Media Training Q and A with Rebecca Archer
MediaCast, April, 2022

Media Training is a service we recommend to all clients participating in media interviews or wishing to improve their communication prowess. Our Marketing and BD Coordinator, Annika McTaggart, sat down with MediaCast’s go-to Media Trainer Rebecca Archer to answer some of our burning questions!

With over twenty years’ experience as a broadcast and digital journalist, producer, and presenter, Rebecca is a voice of authority on media training. She has worked with household names including the ABC, SBS World News, Sky News London, and the BBC World Television News, to name a few. She is passionate about helping talent find their voice, nail their messaging, and create real impact.

Why should businesses invest in media training?

When a business has a reputation for smart or engaging spokespeople, that’s going to be the first place a journalist calls when they’re working on a story. For example, when I was covering business and finance for ABC News, there were certain economists and analysts that I would call for comments on things because I knew that they’d give me insightful, easy to understand, jargon-free soundbites. I could rely on their real-world examples that wouldn’t leave listeners or viewers scratching their heads thinking “What on earth are they talking about?”

In general, refining communication skills through media training means you can offer a bank of experts who become really sought after by the media and become known as what journalists refer to as “good talent”. That sort of reputation is invaluable to a brand!

What impact does it have on journalists when talent is media trained?

It is honestly an enormous help when journalists can interview someone who is fully prepared and has a solid understanding of what you’re after. Journalists can go away and craft an interesting and memorable news story. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been interviewing someone who has a really fantastic story to tell but their execution is just falling a bit short. It means the reporter has to work really hard in those cases to try and extract the gold.

Sometimes journalists ask the same question in several different ways to try and draw out a usable quote or soundbite. Media training teaches people how to plan and prepare for an interview so that you’re offering the reporter excellent messaging in every single answer.

Is there a particular aspect of preparation that people typically overlook when they’re readying themselves for the interview?

I’m not sure there is any one particular thing people miss when getting ready for a media appearance, but I do sometimes encounter people who come into a media training session feeling overly confident about their interview topic with a ‘just wing it’ attitude.

They might think to themselves “I know this stuff like the back of my hand, it’s all there in my head,” but the tricky thing is knowing a topic well enough to converse with your colleagues and knowing how to communicate that topic to a broader audience are two completely different things. 

Broadcast audiences are just that – broad! There are going to be people with no understanding of your industry or business or the issue so they’re really going to need you to fill in quite a few blanks for them. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking yourself, “Who is the audience for this media interview? What sort of language do I need to use to make sure that everyone who sees, or hears, me speaking has a clear understanding of my message?”

Who has more control? The journalist or the interviewee?

I think a lot of people assume that it’s the journalist who is in control in an interview because they’re the ones who are asking all the questions. While it’s certainly true that as the person being interviewed you won’t always know what the reporter’s questions will be, the strategies and techniques that I teach in my media training sessions give people the ability to communicate their key messages, regardless of what those questions are.

It's vital to remember that the journalist has essentially come to you because they need your help in telling their story. It’s you who is going to be able to provide all the crucial facts and figures that help to build up credibility in the story. I think it’s useful to consider an interview as a transaction – you both have a part to play!

Say you’ve nailed the body language, you’re pretty happy with how you’re presenting yourself physically, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking “I’m still quite nervous”, how do we project confidence?

The best thing that we can do is to interpret feelings of nervousness as excitement, or opportunity, ahead of a media interview, or a public speaking engagement. We all get nervous. I still get nervous when I’m presenting live on TV or radio.

In fact, the first time I presented the weather for ABC Queensland, I was so nervous that my legs were actually shaking. I remember thinking “I really hope the camera can’t pick that up!” and it didn’t, so it was fine. Taking deep breaths, walking around before the interview, whatever it might be, can really help you work out those nerves.

Practice is the best weapon against a lack of confidence: stand in front of a mirror, rehearse the key messages, record yourself on your phone, watch it back, listen to it back, see if you can make any adjustments. The more often you say “yes” to opportunities for public speaking or interviews, the more comfortable you become.

Are journalists always secretly trying to get us to reveal something that wasn’t in the talking points? Are they a little sneaky? What’s your opinion on that?

I actually think it’s a really common misconception! This is where I come back to that fact that more often than not, the journalist has contacted you because it’s your knowledge and experience that’s necessary for them to write their story.

Now of course, that doesn’t mean journalist won’t try and ask about other things... When I was covering business and finance for the ABC, I would almost always throw in a question about either the state of the economy or interest rates. Now I promise I didn’t do that to try and trip up the person I was interviewing, but I knew that if I could get, let’s say the CEO of an ASX listed company to speculate on interest rate movements, then I would not only have a lead story but potentially also a very good scoop or exclusive. The takeaway here is to be aware of topical issues, current events, things that might be trending that you are likely to be asked about. Have your technique for answering those sorts of questions at the ready.

What’s the most exciting outcome for businesses that do end up investing in media training?

I’ve worked with organisations that have effectively become household names because their spokespeople are called on so regularly by journalists. But really beyond that, an investment in media training is about more than just helping to boost the business’s profile, or maybe protect its reputation in a crisis, you are sending a message to your own team that you value their skills and their knowledge and their abilities so much that you’re willing to have them speak on the organisation’s behalf.

You’re also creating a network of people who are effective and confident communicators. It’s enormously beneficial for the work that they’re going to be doing with stakeholders or other clients and even within your own team.

I’ve had feedback from property developers who have been in my sessions and at the end of the day said to me “Look, I may never be called on to represent the organisation in a media interview but I’m going to use all of the skills I’ve learnt today when we do our town hall meetings and our community engagement.” Often, the developers have met with a lot of hostility and aggression from members of the community who are opposed projects. By applying really solid, persuasive communication techniques, they’re able to diffuse those hostile situations. These skills are so broad, you actually become a much better communicator in all aspects of your life.

MediaCast can provide training to your spokespeople, ambassadors and even case studies or individuals offering their personal story to ensure that they stay on message during interviews and make an impact for your brand. Reach out to us today to find out more about our media training by emailing contact@mediacast.com.au.