Five Tips to Make Your Message Matter on TV

A news director once told me, "TV viewers are like cats; you have to constantly dangle something in front of them to keep their attention." Instead of using a ball of yarn, news stations typically rely on video to keep viewers tuned in. But if you have a spokesperson talking on the screen, how do you get—and keep—the average viewer's attention using just words?
First, remember no one watches the news like they do the TV show Lost. You rarely hear: "I have to get home, the 6 o'clock news is on." Instead, the news is typically on in the background.  Most of us half watch the news while making dinner, getting the kids to school or reading a magazine. So it's up to your spokesperson to make the message matter enough to get us to drop what we're doing and listen.

1.    Personalize Your Point: If viewers don't feel the message will make any difference in their already busy lives, they won't hear it. That's because people innately care about what affects them. Local news knows that well, which is why they run traffic and weather segments so often. The more personalized the message, the greater the interest and impact. So make your message relevant. Are there statistics you can localize per market? Is there a news hook you can use? Can you boil down your ultimate goal to spell out how it will affect your audience? 
Example: Which of the following messages would matter more to you? "We are going to help revitalize neighborhoods” or "We are going to help lower crime, raise the value of your home and improve where you live." The latter tells you exactly how you will be affected, which makes the message more relevant and therefore more impactful.

2.    Use Triggers: Think about when you were in school and your mind wandered while the teacher was talking. Suddenly you hear "This is going to be on the test" and you snap back. Those were trigger words to tell you "Listen up, this is going to affect you." Using triggers before you deliver your message not only tells viewers that your message matters to them, it signals for them to pay attention. Words like "What you need to know…", "The most important thing is…", "You have to understand that…", convey that what you're about to hear will matter.
Example: Which of the following teases would make you pay more attention to an upcoming news segment? "Coming up, information on hospital visits” or  "Coming up, what you need to know before your next trip to the hospital." The second tease personalizes the message and uses trigger words to make the message matter to you.

3.    Give Tips:  No one listens when they think you're trying to sell something. But when you offer tips, you come off as trying to help instead of sell. Tips give messages greater impact because they give viewers personal actions to take. The viewer is more involved with the message and therefore the message is more significant. The added bonus is that your story will more likely be aired. News stations love practical advice they can give their viewers because they know tips help make the message pertinent and that means people will watch. 
Example: Which of the following sentences would make you want to hear more? "It's so important to take care of the environment” or "It's so important to take care of the environment and here are 4 easy things you can do…" The last sentence uses tips to engage you and make the message matter more.

4.    Speak Simply: You can't make your message matter if no one knows what you're talking about. Simple language breaks through the mess. It makes your messages clear and therefore more understandable. Advertisers know this. Think of your favorite slogan. How simple is it? Advertisers are trying to sell you their message through the same clutter you are. They know using simple language makes it easier to grab attention and keep people focused. So swap the acronyms and SAT vocabulary for words you would use in conversation. When we feel like someone is simply talking to us, we're more apt to hear what's being said.
Example: Which of the following sentences would keep your attention? "This is an electric prototype of a car that's an extended range battery-operated vehicle" or "This an electric car model that you can drive for 40 miles on battery power alone." They both say the same thing, but the latter uses words you can understand to keep you focused.

5.    Paint Pictures: A message won't matter if you can't remember it. To help make your message resonate, paint pictures with your words. We're more apt to remember things when we both see and hear them. Stories, analogies and anecdotes create visual images to multiply the power of your message and make it more memorable. If your message is about how well a drug works, illustrate that with a real patient's story. If you're highlighting a statistic, make an analogy to help show what that number represents. If you're talking about saving money, share a personal anecdote to add credibility. Stories, analogies and anecdotes not only make your points more digestible they make messages come to life.
Example: Which of the following messages is most memorable? "36,000,000 people could get the flu this year” or "36,000,000 people could get the flu this year, which is like the entire state of California getting sick at the same time." The second message gives you a visual of how many people could be involved. It makes the statistic more real and therefore has greater impact.

Don't waste an opportunity for your message to truly resonate and be heard. Make sure your spokesperson can make your messages matter – so viewers don't take a catnap.

This article was excerpted from the forthcoming PR News' 2009 Media Training Guidebook. It was written by Amy Fond, a media trainer and presentations coach with Cameron Communications, Inc. To order this or any PR News guidebook, visit