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How to prepare for a media interview when you have very little time

Approx. reading time: < 1 minute

One of the downsides of self-guided online learning is that without the live interaction of face-to-face training you can’t ask your trainer questions as you go along. So we’ve launched a new service at ACM Training called “Ask the Owls” to complement our Thinkific courses. The idea is you ask questions about media, communication and professional development issues and our experts (the owls) do their very best to provide the answers.

Here our media trainer, Richard Uridge, answers a question emailed to asktheowls@acmtraining.co.uk by a delegate on one of his courses who wants to know if it’s possible to be ready for an interview in under five minutes.

ACM Training’s communications expert, Richard Uridge, answers a question from a professor of civil engineering who wants to know if it’s possible to prepare for a media interview in under five minutes.
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Learn how to deal with difficult people – in your own time

dealing with difficult people online course imageApprox. reading time: < 1 minute

For years our best-selling workshop was dealing with difficult people. Then along came Covid-19. And something significant happened: working from home meant that the difficult colleagues you’d been encountering in the office Monday to Friday were suddenly no longer such a challenge. Why? Because they were in their homes and you were in yours. Put simply out of sight very often meant out of mind. Which was good for your mental health and well being. But bad for our business!

Now, however, as social distancing measures are eased and people are heading back to the office we’ve noticed that interest in our dealing with difficult people training is picking up. And we’re hearing that in some cases people’s behaviour is getting even more challenging than before – perhaps because of the stresses and strains of the last year or so.

So our dealing with difficult people guru, Sandy Keating, has been busy authoring a comprehensive, self-guided online course. At just £19.99 we reckon it’s great value for money. Just click the find out more button to look at the course content and to see a free preview of Sandy in action.

Prefer to sit an interactive, trainer-led session or want to book an in-house workshop for a group of colleagues? Then click here.

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Should you give a media interview on a subject that’s slightly off topic for you?

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Whether you’re sitting a self-guided course at your own pace or taking part in a live trainer-led session, asking questions during online training is (or at least seems to be) a whole heap harder than it was in the days of face-to-face learning. So our AskTheOwls service is designed to make asking questions simple and bridge the gap between old and new delivery methods.

In this short video our media and comms expert (owl), Richard Uridge, answers a question emailed to asktheowls@acmtraining.co.uk by a university professor who’s often asked to comment on issues that aren’t quite her area of expertise and wants to know if giving an interview in these circumstances is a good or bad idea.

Our media and comms owl answers a question submitted by an academic.
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Wheely armed webinars? I hate them!

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A lot of presentation skills trainers are saying we need to be much more animated presenting online via Zoom and MSTeams than was the case when working face-to-face. In this short clip I argue against such an approach. I reckon the skills of an online presenter are more like those of a screen actor than a stage actor. Smaller, more suble movements and facial expressions are the key. Not grand gestures for the people in the cheap seats at the back of a theatre auditorium. Why? Because you are in their face. Or certainly no further than an arm’s length away.

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Don’t start with content when planning a presentation. It ain’t the first step!

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Step away from the PowerPoint. Close the Keynote. When you’re preparing a presentation – online or face-to-face – resist the urge to start creating content too soon. It’s a receipe for failure. And a mistake too many of us make.

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Unputdownable books and unlookawayable from presentations

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Here I am murdering the English language and inventing at least two new words in my mission to help us all become better presenters. We should think of ourselves as storytellers and structure our presentations in the same way as a writer constructs and unputdownable book.

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Why you should never ignore your audience

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“If your presentation doesn’t work for your audience it won’t work for you.”

Richard Uridge, ACM Training

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Coronavirus crisis communications

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Many companies (I’d hazard most) don’t have a crisis communications plan. A vague idea about what to do in an emergency? Yes. A carefully considered and well rehearsed business continuity plan? Maybe. A clear idea of what to say to stakeholders either internally via the usual channels or externally via the media including, where appropriate, social media? No.

But coronavirus has the potential to make us all wish we had. With the level of infection and disruption now being anticipated at the very highest levels of government, businesses large and small (my own included) face an existential threat. And effective communication with staff, clients, suppliers and others over the coming weeks and months could (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) make a life and death difference. Not just company life and death either.

How so? Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can, for example, make the difference between a pissed off workforce who think their bosses really don’t care and a highly motivated workforce who feel valued and are prepared to be flexible in the face of adversity by working from home, working odd hours, foregoing bonuses, taking unpaid leave…

Because clear, consistent, truthful and timely communications can persuade suppliers to delay issuing that invoice even though they’re experiencing similar cash flow problems. Because effective communication can lower the expectation and heighten the appreciation of customers.

But while being truthful should come naturally 😂 being clear, consistent and timely needs planning and practice.

“The virus is on us. Isn’t it too late now?”

It’s never too late to make a plan which, in any case, doesn’t need to take long – especially in smaller, less complex organisations. The first planning step is to work out what you need/want to say and to who: in other words your key messages and your target audiences. The next step is to map the audiences to what become your target media and channels – internal email, the intranet, external media the internet. Make sure those key messages are clear and concise and can be readily understood by the audience. You might be inclined to say “we’re facing challenges on the supply side of our business so our customers may experience issues with their orders.” Your customers would prefer you to say: “We’re sorry but because of coronavirus it may take us a little bit longer to deliver your parcel. We know you’ll understand. And here, as a thank you for your patience, is a discount code for your next order.”

Being consistent means everybody is communicating the same message (not that the message can’t change – flexibility is key in a crisis). A lack of consistency can lead to confusion. If your line manager is saying staff can work from home but your boss says you’ve got to come to work unless you’re ill you’re likely to lose faith in both.

Being truthful is, I hope, self-explanatory. I may be naive, but honesty and integrity are rewarded. People want to work for and with organisations that genuinely embrace these things. Yes, price is important but value can be expressed in other ways. So what I mean here is more about being open. The truth will out (and with social media probably sooner rather than later) so why hold back. Imagine the furore restaurant chain would face if it didn’t reveal kitchen or wait staff had fallen ill with the virus until two weeks after the outbreak?

Being timely is tied into the above. When a situation is rapidly evolving there’s an inclination to keep quiet until the picture is clearer. But witness the backlash the government has experienced by only issuing virus updates weekly. A backlash so significant that it’s backed down. A “communications fumble” as the Chief Medical Officer admitted. That position was clearly untenable for UK plc and should be for all companies in these worrying times. I’m not suggesting you need to issue a running commentary to staff or in the media. But if the gaps between company bulletins are too long then all sorts of information can rush into the vacuum. Information over which you have no control. In a word or two: fake news.

To help you control the message and draw up and execute your own crisis comms plans we’ll be running a series of webinars for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. More details to follow. But if you’d like to sign up email me – richard@acmtraining.co.uk and I’ll be sure to send you a link and access code.


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Coronavirus

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We understand why you might be reluctant to book a workshop with all the uncertainty surrounding Covid 19. Will I be well enough to attend? Might I have to take time off work to look after children or elderly relatives? Will public transport be running? Is gathering in even a smallish training group sensible in the circumstances? And, of course, because none of us is immune from the potential disruption, will ACM’s trainers be affected? So we give you our coronavirus guarantee: that if for public health reasons you can’t attend or your workshop is postponed then your place is transferrable free of charge to a future date. For many of our more popular courses there will be several dates to choose from up to six months or more ahead so you should be able to find a suitable alternative. And if you can’t? Your money back. Guaranteed.

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Preparing for media interviews – the importance of rehearsals

Approx. reading time: 4 minutes

There was a time when I was growing up that I didn’t see much of my sister, Joanne. She’d joined Toddington Amateur Dramatic Society (TADS) and for long periods was busy rehearsing for her next role along with the rest of the cast. Or at least that’s what she told our mum and dad. Now I’m clearly not a very good brother because I don’t remember many of her performances. I think she may have played Liz in Billy Liar (or maybe I’m confusing her with Julie Christie). But what I do remember is neither Jo nor Julie ever missed a line and both had a magnificent stage presence.

Joanne Uridge playing Liz in Billy Liar.

Why? Because actors rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again so that when the curtain opens and they walk on stage they hit their marks and they hit their lines. Doesn’t matter whether they’re walking the boards before a modest audience at the village hall or in front of a sell out crowd in London’s West End.

So why would anybody stand in front of an audience ten, fifty, a hundred, a thousand times larger without rehearsing? An audience so big it wouldn’t fit in the world’s biggest auditorium. But they do. Every day of the week. In media interviews. And it’s hardly surprising that they fluff their lines.

In my media training workshops I explain that interviewees must think of themselves as performers. That although there is no obvious stage or proscenium arch (especially if they’re doing a down-the-line radio interview from home) they are, in effect, walking onto a stage with an audience of potentially millions. That frightens them. More than a bit. But it helps make the point that if actors rehearse for performances in far smaller actual theatres, then so should interviewees for their performances in the far, far larger virtual “theatres” of radio programmes and podcasts, television networks and online video channels such as News24 and YouTube.

When my sister was at home she spent hours pacing up and down muttering words under her breath. Learning lines is, of course, a big chunk of the actor’s craft. But actually learning lines verbatim, committing a script to memory, is one of the worst ways of rehearsing for a media interview. So what’s the best way to prepare for a media interview? Here’s my six step rehearsal guide.

  1. Distil your key messages from the subject matter. Stick to three or four and try to condense them down to bullet points. Underline the functional word (or words) in each bullet point . Divide a blank screen or sheet of paper into three columns and write these functional words (the essence of your key messages) in the left hand column.
  2. Add up to three carefully selected facts and figures per key message to column two. These facts and figures provide the evidence and speak to the rational part of the the audience – their minds, if you will.
  3. But we’re emotional creatures too. So to engage the audience’s hearts as well as their minds, think of a story or two (they don’t need to be very detailed) to help illustrate your key messages and jot these down in column three. At ACM Training we call this a planning matrix which I’ll happily concede is a rather lofty way of describing a piece of paper with a few scribbles on it. But believe me it can work wonders and turn a fuzzy, unfocussed and unstructured interview into a masterpiece.
  4. Open up your smartphone stopwatch app or countdown timer and outloud (yes, really) practice putting the words on the matrix together into coherent sentences and paragraphs of approximately 30 seconds each. Each time you do this choose different components so you don’t, in effect, end up learning a fixed script but you become well versed at what’s called extemporising lots of different versions.
  5. Once you’ve got the hang of this bit anticipate the questions you might be asked. If you’re likely to be put on the back foot during the interview try especially to predict the hardest questions. For example, will you resign? Or, who’s the blame?
  6. Then practice dealing with these questions and moving on to your key messages, facts, figures and stories. As before, try to bring your responses in around 30″ long. It’ll be harder because, short of ignoring the questions entirely (like some politicians), some of that time will inevitably be taken up dealing with the question leaving you less time to move on to what you want to talk about. Have a quick listen to this podcast on why a question and response instead of a question and answer approach is the best way of handling media interviews. When you feel comfortable delivering your key messages – illustrated and evidenced in a variety of ways – irrespective of the question and have got the feel for speaking to length then it’s showtime! Providing you don’t sound slippery or evasive and have struck the right tone. But those are other lessons for other posts.

Actors rehearse. So should interviewees. Remember you’re on a stage of sorts. And while you can’t see their faces the audience is potentially huge. So break a leg as they say in show-business.

Richard Uridge, media trainer