In October 2018, video blogging took a step towards the mainstream when the young video blogger, Joe Suggs aka Thatcher Joe (8 million subscribers) was announced as a Strictly Come Dancing contestant. The fact the majority of those over 25 had never heard of him was immaterial. It was Joe’s vlogging audience the BBC wanted to attract as Strictly viewers.
Thatcher Joe – The Easiest Prank to Try at Home
Along with his sister, Zoella ( 4.8 million subscribers), Joe is part of a gang of vloggers who’ve made lucrative careers for themselves by creating their own YouTube channels and producing content for teens and students. If it’s not your kind of thing, don’t worry. What’s important is that Joe is one of many Millennials who can talking naturally to a camera. He’s as relaxed in front of it as you are in front of the television on a Sunday evening.
Such naturalness and confidence is quite alarming compared to the wooden rigidity of so many business leaders, sports personalities and politicians. Especially, as the more we watch video on social media, the more we expect those on our screens to sound confident, articulate and re-assuring.
If you are a business owner or the leader of company that wants its products and services to to be seen and heard, having good media communication skills and knowing how to talk to a camera is essential.
Chief Executive, Reza Merchant on Ian King Live
Sky’s Ian King Live is a perfect PR and marketing opportunity for any founder or expert, and whilst most of the interviewees are fairly good, many fail to capitalise on the occasion due to a lack of basic media communication training.
Why Media Communication Skills Sell a Brand
In some companies there are the ‘chosen few’. Those who are selected to speak to the media because of their seniority or because a colleague thinks they will be ‘good in front of the camera’. That’s why the media is littered with those who are unaware of how inarticulate or superior they sound and who fail to acknowledge that appearing on camera can be far harder than managing a team meeting or chairing the Board.
Those who are easy to watch and listen to:
- Present themselves as leaders whom others can trust
- Demonstrate that they are a genuine expert
- Increase knowledge, understanding and awareness of a product or service
- Boost employee pride or loyalty to the brand
- Are memorable.
This is one of the reasons why the experts who are good appear on the media regularly. And whether you are talking to camera on TV, the intranet, a marketing video or a social post, the principles behind being an effective communicator are the same.
What Good Camera Conversations Have in Common
Those who are convincing on camera, have five things in common:
- Authenticity – they appear genuine in what they say. They don’t look rehearsed and are easy to listen to. You don’t think they are saying what they want the audience to hear.
- Naturalism – you sense they are the same in front of the camera as off it. Their knowledge, passion or enthusiasm is the same regardless of whom they are talking to.
- Flexibility – they can adapt to the situation they find themselves in and keep their composure if and when the unexpected happens.
- Awareness – they know who their audience is, and why it’s important to forge some kind of direct connection with those watching them.
- Concision – they can reduce what they want to say to the core facts and articulate simply. They avoid saying everything so as not to confuse the viewer.
Those who are really good at all of the above are also compelling. They use stories, statistics and memorable phrases, and they learn how to express themselves so that their audience pays attention.
In the video below, Claire Daniels, a Match Official Development Officer with England Rugby, demonstrates a few of these characteristics when talking about something that she’s passionate about – giving women the chance to become female rugby referees.
Clare Daniels, RFU Match Official Development Officer
Your Message, Voice and Body
Being a good media communicator requires you to be in control of your message, your voice and your body language.
1. Your Message
As 56% of online videos tend to be less that 2 minutes long and only 37% of these are watched to the very end, time is at a premium. Likewise, any television interview will rarely last more than five minutes. This is good news as it forces you to be razor sharp about what you want to say.
On too many occasions, people are insufficiently prepared. They have a sense of what they want to say, scribble it down on a scrap of paper and feel the job is done. As a result, they fail to prioritise what is important to the viewer as well as those stories or phrases that will make the interview memorable.
You can avoid this if you follow the three-step process taught by Brad Phillips in his book The Media Training Bible. It’s very reliable and one that I use frequently.
Step 1: Work out what YOU want to say
This sounds obvious but so many people don’t work out what they want to say. Make the time to write a list of the most important things you want to get across. Prioritise the top three and then craft an individual message for each.
If my key priority is to make my audience aware of how my business is going to revolutionise the rental market in London, then my individual message might be built around:
Step 2: Think about what your audience needs you to say
Make a list of all the things that your audience need to hear from you. Do they want clarification about a service, a clear understanding about what your product does or the discovery of something new etc?
From your list, select the three that you think are the most relevant. Do these three also appear in your list on Step 1.
If the most important things for the customers of my London rental business is:
- Long-term security
Then my message needs to be revised accordingly. Clearly, ‘long-term security’ is more important than the ‘lifestyle’ issue I prioritised in Step 1.
It is the needs of your audience that take priority, not yours.
Step 3: Craft a treasure trove of message aids
Message aids are the stories, statistics or memorable phrases that are going to help you connect with your audience.
The treasure trove contains:
Everyone loves a story and if one captures our attention we will naturally listen to it. So, if you have a story, particularly if it is a personal one, use it. Work out how to tell it as simply as possible.
Think of The Red Chair Stories on The Graham Norton Show in which a member of the audience has a couple of minutes in which to tell their risqué story. Invariably, those allowed ‘to walk’ have told stories that are funny, short and to the point. Those who are ‘tipped-up’ are invariably, hesitant, long-winded and boring.
The Red Chair Stories on The Grahame Norton Show
Numbers are an effective way of making something complicated easy to understand, especially if you can talk about them as: (Italics come up a red for some reason?)
- Percentages – “All our hard work to introduce new heating efficiencies is going to go towards reducing of our carbon footprint by 15%.”
- Ratios – “One in twenty people on the London Underground is reading a newspaper or book, the rest are all looking at their iPhones.”
- Personally beneficial – “A reduction in our meat consumption is not only good for our health, it’s good for future generations and the planet as a whole.”
c. Sound Bites
A sound bite is a short, concise sentence or phrase that is memorable. It’s also known as a slogan or tag line. Audiences enjoy them as they are easy to remember and share.
The term was coined in the 1970s and has been loved by the advertising and PR industry ever since. Franklin Roosevelt’s, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ is one of the most famous. ‘The lady’s not for turning’ and ‘Axis of evil’ are other well-known examples.
As a first step review your message and any stories or statistics that are related to it. From this you then craft a couple of sentences that summarise the key bits. Then edit and re-edit so that you bring it down to the bare essentials in an easy to say way.
Creating your own soundbites takes time, rarely do they appear as a flash of inspiration. Try Marcia Yudkin’s The Sound Bite Workbook for specific guidance on how to do to this.
2. YOUR VOICE
Your voice contains signals that tell the listener whether you are happy, confident, nervous or shy. Although at times you may wish to sound measured and reflective, in which case a lower and slower pitch is better. Whatever the occasion, be aware of your voice and how you want to sound.
Most people speak at 150 – 160 words a minute which is roughly the first two paragraphs of this article, so talking at this speed allows you to deliver information much more quickly than if you were to write it.
Think of your voice as an instrument you can control to add greater meaning to what you want to say. Modulate your message by using:
- Volume to speak a bit louder than you would normally to add energy and authority.
- Pace by talking a little slower than normal, especially if you tend to get nervous.
- Silence to add authority to what you say by adding a 1-second pause here and there. It can add gravitas, as well as give you useful thinking time.
Try also to take control of your breathing with Diaphragmatic Breathing. As you breathe in push your stomach out, so that when you talk your stomach moves in. It requires practice but it helps to give you better breath control.
3. YOUR BODY
The impression you leave has little to do with the actual words you speak. Research by the psychologist Albert Mehrabian in 1971 found that the impression people form is determined by:
- 55% from body language
- 38% from vocal tone of voice
- 7% from the words used
These are oft-quoted statistics, but they are true. Mentally place Donald Trump alongside Theresa May and you see them in action. Compare many of today’s politicians with those of the 1980s and 90s (Heseltine, Blair and Ashdown etc) and you see a body language that is low in presence, authority or energy. It communicates a lack conviction and a fear of causing offense.
The truth is that you don’t even need to hear what someone says to determine whether or not they are an effective communicator. In Blink, Malcom Gladwell, shares this simple story:
“The psychologist Nalini Ambady once gave [college] students three ten-second videotapes of a teacher – with the sound turned off – and found they had no difficulty at all coming up with a rating for the teacher’s effectiveness. Then Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds, and the ratings were the same. They were remarkedly consistent even when she showed the students just two seconds of videotape. Then Ambady compared those snap judgements of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors after a full semester of classes, and she found they were essentially the same.”
This is does not mean that words are unimportant. There should always be a strong connection between the words you use and how your voice and body support the message. In no circumstance should there be a ‘message disconnect’. This is when someone says robotically, ‘I’m so excited about the new launch of our gluten-free product range….’ but with no physical movement to indicate enthusiasm or change in tone of voice to suggest delight.
The most important elements of body language are:
1. Energy – focus on being a more energetic and passionate version of you. Don’t hold back. Even if it feels unnatural to you (at first), the viewer will quickly tap into your own interest or enthusiasm for what you are talking about.
2. Eye Contact – strong eye contact communicates confidence and believability. Inconsistent contact communicates nervousness, defensiveness and sometimes a lack of trustworthiness.
TIP: If you find it hard to maintain eye contact focus on the interviewer’s forehead, on the bridge above the nose and between the eyes. (Q: How does one re-start numbers if the list is broken as above?
3. Gestures – help to communicate that you are engaged by what you are talking about and to increase the impact of what you want to say. However, too much gesturing is distracting.
If you are standing, rest your hands by your side and bring them up to gesture when it feels right. Whilst this may feel strange it will look fine on camera.
If are sitting, keep your hands on your lap or loosely within one another, as Angela Merkel is doing in this interview with the BBC’s Katya Adler.
Body Positioning: Angela Merkel and Katya Alder
Angel Merkel is sitting in a relaxed manner, she has excellent eye contact and the way she is sitting allows her to use her hands to emphasise something she feels strongly about. They appear as lightly clasped which some might interpret as ‘closed’ body language. In this case they are not as she is resting them gently on her lap as an act of listening.
Merkel may not be famous for impassioned interviews, but she is always calm, controlled and authentic, something her body language confirms.
4. Posture – good body posture communicates that you are alert and that you want to communicate.
If you are standing, place one foot slightly in front of the other, keep your arms by your side and drop your shoulders. Keeping one foot slightly in front of the other reduces the risk that you might sway and keep your energy more forward facing.
If you are sitting, shift forward on the chair, like Katya Alder above, so that your back in not touching the back of the chair. Plant your feet firmly in front of you and lean forward slightly.
Media Streams and Channels
There are so many channels to allow you to get your face and your message known but first you have to be willing to appear on them.
1. Your website
As we’ve established, people do business with those they like and trust, so find places on your website where they can meet you. 30 to 60 seconds is all you need.
2. Corporate Video
If you’re making videos about your products or services, appear in them. Look at ways in which your knowledge, expertise and passion can be aligned with what you sell.
3. Broadcast News Interview
Make yourself known as a business and expert to all the different media desks. Work with a PR agency [ Link to Missive] to get you the introduction and air-time. Shows like Sky’s Ian King Live [Link] are always looking for fresh content.
4. Press Announcement
If you have something important to say, don’t just send it out via the usual PR channels record it too.
5. Skype Interview
Many interviews now take place via Skype as this is a cost-effective way of bringing an expert into the studio. If you are going do a Skype interview, make sure:
- You know how you look on-screen. You want a clean head and shoulders shot, not too close and not too distant. Nothing is worse that someone peering into the screen or slouching half-way down it.
- Get some headphones. They may not look that glamorous but struggling to hear what your interviewer is saying will lessen the impact of what you want to say.
- Tell colleagues / family. As anyone who saw the interview with the political analyst, Prof Robert Kelly will remember, interruptions can by funny but costly.
Doing a Skype interview with children is hard
I once worked on a film in which a Dawn French had a scene with John Cleese. She’d never worked with him before and was understandably very nervous. At the time Dawn was riding high with her TV series French & Saunders and was the epitome of confidence and success. However, before Cleese arrived on set, she asked me to rehearse the scene with her numerous times. It paid off. Dawn was very funny as a charming bank teller deftly handling John Cleese as the bank-robber, Mr A Capone.
Whoever you are, whatever your level of experience, practice. Get familiar with your message, your stories and all the little things that go into delivering an effective interview. Practice your technique in informal, low-key situations so that when the big-time moment arrives you feel confident and assured.
If you are going into a location or environment you’ve never been in before, learn about it beforehand and envision yourself there. In a prime-time TV studio you are a content commodity, there to fill a slot at an appointed time. In a crowded conference hall, you may be surround by numerous distractions. Whatever the location, there will be a different vibe and atmosphere you will need to adapt to.
Above all, enjoy the experience. You don’t have to be perfect and it’s not all about you. Your fear or anxieties are of no concern to the person watching you. All they want is to know how you can inform and educate them about something they knew nothing about 60 seconds before.
If you can manage to entertain them, then that’s a bonus. But remember, none of this will happen if you decide to wing it! The camera seldom lies.
Grow your Brand with good Media Communication Skills
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If you’d like some media training, whether for a TV interview or promotional video or, call or email me.
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