5 Best Practices for Media Training with Senior Executives

Between us (Marianne and Marilyn), we’ve spent decades successfully training executives to be ready for media opportunities. The hardest part of doing this work with an executive is getting their time, focus and buy-in. Once we have those three elements in place, we can begin work on five key areas for development:

  1. Understand the medium: There are different techniques to master for different environments–broadcast TV and radio, online video and podcasts and print media–so be clear about what you’re preparing for. For example, if you’re an executive appearing on TV to discuss quarterly earnings results, knowing the studio background and the framing of the shot will inform your appearance and other non-verbal communications. If you’re in a podcast or radio studio, you’ll want to learn the dos and don’ts with microphones.
  2. Know your audience: While you likely speak to many different audiences as an executive, be clear about the needs and expectations of your specific audience. This will help you focus on both your messaging and delivery. For example, if you’re a CEO delivering the quarterly results your audience will expect you to present your financials with personality, enthusiasm and vision. However, if you’re a CFO your audience expects something different–namely numbers, data and trends, presented in a way that generates trust and confidence. Developing your persona with your audience in mind is key.
  3. Master your narratives: Company narratives, product narratives and your personal narrative are all vital for any media appearance. Being clear about your content, what you’re looking to communicate, your positioning and guidelines will help you stay on track during an interview. This work should be done well in advance of any media appearance and you’ll likely have a team of people from various departments helping to develop your content and create the soundbites that will resonate.
  4. Build range in your vocal techniques: Once you’ve mastered your content you’ll need to work on your delivery. You want to be engaging and interesting to listen to. This requires an understanding of vocal dynamics, and that you to hear yourself the way others hear you. Watching and listening to ourselves is generally an uncomfortable experience, but we’ve found it a useful technique in building self-awareness and correcting bad habits.
  5. Make time to practice: Being prepared to answer whatever question comes up requires hours of practice. If you’re not well rehearsed you’re likely to be guilty of one or more of the following:
    a) talking your way into your answers
    b) ‘motoring’–talking without taking pauses
    c) not knowing when to stop talking
    d) not having strong, concise, soundbites at the ready
    e) not sticking to your key messaging

Some of these mistakes could get you into trouble with an intrepid reporter or host, and others will result in your audience zoning out.

We coach media training one-on-one with senior executives, leveraging their existing talents and strengths to improve their communications skills. We also coach in small groups when appropriate. Typically the engagements are a half-day commitment–we understand that executives’ time is tight. Developing a more confident, self-aware and engaging version of yourself is valuable for all presentation and media opportunities.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Velasquez

 

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Between us (Marianne and Marilyn), we’ve spent decades successfully training executives to be ready for media opportunities. The hardest part of doing this work with an executive is getting their time, focus and buy-in. Once we have those three elements in place, we can begin work on five key areas for development:

  1. Understand the medium: There are different techniques to master for different environments–broadcast TV and radio, online video and podcasts and print media–so be clear about what you’re preparing for. For example, if you’re an executive appearing on TV to discuss quarterly earnings results, knowing the studio background and the framing of the shot will inform your appearance and other non-verbal communications. If you’re in a podcast or radio studio, you’ll want to learn the dos and don’ts with microphones.
  2. Know your audience: While you likely speak to many different audiences as an executive, be clear about the needs and expectations of your specific audience. This will help you focus on both your messaging and delivery. For example, if you’re a CEO delivering the quarterly results your audience will expect you to present your financials with personality, enthusiasm and vision. However, if you’re a CFO your audience expects something different–namely numbers, data and trends, presented in a way that generates trust and confidence. Developing your persona with your audience in mind is key.
  3. Master your narratives: Company narratives, product narratives and your personal narrative are all vital for any media appearance. Being clear about your content, what you’re looking to communicate, your positioning and guidelines will help you stay on track during an interview. This work should be done well in advance of any media appearance and you’ll likely have a team of people from various departments helping to develop your content and create the soundbites that will resonate.
  4. Build range in your vocal techniques: Once you’ve mastered your content you’ll need to work on your delivery. You want to be engaging and interesting to listen to. This requires an understanding of vocal dynamics, and that you to hear yourself the way others hear you. Watching and listening to ourselves is generally an uncomfortable experience, but we’ve found it a useful technique in building self-awareness and correcting bad habits.
  5. Make time to practice: Being prepared to answer whatever question comes up requires hours of practice. If you’re not well rehearsed you’re likely to be guilty of one or more of the following:
    a) talking your way into your answers
    b) ‘motoring’–talking without taking pauses
    c) not knowing when to stop talking
    d) not having strong, concise, soundbites at the ready
    e) not sticking to your key messaging

Some of these mistakes could get you into trouble with an intrepid reporter or host, and others will result in your audience zoning out.

We coach media training one-on-one with senior executives, leveraging their existing talents and strengths to improve their communications skills. We also coach in small groups when appropriate. Typically the engagements are a half-day commitment–we understand that executives’ time is tight. Developing a more confident, self-aware and engaging version of yourself is valuable for all presentation and media opportunities.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Velasquez

 

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Client Story: Coaching Executives Through Media Certification

Recently we worked with an internal PR team at a Fortune 500 technology company. They are a progressive technology organization that heavily invests in media training for their executives.

Business Presence, LLC was hired to assist with certifying executives as company spokespeople, bringing our expertise in both content and presentation. We recorded video of each interview for playback and review.

One of us took on the role of ‘reporter’, interviewing each executive for about twenty minutes with a set of prepared questions. The content covered both the broad company narrative along with communications around their particular areas of expertise. We also scattered in some trick, pass/fail questions to keep them on their toes, simulating an interview with an intrepid reporter. For example, executives are trained by the PR team to pivot away anything related to company financials unless they are on the finance team. Thankfully nobody went to PR jail!

Overall, we were most engaged by the executives who used plain speak versus jargon and who were relatable, passionate, and easy to follow. When a reporter is able to break through the predictable, linear narrative and get sound bites that connect at a human level, their stories are more engaging to their readers.

After the twenty minute interview we moved into the playback and review process. This is always the most uncomfortable part of the certification process for an executive. It’s not easy for any of us to watch ourselves on camera, and it’s even harder in front of a group of experts poised to give feedback. Many spoke very quickly and needed to take more time to disseminate and explain the content, especially when it was technical. Some of the most common issues were being repetitive or buying time at the start of an answer with “great question!” Or they persistently used uh’s and um’s. Adding more color and details via customer stories to illustrate points was another area of improvement. These are problems we can help them overcome. There were a plethora of small notes from the PR team about content, such as how to say something differently, better use of metaphor and when to cut an answer shorter.

Ultimately the executives will pass or fail based on the scores given by the internal PR lead/certifier. About 30 percent didn’t seem ready to speak with reporters. There’s room for them to grow: taking charge of the interview, being less scripted, nailing key messages and giving good soundbites. They can also work on using more range in their vocal dynamics.

Those who pass are in command of messaging and storytelling, and, thanks to our coaching, now have the confidence and experience to communicate with journalists on behalf of their company.

Being an effective company spokesperson requires mastery of both content and presentation, they’re inseparable, one without the other and you’re only half-way there.

We enjoy this kind of work. The content is typically stimulating and we get to bring our expertise around both content and form, and tap into our journalistic backgrounds.

Marianne Wilman and Marilyn Pittman were the Business Presence coaches at this training.

 

Image by: Alejandro Escamilla

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Recently we worked with an internal PR team at a Fortune 500 technology company. They are a progressive technology organization that heavily invests in media training for their executives.

Business Presence, LLC was hired to assist with certifying executives as company spokespeople, bringing our expertise in both content and presentation. We recorded video of each interview for playback and review.

One of us took on the role of ‘reporter’, interviewing each executive for about twenty minutes with a set of prepared questions. The content covered both the broad company narrative along with communications around their particular areas of expertise. We also scattered in some trick, pass/fail questions to keep them on their toes, simulating an interview with an intrepid reporter. For example, executives are trained by the PR team to pivot away anything related to company financials unless they are on the finance team. Thankfully nobody went to PR jail!

Overall, we were most engaged by the executives who used plain speak versus jargon and who were relatable, passionate, and easy to follow. When a reporter is able to break through the predictable, linear narrative and get sound bites that connect at a human level, their stories are more engaging to their readers.

After the twenty minute interview we moved into the playback and review process. This is always the most uncomfortable part of the certification process for an executive. It’s not easy for any of us to watch ourselves on camera, and it’s even harder in front of a group of experts poised to give feedback. Many spoke very quickly and needed to take more time to disseminate and explain the content, especially when it was technical. Some of the most common issues were being repetitive or buying time at the start of an answer with “great question!” Or they persistently used uh’s and um’s. Adding more color and details via customer stories to illustrate points was another area of improvement. These are problems we can help them overcome. There were a plethora of small notes from the PR team about content, such as how to say something differently, better use of metaphor and when to cut an answer shorter.

Ultimately the executives will pass or fail based on the scores given by the internal PR lead/certifier. About 30 percent didn’t seem ready to speak with reporters. There’s room for them to grow: taking charge of the interview, being less scripted, nailing key messages and giving good soundbites. They can also work on using more range in their vocal dynamics.

Those who pass are in command of messaging and storytelling, and, thanks to our coaching, now have the confidence and experience to communicate with journalists on behalf of their company.

Being an effective company spokesperson requires mastery of both content and presentation, they’re inseparable, one without the other and you’re only half-way there.

We enjoy this kind of work. The content is typically stimulating and we get to bring our expertise around both content and form, and tap into our journalistic backgrounds.

Marianne Wilman and Marilyn Pittman were the Business Presence coaches at this training.

 

Image by: Alejandro Escamilla

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Coaching a Fortune 500 Executive’s Commencement Speech

In April and May, we were on retainer to prepare a CEO for an important milestone — giving his first commencement speech. It’s an honor for anyone to be asked to speak on such an important occasion and it’s out of the ordinary for a technology executive who more typically speaks about company products and strategies.

As we reviewed the executive’s on-camera performances at the start of the project — we could see that he was a passable speaker but he had some habits that kept him from being truly entertaining or inspiring. We set out to achieve three goals:  a) to identify with the audience of graduates; b) to feel ‘within himself’ as he communicated from the heart; c) to create a vision about the world in front of them and the opportunities and challenges they face.

Up first was to develop a script that would connect with his audience of several thousand graduates. As expected, this took several iterations over many weeks. It needed to be personal, which meant we needed to keep digging and prodding. Finally we landed on the themes of  embracing change, taking risks and learning from failure. It’s not easy for a successful executive to speak about their failures, especially when they’ve gone from being a self-made millionaire to being broke, all within 5 years, but as journalists we knew this would connect with his audience, and give him credibility.

Once the script was in good shape we started rehearsals. We first mirrored back what we were hearing — his speech was slow and fairly monotonous. This is always profound work, getting our clients to hear themselves the way we hear them. Once they can hear it, they’re motivated to find a better version of themselves. We also used a technique where we marked up his script, providing direction for emphasizing words, pauses, breaths. He found this very useful and became skilled at hitting his marks.

Finally, as we reached the last week, with graduation day in sight and with the core messaging in place, we took the script to some lighter places. Marilyn is a stand up comedian and she’s worked in Silicon Valley for decades, so that was a useful combination. Not all the jokes made it into the final draft but it helped the executive find his own path to some lighter moments.

As the executive spent time with the script in the final days before delivering the speech, he made it his own. This really helped him gear up for the big day. He had the words, he had the techniques, and he now he’d found the heart of what he wanted to communicate: that success and failure go together, that failure shouldn’t stop you from trying, that taking risks will lead to both success and failure and that we all learn from both.

The audience loved him and he soared in his presentation.  We were thrilled to have helped shape it.

Marilyn Pittman and Marianne Wilman were the coaches on this project

Photo credit: FatimehNadimi

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In April and May, we were on retainer to prepare a CEO for an important milestone — giving his first commencement speech. It’s an honor for anyone to be asked to speak on such an important occasion and it’s out of the ordinary for a technology executive who more typically speaks about company products and strategies.

As we reviewed the executive’s on-camera performances at the start of the project — we could see that he was a passable speaker but he had some habits that kept him from being truly entertaining or inspiring. We set out to achieve three goals:  a) to identify with the audience of graduates; b) to feel ‘within himself’ as he communicated from the heart; c) to create a vision about the world in front of them and the opportunities and challenges they face.

Up first was to develop a script that would connect with his audience of several thousand graduates. As expected, this took several iterations over many weeks. It needed to be personal, which meant we needed to keep digging and prodding. Finally we landed on the themes of  embracing change, taking risks and learning from failure. It’s not easy for a successful executive to speak about their failures, especially when they’ve gone from being a self-made millionaire to being broke, all within 5 years, but as journalists we knew this would connect with his audience, and give him credibility.

Once the script was in good shape we started rehearsals. We first mirrored back what we were hearing — his speech was slow and fairly monotonous. This is always profound work, getting our clients to hear themselves the way we hear them. Once they can hear it, they’re motivated to find a better version of themselves. We also used a technique where we marked up his script, providing direction for emphasizing words, pauses, breaths. He found this very useful and became skilled at hitting his marks.

Finally, as we reached the last week, with graduation day in sight and with the core messaging in place, we took the script to some lighter places. Marilyn is a stand up comedian and she’s worked in Silicon Valley for decades, so that was a useful combination. Not all the jokes made it into the final draft but it helped the executive find his own path to some lighter moments.

As the executive spent time with the script in the final days before delivering the speech, he made it his own. This really helped him gear up for the big day. He had the words, he had the techniques, and he now he’d found the heart of what he wanted to communicate: that success and failure go together, that failure shouldn’t stop you from trying, that taking risks will lead to both success and failure and that we all learn from both.

The audience loved him and he soared in his presentation.  We were thrilled to have helped shape it.

Marilyn Pittman and Marianne Wilman were the coaches on this project

Photo credit: FatimehNadimi

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Client Story: Rebranding Yourself Inside a Company

Working with one of our clients recently, we discovered how much help some women executives need in branding, or even rebranding, themselves inside the company. She is a senior-level marketing manager at a Fortune 500 company. She is an accomplished executive, but not an extrovert, particularly, nor a natural performer.

It all started a year ago when her performance at a national sales meeting was flat and her boss asked her to improve. We started with her behavior in small internal meetings and discovered she was looking at her phone instead of paying attention! So we addressed that as we learned more about her insecurities and habits.

Then we discovered that one of her peers was a bit of a bully inside these meetings, and she wasn’t always in command of her part because of it. We worked with her to give her better body language and vocal skills to fend off his interruptions. It worked, but changing someone’s way of presenting and holding court is a process.

We kept working with her to solidify the shift. Our next steps involved an all-day marketing event inside the company that she led. We coached her on content, voice, movement, and appearance. She reported to us that she still got nervous in the beginning and went too fast. But there was progress.

Next, we are working with her on a national sales meeting presentation. She’s understandably nervous because of her shortcomings the previous year, but, after rewriting the PowerPoint to make it more conversational and easier to remember, she is getting to know the material. I have her rehearsing lines just like you would for a play. Practice may not make perfect, but the more you practice, the more confident you feel.

We are committed to her success and will even be at the tech rehearsal the night before to ensure that she’s bringing her best self to the meeting.

Voice & presentation coach Marilyn Pittman & executive producer Marianne Wilman were the Business Presence coaches at this training.

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Working with one of our clients recently, we discovered how much help some women executives need in branding, or even rebranding, themselves inside the company. She is a senior-level marketing manager at a Fortune 500 company. She is an accomplished executive, but not an extrovert, particularly, nor a natural performer.

It all started a year ago when her performance at a national sales meeting was flat and her boss asked her to improve. We started with her behavior in small internal meetings and discovered she was looking at her phone instead of paying attention! So we addressed that as we learned more about her insecurities and habits.

Then we discovered that one of her peers was a bit of a bully inside these meetings, and she wasn’t always in command of her part because of it. We worked with her to give her better body language and vocal skills to fend off his interruptions. It worked, but changing someone’s way of presenting and holding court is a process.

We kept working with her to solidify the shift. Our next steps involved an all-day marketing event inside the company that she led. We coached her on content, voice, movement, and appearance. She reported to us that she still got nervous in the beginning and went too fast. But there was progress.

Next, we are working with her on a national sales meeting presentation. She’s understandably nervous because of her shortcomings the previous year, but, after rewriting the PowerPoint to make it more conversational and easier to remember, she is getting to know the material. I have her rehearsing lines just like you would for a play. Practice may not make perfect, but the more you practice, the more confident you feel.

We are committed to her success and will even be at the tech rehearsal the night before to ensure that she’s bringing her best self to the meeting.

Voice & presentation coach Marilyn Pittman & executive producer Marianne Wilman were the Business Presence coaches at this training.

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Preparing Your On-Camera Content

Fashion models aside, being on-camera requires speaking, and speaking requires having something cogent to say. And yet, many executives, entrepreneurs and business owners don’t write their own content and often have little time to prepare before the lavelier microphone is being attached to their lapel and the cameras start rolling. This combination of underprepared content and little or no practice in delivering it doesn’t foretell a good on-camera experience. Don’t forget, most online video content will live indefinitely in archives, and for anyone watching – underprepared or not – this is who you are.

If you’re a subject matter expert going into a studio for a 5-minute hit, or you’re presenting about what your company or product does, or you’re tasked with providing sound bites to be included in a larger package, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Create an outline for your storytelling with a beginning, middle and end. Find an overarching statement to start, then create three sections to support main points. Finally create an ender which pulls the story together and perhaps looks out ahead. You want to end on a strong note, leaving a good impression.
  • Craft your outline and remarks to work within the time limits given for the appearance. Also, be concise, and avoid rambling. Too often presenters talk too fast and too much for the audience to connect with what they are trying to say.
  • Include data and quotes to back up your arguments and memorize them so that you deliver them in the natural flow, and with assurance. This information will ground what you have to say and will also provide you with confidence.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Say your presentation out loud many times over so that the content becomes very comfortable and you don’t overrun the expected time limits. While you are driving in the car is a good place to practice. And, if something is awkward to say it’s time for a rewrite; if it’s hard to say, it will be awkward to listen to. Remember, your delivery should be as conversational as possible so create a script that’s easy to deliver, worry less about how it reads.

Most importantly, if you have an appointment with the camera don’t wait to the last minute to think about what you’re going to communicate. Don’t wing it! The best content has been worked and reworked and then practiced for effortless delivery. This is your opportunity to be a storyteller. If you have your content down delivering it will almost be fun.

Screen Presence President & Executive Producer Marianne Wilman created this post

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Fashion models aside, being on-camera requires speaking, and speaking requires having something cogent to say. And yet, many executives, entrepreneurs and business owners don’t write their own content and often have little time to prepare before the lavelier microphone is being attached to their lapel and the cameras start rolling. This combination of underprepared content and little or no practice in delivering it doesn’t foretell a good on-camera experience. Don’t forget, most online video content will live indefinitely in archives, and for anyone watching – underprepared or not – this is who you are.

If you’re a subject matter expert going into a studio for a 5-minute hit, or you’re presenting about what your company or product does, or you’re tasked with providing sound bites to be included in a larger package, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Create an outline for your storytelling with a beginning, middle and end. Find an overarching statement to start, then create three sections to support main points. Finally create an ender which pulls the story together and perhaps looks out ahead. You want to end on a strong note, leaving a good impression.
  • Craft your outline and remarks to work within the time limits given for the appearance. Also, be concise, and avoid rambling. Too often presenters talk too fast and too much for the audience to connect with what they are trying to say.
  • Include data and quotes to back up your arguments and memorize them so that you deliver them in the natural flow, and with assurance. This information will ground what you have to say and will also provide you with confidence.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Say your presentation out loud many times over so that the content becomes very comfortable and you don’t overrun the expected time limits. While you are driving in the car is a good place to practice. And, if something is awkward to say it’s time for a rewrite; if it’s hard to say, it will be awkward to listen to. Remember, your delivery should be as conversational as possible so create a script that’s easy to deliver, worry less about how it reads.

Most importantly, if you have an appointment with the camera don’t wait to the last minute to think about what you’re going to communicate. Don’t wing it! The best content has been worked and reworked and then practiced for effortless delivery. This is your opportunity to be a storyteller. If you have your content down delivering it will almost be fun.

Screen Presence President & Executive Producer Marianne Wilman created this post

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