Preparing Executives for the Always-On World of Social Media Training

With the emergence of social media, executives have to be ready to face cameras and microphones at all times when they are in public. It is not enough to be prepared for a face-to-face interview across a desk or a table with a journalist who is taking notes on paper or on a laptop or PDA. These days the journalists or bloggers may want to podcast the interview or audiotape it to use in a blog post. They also may be carrying a video camera and could ask to tape the executive on the fly while he or she is answering questions. Broadcast training is great for planned studio opportunities, but it doesn’t cover all contingencies in this new world.

Once they have their general content ready, here are some general tips to make your spokespeople comfortable with the new types of interviews in the social media world:

â–¶ Always be ready for your close-up: Even if there has been no suggestion of the inclusion of any multimedia, an executive should always be dressed and groomed for a photograph or video clip. Just as executives dress well for their customer meetings, they should do the same for interviews.
â–¶ Ask for what you need to make you comfortable during an interview: If PR is with you, they will handle getting you a glass of water for a lengthy podcast interview so your voice is not strained. If you are alone, feel free to ask for water, or even hot tea, if warm liquid will help you be more comfortable while speaking. If someone does bring out a camera, ask for time to check your appearance. Interviews may be somewhat stressful, but they are not intended to be painful surprise attacks.
â–¶ Remember the “do-over”: Unless a podcast, videocast or videoblog is live, it is always acceptable to stop and start over. Sometimes a spokesperson answers a question and then realizes there is a better or more concise or colorful way to phrase something. Maybe you had a great sound bite and you forgot to use it. It is fine to ask the interviewer to do a second take. They can edit it later and make it seamless. This “right” should not be abused, but it can be invoked when it is really needed. The interviewer typically reviews this approach with the spokesperson in advance.
â–¶ Be natural on camera, but limit gesturing: Good body language—erect, but not stiff— is always good in any type of interview, filmed or otherwise. The speaker always projects more energy when sitting upright. The same holds true for a calm, but positive expression. You don’t want to say, “We’re pleased with our results” while your face looks as if you are being led to your execution.
â–¶ Confirm where the interviewer would like you to look —at them or at the camera: We’ve found that the more natural approach is to engage the interviewer directly and ignore the camera, but you want to make sure you won’t seem like you have your side to the audience when the video is shown.
â–¶ If you naturally use your hands when you talk, be aware that this may seem exaggerated on camera: Natural but muted gestures on camera are best; the camera typically is focused on your face anyway.
â–¶ If the interview is being taped, do not play to the tape recorder: Try an experiment. Lean your elbows on the table in front of your speaker, cup your face with your hands and call one of your colleagues to tell them something you are excited about. Then check to see if they have caught your excitement. Chances are they have not, as your energy level automatically goes down when you slouch and speak to the phone this way.
â–¶ It is always best to have the same erect posture regardless of whether the interviewer is across from you or across the country: If a podcast is being taped remotely, have a colleague sit in the room with you and talk to him or her as you answer questions. If you are being filmed remotely while the interviewer is on the phone, talk to the cameraperson or a colleague in the room as they film you. You will come across more natural and with more energy than if you just focus on the camera and talk to the disembodied voice of the interviewer.
â–¶ Warm up the audience before you proceed: If someone wants to tape or film you, buy yourself the time you need to center yourself by engaging them socially in conversation. They want the podcast or video to be good, so it helps them to get a sense of you before they turn their equipment on. Another trick we have recommended over the years is to do a minute or so of deep breathing before interviews. This naturally relaxes you and also slows you down when you begin speaking.

Faced with these new social media interview opportunities, the executive spokespeople who will reap the most rewards are the ones who have taken these steps to prepare and have added one more skill to their kit bag—flexibility.  PRN

This article was excerpted from the forthcoming PR News 2008 Media Training Guidebook. It was written by Michael Parker, senior manager, Lois Paul & Partners. To order this or any PR News guidebook, visit