Media "Untraining"—Avoiding Overprocessed Media Images

Remember the days of the formally dressed, carefully contrived talking head that looked into the camera and sternly parroted the company line?  Good, now forget it because that spokesperson is a dinosaur, and training today’s executive to deliver a possibly YouTube-delivered message requires a whole new set of rules.

Today’s training requires “untraining” our clients and executives to turn them into spokespersons who can deliver messages that make the media feel that they have not been “fed,” but rather can talk their message.  To do this, they must thoroughly understand and believe in the message they are charged to deliver.  This is not always intuitive, particularly for those who have risen through the ranks and have memorized the spit and polish of media training past, which was all about form. Following are three practical tips for untraining:

     •     Clothing choices: Trash the suit. The pinstriped suit and tie for men and neatly bowed scarf for women is so yesterday.  Today’s new media chic is less formal. While beachwear and flip-flops are certainly not appropriate unless you are a swimwear manufacturer with a point to make, it is fine for a man to face the camera with a nice blue shirt with sport coat and neatly pressed khakis, and a simple blouse and a pair of pants (or skirt that does not ride up above the knee) is a less stuffy, but still stylish look for a woman.  Obviously, if you are being interviewed at a formal event, you will dress event-appropriate. Dress to gain the public’s trust, not to look like you are well-fed and overpaid. The look you should aim for is believable—one of the people—not overstarched and emotionally remote.
     •     Polly wants a cracker – not:  Advise your spokespersons to build trust by being likable, not by appearing intellectually superior. Simply parroting an over processed sound bite is sure-fire death in today’s media circus.  Viewers are used to hearing ideas presented in frank and down-to-earth language. Gone are the days of the intimidating disembodied talking head.
     •     During broadcasts keep the gestures relaxed: If you want to increase your credibility quotient, throw away grandiose gestures and keep your hands and face relaxed.  A smile goes a long way to making viewers relate to you.  If you are used to expressing yourself with gestures, keep your hands below your chin.  If you are more reserved and don’t often gesture, use more signal phrases to keep your viewers attention, such as “Trends suggest...” or “I could spend all week talking about this, but in the interest of time...”  And remember to fill in the dots with a succinct, yet informative sentence.

This was written by Karen Berg, executive coach and CEO of CommCore Strategies. A larger version of this article appears in PR News' upcoming Media Training Guidebook 2008/2009 edition. Please check back with for updates.