• AssocLeadership

Media Training - from someone who came out the other side!

The most common question I get at a certain class of events when introducing myself is “Stefan Kukula? Are you related to Angela?” My usual response of “Fortunately not, so they let me marry her” sounds flippant but covers a deep sense of jealousy. A recent instance of this was when my wife was asked to represent her employer on a national radio news programme. She came across well under questioning that seemed to me to be at times quite hostile. The points she intended to make were clear, and the interview was clearly a success.

What if it had been me? Would I have done as well? The answer was obvious; probably not.

Did it matter? Is this something any of us are likely to do? The audience for this piece is made up of senior leaders in bodies that represent organisations in certain industries, or professionals in certain trades. A significant part of our role is to act as the voice of those we represent; to regulators, to legislators, to stakeholders, to the world at large. So yes, it matters. If all we can do when called upon to speak is mumble “Well, erm, ah, gosh” and convey no useful information at all, then we will have failed in our job, and nothing but a career in politics awaits.

So, when I saw that the IAL was offering a half day workshop in media training, I leapt at the chance. The fact that the pricing seemed to have left a zero out was an additional incentive.

I have a little list which I keep updated of “the best things I have ever bought.” On it I have written down my bicycle (25 years old, and still going strong), my first bow tie, and my Panama hat. This is normal, right? Now added to the list is Lucy George’s half day media training workshop. I cannot claim having done it will mean I ace an appearance on Newsnight; it will ensure that I know what things to concentrate on, key things to avoid, and how to stand a decent chance of getting back to the key messages without simply seeming evasive.

The afternoon started with a simple categorisation of what “media” was, and how it is delivered. The items covered in the workshop would be print, usually in the form of an interview with a journalist, radio, and television. An eye opener was the side by side comparison of the background and motivations of the average print journalist with the average spokesperson. An understanding of the balance between the two, and the pressures each is under, is essential for approaching the interview in the right frame of mind.

A filmed interview with no preparation time caused varying degrees of panic amongst the attendees – the later participants were at least warned there would be at least one curve ball thrown. A brief review of pluses and minuses helped calm the nerves a little; it hadn’t really been as bad as we thought. It was an eye opener to have our physical oddities pointed out; do we really sit like that when we’re talking to people? Apparently even engineers should maintain eye contact.

Further reviews of dos and don’ts, and a reminder of making sure that, especially for print journalists, what we want them to say is easy to pick out, and we were ready to prepare for round two, this time with prior notice, albeit five minutes, and a set topic to explore. Another filmed interview, this time a little more probing, and another critique.

A final summing up, a few questions, and we were back out on to the streets, all ready for our slot on the Today programme. Well, maybe; certainly the prospect would not be quite as stomach churning as before that afternoon. A couple of days later the videos, together with the written analysis, came through. Embarrassing, perhaps, but incredibly useful.

In fact, the entire afternoon was useful; I’ve already followed the advice given in an interview with a trade journalist, and I think it went better because of it. I don’t know whether I’ll ever need the key advice on television interviews – “Make sure you accept the offer of makeup. If you don’t get the offer, insist on it, since the interviewer will have it, and you’ll look shiny and sweaty next to them.” But I know it if I need it.

The one unanswered question I have is “How was I able to get on this?” In my view the entire room should have been full, with a waiting list as long as your arm. Presenting views on behalf of the constituents we represent is such a key part of the job we do it should be essential to learn how to do it better. Such a cost and time effective opportunity to do so does not appear often and should be seized when it does. Two thumbs up.

Stefan Kukula, Chief Executive, The Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association

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