We prepare for so much in our lives but often not for the important conversations. We wing it, go with the flow, get sidetracked with other issues, stumble when asked obvious questions, get defensive or ramble. We leave the people we are talking to confused, bored and unconvinced. We know what we want to say but we don’t know how to say it or how to manage the conversation. Too often we end up with, to paraphrase a line from the movie Cool Hand Luke, “a failure to communicate.”
As a longtime news reporter, I was always surprised how many smart, accomplished people communicated so poorly when doing interviews. They could not tell their own stories even when they had good stories to tell. I left the news business after almost 30 years and began to media train clients for high profile media appearances. Once I taught them how to prepare, they quickly improved. Then they taught me something. They began to successfully use the media training techniques in their business and personal communications as well.
Whether you are doing an interview on CNN, pitching a client, asking your boss for a raise, talking to your boyfriend or husband about your relationship, or giving your child important life lessons, here are six steps that will help you communicate like a media pro, control the narrative, and accomplish your goals:
1. Decide in advance what you want your headline to be. What do you want the takeaway to be? What do you want to accomplish with your conversation?
2. Write three to five concise and engaging statements that sum up your goals. Don't have more than five key points or you will dilute the impact of what you are saying. Keep them short, in the 20-30 second range. Start with a statement and then back it up with examples, facts and anecdotes that illustrate your point.
3. Anticipate obvious questions and prepare answers for them. Again in the 20-30 second range.
4. Now consider your vulnerabilities. Be honest with yourself. What are negative issues that could come up? People are afraid of negative questions but often you can turn negative questions into positive answers if you are prepared. It gives you an opportunity to address falsehoods or misperceptions and reframe the narrative.
5. Don't get pulled in a direction, you don't want to go. Answer the questions you wish you were asked. Use bridge phrases to pivot back to your main points. Here are some good ones:
- First, let me make this point
- Well here is what I am certain of
- Before I answer that, let me just say
- That's a good question but
- I'm not sure about this but what I do know is
- What I really believe is this
- What I know is this
- That's not the issue I think
- Here's my view
6. Practice saying your messaging out loud in advance so you can deliver it in a natural and conversational way. Be a great storyteller. Bring emotion and energy to your conversation.
It’s not scripted or phony to communicate your thoughts or story in the best way possible. It’s smart and can be life changing both for you and those you are addressing.
Anne Kavanagh launched MediaPros 24/7 (wwwmediapros247.com), a Chicago based communications firm, in 2010. Before that, she spent 24 years working as a TV reporter at FOX News Chicago.