Our latest tip from YouTube: is there really any such thing as non-local media?

A prospect told us last week that they might want media training but would record the thing on their iPhone rather than engage a camera operator. It is, they said, the “modern way”. It’s happened before. A year or so ago a client, who’d found the training room was double booked so we were moving somewhere else, told camera expert and documentary maker Paul Michael Angell that he should be travelling lighter rather than hulk all that kit around, there was no need for all this substantial equipment.

In truth a lot depends on your objective. When we media train we can do it with a trainer and nobody else by all means, but if you or your client wants the full experience as if a reporter and a camera operator were visiting, it’s no use expecting a smartphone to do the job.

There’s no problem with smartphone cameras, by the way. When we’re out we happily use them to record video tips and also take pics – and very frequently you’ll see the results on our PowerPoint slides (here is a dramatic pic of the Pont du Gard Guy took, edited to appear in mono).

If you go into a TV studio or invite a professional into your office or a location of your choosing, however, you have the right to expect more. In “real life” you’ll have a purpose-built camera pointing at you. They will have brought a light and it will be shining on you, they will be interfering with your clothing to attach a mic or waving a boom at you (actually if they wave it that’s bad, but you get the idea).

You’ll need to be comfortable with all of this if you’re serious about going in front of the cameras and that’s where media training can help. You can save money by using a smartphone if that’s what you want and that’s fine; you can bring (or our trainer can bring) a hand-held digital SLR if you want to capture the interviews but focus exclusively on content because you’re not aiming to go into a TV studio anytime soon.

But if you want a proper media experience then you need the full rig – and that’s something we offer. Get in touch to find out how we can help.

Guy Writes: I’ve been editing the next edition of my podcast, the Near Futurist, and if I say so myself it’s a good one. I take little credit, the interviewee was engaging and really knew his stuff – but I have had to eliminate fillers to make him sound better.

Let’s put it another way: he was one of those people, who, typically of speakers for the last ten years or so, started almost every response with “so”. It’s a good filler to eliminate and it’s worth explaining why.

Eliminate some fillers

First I should make my view clear. “Eliminate fillers” isn’t an absolute command. You can’t take out every “umm” and “aah” and nor should you; if you answered a journalist or podcaster in an interview and got rid of all of them you’d sound unnatural. Most listeners would assume you were reading from a script and that’s never good.

Unless they’re excessive, then. most fillers can stay. There’s an exception though, and that’s “so”. The reason is straightforward: it can actually end up damaging your answer.

I should explain.

Picture of a microphone

Eliminate fillers at the beginning of an answer

Most people who use “so” other than as a conjunction to link two clauses (“I did a big workout¬†so I am tired” is fine) will use it to start an answer to a question. As a journalist I might ask how a company takes its products to the market and the answer might be “So we find the indirect channel works best for us”.

Now ask yourself: would that be stronger or weaker without “So”, as a standalone answer? To me the answer is simple – “so” takes the edge off. In my podcast I’ll try to get rid of it as often as possible and we’ll come to the practicalities in a second. First it’s worth looking at why people use it.

It’s better than “Umm…”

The subhead gives you my best answer. People start with “so” because they feel they have to start speaking immediately and they don’t want to begin “umm…”. In either case it wouldn’t be a comment on their subject knowledge. They just want a second to think and are terrified of silence.

Here’s the big secret: I can cut silence whilst editing my podcast. Radio and TV interviewers can do the same and there’s never any need to worry in a written interview.

But if I’m going to cut it out anyway, where’s the harm? Here’s when it becomes difficult.

An inconvenient stop

“So” tends to flow into the next word. If you start your interview “So I did such and such” and I try to cut “So” out, it can end up sounding like “why did such and such”.

It makes no sense and the listener will soon sort it out in their head but consciously or otherwise they will be distracted. This is why you don’t want “so” at the beginning of an answer – it can make the next word, once “so” is cut off, sound as if it’s starting abruptly. This is why starting with “so” can actually damage your quote; it will sound less natural when it’s removed.

The alternative is better.

I don’t mind listening to you thinking

Your instinct is to start speaking immediately so nobody ends up with silence on their broadcast or podcast. That’s considerate but as we’ve established, we can deal with that. Anyway you don’t work for us, you want to ensure your point is clear and well-made. So here’s what you do.

You take a second. You gather yourself and you think “I’m going to start here and finish there” and then you answer. The result will be the same answer you were going to give – media training is not about lying or removing an honest view from a quote – but better. You’ll have a strong start and a strong finish because you’ve taken a second to plan it.

It’s not a natural technique. We tend to launch into answers immediately, talk over each other a little, stop and start again. It takes getting used to.

It’s more useful to you, though, than starting everything with “so”. If you can get rid of that habit it will pay you handsomely.

Need a hand with your presentation or media interview skills? We can help – email Lindsay and she’ll set us a time for an initial chat.

 

Press releases have been very much on lead trainer Guy‘s mind as he is about to help a communications company with writing them. There will be elements in the course on targeting of course, and making sure you know who you’re talking to. There will also be a little bit on language and some of the rules.

Many of these are utter baloney. Let’s have a look at a few.

I before E except after C

Press releases need accurate spelling but is this one really a rule? We’ll be asking the younger delegates whether they still have to learn this nonsense. It was drummed into previous generations as a rule of spelling. Guy’s own teacher in the 1970s tried adding “I before E except after C and when the sound is ‘ee'” because some bright spark aged eight had pointed to the word “weird”.

Nobody should blame the teacher for trying to rearrange reality so that the rule still worked. There are indeed examples in which an “ei” construction is there and sounds like “ee”. The difficulty is that there are also words like “neighbour” and “feint”, and we are now (in the UK) living during Charless III’s “reign”.

There are too many exceptions to this rule for it to make sense. It’s suitable for the bin only.

-ize is an Americanism

A lot of press releases come from America and it’s reasonable that they have American spellings. The popular conception is that if a word finishes “ize” when it could finish “ise” then it’s an Americanism and should be changed.

Now check the Oxford English Dictionary. Both are acceptable. The trick is to be consistent. Also if your client has a particular take on this (and they should) then make it consistent. It’s technically wrong to suggest “-ize” is American only but it’s so ingrained by now it doesn’t matter, we just do what the client says.

You should never use a preposition to start or finish a sentence

Press releases need clarity. And that means listening rather than picking at every archaism. OK, you knew we were going to start a sentence with an “and” or “but” immediately you saw the sub-heading. But it works and makes sense. You knew we were going to start a sentence with “but”, too, didn’t you.

Companies are always referred to in the singular

In most cases this is true, although at the time Guy became a journalist the Wall Street journal would refer to IBM and others as “they”. That’s stopped now but it really doesn’t matter whether you refer to companies as singular or plural as long as you stick to a house style; the fact that we haven’t been able to find a major source that uses plural suggests you’re safer with singular.

EXCEPT when you’re referring to a sports team. Football commentators and journalists will always, at least in the UK, refer to “they” when talking about a team.

Never split an infinitive

That’s the “to do” bit of a verb. Of course you can, as Star Trek proved all those years ago – “To boldly go…” might have sounded neater as “To go boldly” but the writers wanted “boldly” closer to the beginning and it made the right impact. The trick is to ensure you don’t put too many words between the “to” and the “go” bit. “To boldly go” is fine; “To boldly, but not so urgently that you haven’t got time for a cheese sandwich to take the edge off, go” is deliberately terrible but you get the idea. The reader will have forgotten the “to” bit by the time they get to the main point of the sentence.

There are other examples of course. But those are a few Guy will be pointing to this afternoon.

Does your team need help with press release writing? We are available – drop Lindsay a note by clicking here and she’ll set up a time for an initial no-obligation conversation.