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Media Training: How To Speak During a Media Interview


A client recently told me about a fascinating new approach to television advertising. Some advertisers, she said, are producing 30 second commercials without even a hint of sound.

That approach goes counter to every rule of television advertising. Since the combination of visual messages and audio allows for the greatest probability of the advertiser's message actually sinking in, sound is a critical element. Plus, since so many people leave the room during commercials, advertisers want to make sure those people can at least hear the ad.

So why would a television advertiser leave the audio out? Imagine it's dinner time. Dad is preparing dinner for the kids and has the television on in the corner of the kitchen. Dad's not really watching - he's focused on cooking - and the programming is basically just background noise.

But you're an advertiser, and since you're paying good money for that airtime, you want his attention. So the television, which has been providing consistent background noise for the past half hour, suddenly goes quiet. Dad notices, and his head snaps up to see if something is wrong with the set. He might even walk over and fiddle with the volume.

The advertiser has earned his attention. The tactic worked.

Good interviewees apply the same principle during media interviews. They know that on the other end of the radio or television speaker is a person who's cooking dinner, driving the kids to school, or multitasking in some other way. They don't assume that the audience is hanging on their every word; rather, they know they have to reach out and grab their attention.

Seasoned pros do it by varying the tone, volume and pace of their verbal delivery. If they've been speaking at a moderate pace, they suddenly speed things up. If they've been speaking rather softly, they may suddenly become emphatic. By doing so, they've recaptured the audience's attention.

Let's give an example. You're on the radio and are working up to your key point. You've been speaking at a fairly moderate pace, and your volume has been rather steady. As you work your way to your key point, you suddenly slow down and reduce your tone to that of a whisper. By doing so, you've signaled to the audience that something important is coming. All of a sudden, their dinner preparation takes a momentary break so they can hear what you have to say.


If you remember the 1980s film, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, you probably remember the sardonic actor Ben Stein playing an economics professor. Standing perfectly still, he would face the classroom with complete disinterest and say, "Does anyone know what this is? Anyone? Anyone?"

That oft-quoted iconic role is still used as the perfect example of a ridiculously boring, monotone speaker. But how many interviews have you heard or listened to that sound pretty much the same?

Although it may seem unnatural at first to speak in varying tones, volumes and speeds, great orators have been doing it for centuries. And since the number of distractions in the modern world have increased exponentially since the time of Cicero, it's more critical than ever to use every tool at your disposal to retain an audience's attention.

Brad Phillips is the founder and president of Phillips Media Relations. He was formerly a journalist for ABC News and CNN, and headed the media relations department for the second largest environmental group in the world.

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