Has the Novel Coronavirus Killed Media Training?


Professional baseball players take batting practice seriously because they want to be prepared to handle any pitch they may face in a high-pressure game situation. This is the philosophy behind media training: practice one-on-one with an experienced interviewer who will prepare you for the toughest questions journalists may pitch.

Quality media training helps refine messaging, emphasis, body language and delivery, empowering executives to shine during the big interview and make important messages stick. Such in-person practice can be invaluable to building a strong media presence that can be the foundation of a successful marketing campaign.

But with social distancing, it’s challenging to safely conduct media coaching in person. Wearing masks, moreover, deters from the ability to work on important aspects of presentation such as facial expression. Does that mean COVID-19 has killed media training? Should organizations just put it off until the pandemic is over?

In-Person is Best

Truth is, during normal times in-person coaching is the best way to prepare for interviews with journalists. But these are not normal times. Broadcast journalists are conducting nearly all on-camera interviews remotely, either via satellite, Skype, Zoom, Webex, or another video conference service. Print and online journalists also are rarely conducting interviews in-person.

So, media training remotely is today’s appropriate alternative. For the foreseeable future, online media training means practicing interviews precisely the way they’ll take place.

Three Steps

PR pros can divide media training sessions into three parts, two of which can just as easily be done online as in person.

  1. First, a presentation of the essentials of successful media interviews. Discuss how to: make media appearances as impactful as possible; best utilize the verbal, vocal, and visual aspects of presentation; deliver key messages to ensure they are memorable; and manage tough questions.
  2. Next, discussion and refinement of key messages for each interview to ensure they are soundbite ready.
  3. Practice. It’s this final component of a media training session that differs substantially when conducted online rather than in person.

How to Practice

Normally, you should record all practice interviews in person with a high-quality video camera. After each interview, the media trainer provides instant feedback by reviewing the segment, showing the trainee what he or she has done well and where there is room for improvement.

Today’s digital technology allows us to play back the segment within seconds, either through the camera or by inserting the memory disc into a laptop computer. Accomplishing all this online is a bit trickier. Online chat services allow you to record a session, but accessing these recordings is not instantaneous. On Zoom, for example, recordings to the cloud can take 30 minutes to load, and local recordings to one’s computer are accessible only after a meeting has concluded.

Since effective media training requires immediate feedback, tape practice interviews with a video camera or iPhone focused on the computer screen. This captures the interview subject answering questions. Then, to quickly deliver feedback, play back the interview on the phone or off the camera’s monitor. This allows the trainee to easily view it and you can provide instant feedback.  It’s not as impressive as watching the playback on a big screen monitor, but it works.

Allan Chernoff is CEO of Chernoff Communications . He was a senior correspondent for CNN and CNBC.