a lot of the questions a reporter is going to ask you ahead of time. Write them down and practice in front of a mirror, or even better, on camera. Pay special attention to the questions you don’t want to be asked, because you’ll probably be asked them.
  • 27 words is all you have. Doc highlighted a study where researchers looked at hundreds of interviews and determined that the interviewee had only 27 words, 9 seconds and three messages before the interviewer started cutting them off or paraphrasing what you said, raising the chances of getting something wrong. Try to pre-prepare a statement that is succinct, but fully answers the question.  
  • You don’t know what you don’t know. Never try and answer a question you don’t know the answer to – it could get you into serious trouble. Simply give the reason why you don’t know or can’t answer and tell them you can follow up or connect them with someone who can give the answer. Remember: “No, but…” Always follow your “no” with a “but” of what information you can give them. “Unfortunately, I can’t answer that, but what I can tell you is…” This technique can also help you guide the conversation away from controversial topics.
  • When in doubt, ask the Communications Office. It’s what we’re here for.