Rachel Friend, Media Training Sydney

Human Capital Magazine features Media Friendly

Mediafriendly featured in Human Capital magazine.  www.hcamag.com  I was asked to comment on communication skills in the workplace, the role of social media in office communication and the importance of personal brand.

Rachel Friend, Media Training SydneyCommunication breakdown

In an age of instant communication, why is it that business leaders still often fail to get the message through to those who most need to hear it?

“We weren’t told anything”, “I was the last to know…” How often are those phrases heard when it comes to significant events at work? Human Capital asks Rachel Friend, founder of media training and coaching company Media Friendly, about how to do it better. Friend, a 20-year veteran of the media industry, has worked as a reporter, producer, host and journalist (and an actor prior to that). In that time she has gained some valuable insights into how great leaders communicate, the tools they use, and how they’ve crafted unique but effective personal brands.

Human Capital: The key word in so many business situations – from mergers and change management to downsizing – is communication. Yet it seems many business leaders struggle with effective communication. What’s your experience?

Rachel Friend: There are endless studies to show the value and importance of effective communication in the workplace but in the end I think it’s just common sense. Most of us find any kind of change unsettling. Who enjoys being kept in the dark when there are whispers of redundancies, mergers, takeovers or downsizing? While these conversations might be difficult I’d argue that failing to communicate puts the business at much greater risk. In troubled times people look for a ‘captain’ to steady the ship. Great business leaders will keep their staff’s trust by sharing information. Great business leaders will also listen, empathise and where appropriate act on information they receive in return. Autocratic leadership generally leads to low staff morale, poor efficiencies and high staff turnover. It’s hardly rocket science so I’m always puzzled when I hear of business leaders who fail to prioritise good communication.

HC: What does effective communication mean in 2012? With so many communication channels now available is the autocratic communication style of the past no longer suitable?

RF: I don’t think the essence of really good, effective communication has changed. While today’s business leaders can use tools like Skype and even social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to communicate, in the end effective communication isn’t about ‘telling’. Effective communication is about delivering a message, making sure it’s received and then listening for feedback and a response. A business leader can have all the tools this modern world provides and yet still communicate in a very autocratic way. It’s disappointing, but how many employees continue to learn about job losses, redundancies, M&As from journalists?

HC: In your consulting, what areas do you work most on when it comes to workplace communication? Is it the tools used? Or the way in which information is conveyed?

RF: It sounds really simple but often it’s just helping a client think about the objective or the point of the communication. What are they trying to communicate? If it’s a presentation then how would they like their audience to feel or think or act? If they’re presenting or responding to a hostile audience then how do they best engage that audience? How do they answer questions without appearing defensive? The tools – PowerPoint, visual aids or even learning how to tweet or blog – come later. The message and the sentiment with which it’s delivered needs to be right first.

HC: Often HR professionals have ‘communications manager’ tagged onto their job title. Are they a conduit between management and employees?

RF: From an ‘outsider’s perspective’, given I’ve never worked as an HR professional, I think HR executives now have a bigger role to play than ever in corporate communications. It would seem to me that a big part of their job is ensuring information is shared both ways between management and employees. But now it would appear that HR is also expected to play ‘gate keeper and referee’ across outgoing communication in the form of complaints, conversations and commentary made by staff on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, etc. They are an important piece of the communication puzzle.

HC: You advise on building and enhancing personal brands. What does a personal brand consist of?

RF: To me personal brand means having a really distinct identity. It’s about taking some time to think about your values, your goals, your likes and dislikes so that the people around you understand what you’re about. I think having a strong personal brand helps us stand out from the crowd. It’s about a strength of conviction and a self-confidence – but please understand it doesn’t mean you need to be the loudest person in the office or the funniest person in the bar. You may love needle point, or ancient history or aspire to sail around the world. It doesn’t matter, so long as you are authentic and genuine.

HC: Why do personal brands matter in the corporate world? Does this link back to how we communicate, how we convey ourselves?

RF: I think having a strong sense of personal brand helps us to build new relationships. It’s what will differentiate you from the next person. It can also go a long way to helping our colleagues understand us and relate to us. How much easier is it to communicate with a colleague or business associate if you know a little bit about them – their interests, their goals, their business style? Think about all the time and money sporting teams invest in boot camps and bonding sessions which are designed to help team members understand each other better. The best teams are made up of individuals who respect each other’s differences and yet unite and work together for that common goal.

HC: How do you advise people around their brand? Can you give me an example of where someone might need a ‘brand overhaul’?

RF: I think it’s important for anyone, no matter where they sit on the corporate ladder, to spend some time developing their own personal brand. It really forces you to look in the mirror and think about exactly who you are, where you are going and what you’d like to be. More specifically I’ve coached clients who’ve wanted to improve their interpersonal skills and make a stronger impression when meeting new people. These clients recognised that they needed to work on building a stronger identity. Another example was a client who had been given a big promotion but was having trouble convincing his colleagues he was no longer a university graduate and was worthy of being included on the leadership team. In his case he needed to look, feel and act like a leader. Yes, I guess he needed a rebrand!

Media Training Tips with Rachel Friend

I’m always happy to answer questions about what we do.  Here are some questions I’m commonly asked ….

1) Is media training just about ‘the interview’ for you? If not, what else should people understand?
Media training covers a whole raft of issues and skills, from understanding what constitutes a story and makes news, to adjusting key messages to suit an audience, all the way through to developing the skills and confidence to manage a news pack at a press conference. Every session I run is different and tailored to meet the needs of the client I’m working with.
2) What are the key misconceptions/mistakes you see from people before media training?
I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who will sit down to be interviewed without spending any time thinking about why they’ve agreed to be interviewed and what they’d like to get out of the media opportunity.  I think many people also underestimate the skill of simply being able to tell their story in a meaningful and entertaining way.
3) What are the key messages/skills you try to focus on?
This will depend on the brief and the experience of the person I’m training but it always comes back to objective and audience.  Really understanding what you are trying to get out of each media opportunity and who you are talking to.
4) Editorial coverage has often been deemed to be worth Three times (x3) the value of the comparable advertising space.  Do you subscribe to that?  Do you think it’s worth more or less than that?
I think it’s difficult to put a value on editorial space – some would argue that it’s priceless.  As an example if you think about an advertisement for a bank placed on SKY News versus a segment with a banking expert talking to Peter Switzer about changes  in superannuation, I’d suggest that viewers will be far more engaged by the interview and more likely to remember the ‘expert’ . (Provided of course they’ve been well trained!)
5) Who should do the interview?   CEO, PR person, expert?  Depends?
This very much depends on the situation.  In the event of a crisis, usually the CEO needs to be visible and seen to be taking charge.  PR practitioners will often facilitate and organize the opportunity but not usually take centre stage.  Within an organisation there might be opportunities for a number of people to act as “expert commentators” and share the load a bit.
6) How should someone go about choosing the right media trainer for them? 
I would look at their breadth of experience.  Do they have experience across all forms of media?  i.e print, radio and television?  I’d also look at the trainer’s testimonials and client list.  Once you’ve selected a couple you are interested in make sure you call them.   Find out more about their sessions, what they will cover and how much they charge.
7) Do you see other media trainers doing or focusing on things that you don’t agree with / that you prefer to do differently?  
The feedback I frequently hear  from clients is that other trainers really focus on crisis training and frighten people from ever wanting to talk to a journalist.  Of course there is a time and a place for worst case scenario training but most of the time journalists are looking for stories, for new information and for expert comment from people who are commonly referred to in the industry as “good talent”.  (To be described as good talent means you are articulate, engaging and not afraid to offer an opinion where appropriate.)
8) What are your key recommendations for dealing with a crisis?
We now live in a 24/7 news cycle.  Social media means that news travels fast.  In the event of a crisis I think it’s imperative that the company’s spokesperson is visible and available.  During the Queensland Floods, most networks provided continuous coverage – the Premier Anna Bligh regularly updated journalists and the public, sometimes hourly.  She was widely praised during this time because she was visible, available and empathetic.

In The Black Magazine, Media Training

INQUISITION BY MEDIA

EVERY TIME YOU LOOK INTO A CAMERA OR SPEAK AT AN EVENT, YOUR REPUTATION – AND THAT OF YOUR COMPANY – IS ON THE LINE

BY BRIAN JOHNSON
NEGOTIATING THE MEDIA TRAINING MAZE CAN BE ALMOST AS DAUNTING AS FACING THE MEDIA

NEGOTIATING THE MEDIA TRAINING MAZE  CAN BE ALMOST AS DAUNTING AS FACING THE MEDIA

DOING MEDIA MAY seem like an extracurricular chore to a senior executive, but its impact can be profound. With more media channels than ever before – and news travelling faster than ever before – dealing with perceptions in the marketplace is often a reality an executive cannot avoid.

Take a step back and analyse. Do you and your organisation have the media skills to flourish, let alone survive, in the full glare of the media spotlight? You may have an insurance policy on your building. It makes sense. But these days you also need to consider an insurance policy on your reputation.

You certainly don’t want to wait for the worst-case scenario of a media crisis to find out you’re sinking rather than swimming. Whatever your company is worth, you don’t want it being put through the media shredder and devalued.

Now you find yourself entering the media training maze. Public relations (PR) is not an exact science, being subject to the whims and flows of the daily news cycle, and the same applies to choosing a media trainer.

Just as your business has its unique set of features, so too do those offering to train you in all-important media skills.

So where to start? Let’s begin at most people’s perception of what media training is all about: the interview.

 

THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

 

“Media training covers a raft of issues and skills, from understanding what constitutes a story and makes news and adjusting key messages to suit an audience, all the way through to being able to manage a news pack at a press conference,” says Rachel Friend, a well-known face on Australian television screens for many years and current director of Media Friendly out of Sydney.

It’s a theme that echoes among leading media trainers. “We generally split our full-day sessions 50-50 on practical and theory,” says Margaret Lawson from Cole Lawson in Brisbane. “Theory covers everything from news values to a day in the life of a journalist and ethical and legal considerations. Quality media training should deliver an understanding of news, as well as practical skills.”

It’s a good point, because every interview you do will be different. Especially so when you consider a radio talkback interview can go for 15 minutes, while radio news may just want a 15-second comment. Further, a television report might only drop a three-second grab into the story – all of which can influence the way you deliver your message.

Did you proactively go to them (via a media release) or did they come to you, seeking comment on something making waves in your industry? Understanding where the media is coming from and what they’re looking for can dictate whether you get the spotlight exposure or your cross-town rival is seen as the authority.

 

ROOKIE MISTAKES

 

“QUALITY MEDIA TRAINING SHOULD DELIVER AN UNDERSTANDING OF NEWS, AS WELL AS PRACTICAL SKILLS.” – MARGARET LAWSON

“QUALITY MEDIA TRAINING SHOULD DELIVER AN UNDERSTANDING  OF NEWS, AS WELL AS PRACTICAL SKILLS.” – MARGARET LAWSON

Many people undertake media training with a high degree of mistrust of the very people they’re hoping to engage and communicate effectively with – the media. Certainly, journalists can hunt in packs, but having a confrontational and negative attitude may not be the best place to start.

For others, it’s the failure to stay on message during an interview. “You don’t want to say anything to a reporter that you don’t want reported,” notes Channel Ten’s Mark Aiston, who runs Adelaide’s Media Insider. “It can mean that what started out as positive news turns into a negative piece.”

Doug Weller, a former ABC journalist and lecturer who operates Corporate Media Services in Melbourne, agrees. “It often comes down to a lack of preparation, and involves the delivery of jargon and acronyms. It’s sloppy and can show lack of confidence, such as failing to make appropriate eye contact during TV interviews.”

All of which leads us back to the need for media training. But just as the interview isn’t the whole story, being trained up for only one type of situation may not be giving you the full range of skills your organisation deserves. If you invest in media training, look to develop a broad set of skills so that you can talk to positive stories, not just learn about putting out fires.

 

CRISIS AND FEAR FACTORS

 

A negative attitude towards the media can actually be amplified by media training. There are organisations that specialise in crisis management courses. If that’s what you’re looking for, fine. But this won’t necessarily equip you to deal with the media in the broadest, most proactive and more positive sense. And not all courses are equal.

In some cases, the operatives can scare you senseless about what can go wrong, complete with cameras in your face from the time you step in the door before an on-screen dissection of everything you’ve done wrong, hour after hour. Then, right at the end, they’ll tell you what you should have been doing. “I know people who have gone along to these sessions and told me it was the worst experience of their lives,” Weller says.

The ability to handle a crisis should certainly be something you’re able to do, but when it comes to choosing a media trainer, think about all the skills you’d like to walk away with. That said, crises are definitely something that loom large in the minds of the trainee. It’s the nightmare of disaster-meets-media that most people fear. What should you do?

Here experts are clear: “Engage the media as quickly as possible,” Weller suggests. “Be honest and open, but don’t feel you need to know everything in a developing situation.” A classic example of this, in practice, was the marathon media performance of then Queensland premier Anna Bligh during the state’s flood crisis of January last year. “We live in a 24/7 news cycle,” Friend says. “The premier regularly updated journalists and the public, sometimes hourly. She was widely praised during this time because she was visible, available and empathetic. In the event of a crisis, it’s imperative the company’s spokesperson is visible and available.”

In terms of your own organisation, who should that person be?

 

LOOK WHO’S TALKING

 

MEDIA TRAINING INCLUDES UNDERSTANDING WHAT CONSTITUTES A STORY AND ADJUSTING KEY MESSAGES

MEDIA TRAINING INCLUDES UNDERSTANDING WHAT CONSTITUTES  A STORY AND ADJUSTING KEY MESSAGES

There may be more than one media option on offer within your organisation. It could be the CEO, the head of PR or an expert on the topic in question.

So, who should do the interview? As a general rule, if dealing with a crisis it’s a better look to have the leader assume a leadership role.

Fortunately, a crisis is the exception rather than the rule. If the media is coming to you as a result of a media release, you’ve no doubt already nominated the talent available. If, however, it approaches you for comment on a news development, you need to weigh the knowledge of the person you’re considering against their ability to communicate.

Quite frankly, they may know the subject inside out, but if they don’t look or sound sharp it can be counterproductive for your organisation.

 

A NEW GAME IN TOWN

 

There’s another important variable you need to consider when it comes to media training, and that’s social media. It is a real game-changer. This is because, in many ways, you’re no longer dealing with the media to get to an audience but directly with the audience itself, and you may find that you need to respond to that audience.

Does your company have a Facebook page? Do you send out Twitter updates to your customers? The rise of the internet has been profound and social media can see messages go worldwide in a click.

Weller suggests applying the “Front Page Rule” to anything your people click out: “If you wouldn’t want to see it looking back at you on the front page, don’t say it – and don’t send it.”

ARTICLE GALLERY

Television Media Training

I recently stumbled across this story by Today Tonight.  It profiles a Beauty Therapist who goes by the name of Dr Ilesha Haywood.  Of course suprise, surprise, she is not a Doctor and while she claimed on camera to have a PHD (on Yoga no less) the journalist could find no record of it.

The lessons here are:

1.  Don’t ever lie.

2.  Presume that everything you say on camera will be used.  Once the interview starts there is no use looking to your “minder, publicist or support person” for help.  Watch the story and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

The Beauty Doctor

Social media for athletes

The ABC’s 7.30 has put together a great report on the perils of social media for high profile athletes. The same rules apply to celebrities but further to that we should all remember that what we publish on twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets may have an impact on our own personal brand and the brand of our employer/sponsors or stakeholders.

Watch the segment and then let me know what you think.

Dary and Monk: The Perils of Social Media

Media training. What journalists want.

Not all journalists are confrontational, sensationalist, scaremongers! They don’t all tap our mobile phones, re edit video, quote from mystery “insiders” or make up fanciful stories! Most are honest, hard working people who are looking for breaking news or stories about interesting things, told by interesting people.

There is a time and a place for crisis management. I’m a huge advocate for practice and preparation but media training should not be just about preparing for the “worst case scenario”.

In television and radio in particular, journalists are looking for “good talent”. People who can deliver “great grabs”. (In layman’s terms that means being articulate, charismatic and engaging).

I’m sometimes frustrated when I hear stories about media training companies who run workshops designed to humiliate and frighten their trainees. These poor unsuspecting people, who are unlikely to ever participate in a genuine media interview, suddenly find themselves being verbally whipped by a trainer channelling Mike Munroe or Ray Hadley on a bad day!

Rest assured we can deliver a potent punch when it’s needed. An interviewee can find himself completely out foxed and vulnerable without being part of a dramatic walk in or street chase.

But most journalists want stories. Good stories. Stories with currency. Stories that will reverberate with a wide audience. They are also looking for people who can tell their story with an appropriate side dish of passion, emotion, excitement, credibility and authenticity. People who are ‘mediafriendly’.

Executive coaching. How to really listen.

Listening’s such a simple skill.  It’s easy right?  By definition to listen means “to make an effort to hear something”.

My own listening skills were recently put to the test during a course I attended at Sydney University in Executive Coaching.   The course facilitator suggested that there are four levels of listening: cosmetic, conversational, active and deep listening.

I’d argue that cosmetic listening isn’t really listening at all.  And yet if you think about a lot of the conversations you are involved in day to day, you might be surprised by how often you ‘pretend’ to listen.

In case you are still confused about what I mean let me share an example of cosmetic listening:

It’s school pick up and in the back of my car I have two children engaged in parallel conversations about their day while I’m trying to listen to Richard Glover (ABC Sydney) interview Craig Thomson.  At the risk of damaging my reputation as a caring mother I confess to nodding vigorously at both children while increasing the volume on my radio just a couple of decibels.  It’s only when my six year old exclaims “mummy you are not listening to me” that I realize my cosmetic listening is just not cutting the mustard, I turn Richard down and engage in some “conversational” and “active” listening.

Before we go further let me define the four levels of listening:

Cosmetic:  As per my example.  Bad mother!

Conversational:  Plays out like a game of table tennis.  The listener waits his turns or seizes a gap to get involved in the exchange.  Think of all those conversations you have with friends over a coffee or a beer.

Active:  the listener will ask questions, empathize, nod to show their engagement and probe for more information.  If you’re in a healthy relationship this might apply to those more serious conversations you have with your partner over a work issue or a family dilemma.

Deep:  Those conversations that don’t rely on words.  Where the listener is using all his senses to understand what is being said.  If we’re honest most of us probably don’t engage in deep listening very often.  It can be really difficult to sit quietly and just listen.

But consider this:

Silence empowers the listener.  That uncomfortable gap in conversation will often provide us with more insight and information than 10 minutes of animated conversation.  Most of us are afraid of silence and find it uncomfortable, but if we get over the discomfort and show that we are waiting, prepared to listen, the silence is often the pre-ample to the opening.  For the person doing the talking, it’s often a point of decision making.  Will I take the plunge and reveal what I am thinking?  As a good listener we need to feel at ease with this space and use it to reinforce the trust that comes with sharing inner thoughts.

Silence is also a time to use our other senses.  Focus on your conversation partner’s posture; are their hands clasped tightly?  Are they nervously fiddling or sitting on their hands?  Take the time to make sure your own body posture is relaxed yet open.  Unfold your arms, lean in a little or lean back.  Don’t fidget or check your watch or phone.  Make sure that it is clear all attention is currently directed to the person you are communicating with.  When they start talking, don’t interrupt.  Let it flow.

While I think we’d all agree on the value of ‘being heard’ I’d argue very few of us are good listeners.  For most of us, this kind of deep listening doesn’t come naturally.  It’s a real skill.

Love to know your thoughts.

Rachel

 

Presentation skills and tips.

If you have trouble with public speaking rest assured you’re not alone.  Incredibly we rate public speaking as our number one fear ahead of flying, spiders and heights!  Here are the top 4 mistakes we see at our workshops:

  1. Powerpoint slides crammed with text and detailed graphics.  You know that old saying “A picture tells a thousand words?”  Powerpoint is designed to be a visual aid.  It’s not supposed to frame a 500 word essay.
  2. The presenter turning his back on his audience to read his slides.  It’s never appropriate to turn your back and remember your audience can read too!  If you’ve been asked to do a presentation then that means PRESENT your topic to your audience.
  3. The presenter completely glued to his notes.  Eye contact is the most effective way of engaging  an audience.  Remember to look at your audience.
  4. Forgetting to prepare an “end”.  Most people seem to understand the importance of starting strongly but have absolutely no idea how they’ll finish their presentation.   No one enjoys a story that doesn’t end properly.  Leave your audience wanting more and finish on a high.

The really good news is that improving your presentation skills is easy – seriously!  I see huge improvement after just one training session.  Nothing beats proper preparation and practice.  Try it!

 

Media training with Mediafriendly. What makes us different?

Senior media trainers Rachel Friend and Judy Goldman have worked across print, radio and television extensively.  They continue to freelance as producers and journalists to ensure their contacts are current and that they are up to date on what journalists are looking for.

Rachel also has the invaluable experience of acting as a corporate spokesperson for companies including Olay, Dettol, Canon and Stayz.   She can speak from first-hand experience about how to develop and then deliver key messages that will stick.

Mediafriendly is different from other training agencies because our focus is not on preparing for the worst case scenario at every turn.  Of course we will challenge you and ask you the tough questions if that’s appropriate.  We will research your business and industry to ensure we understand the issues and questions you are likely to be asked.  But we will also spend time developing your skills as story tellers.  Depending upon the opportunity, most journalists are looking for great stories.  They want new information or expert comment to help them fill their column space, radio program or television report.

At Mediafriendly, we will help you prepare for interviews so that your story is published and doesn’t end up on ‘the cutting room floor’.

Tips for radio interviews.

What’s your advice to someone doing a radio interview for the very first time?

I’d say just go in prepared with some really good stories and be yourself.  For example if you are a first time author who’s come in to talk about your new book have some anecdotes ready about why you decided to write the book, your inspiration and how it all came about.  If you know the announcer hasn’t read the book then take the bull by the horns and tell us about the book.  Have your messages and your stories ready.  Otherwise you can find yourself coming out of the interview thinking oh god I only got to mention the book once and didn’t talk about anything relevant.  Take the bull by the horns and tell your story.

Advice for getting your key message across without it sounding like a big sales pitch?      

Well don’t make it sound like a big sales pitch and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Honestly some people just take it way too seriously.  You need to be able to get your message across and have a bit of fun with it.  I mean that’s the trouble with a lot of people who get interviewed – that no matter what they are asked they stay on message – it’s like the politicians who come on with their  boring slogans and catch phrases.  “We’re moving forward” or “it’s time for change”.  It’s a huge turn off.

What makes someone you are interviewing really good talent?

It’s pretty simple but the best interviews are with people who are comfortable just telling their story and being themselves and I think the audience really appreciates that.  If we’re all having fun and it’s a great chat then it’s far more likely that the listeners are also enjoying it.  And if the listeners are enjoying themselves then they’re more likely to remember you and your product or whatever it is you’re trying to sell.

Is there an advantage to actually going into studio?

Yes absolutely although I know that’s not always possible.  Sometimes it’s just not practical.  The guest might be interstate or overseas and have to do the interview over the phone but I like to have eye contact with the people I’m interviewing…. not just because that obviously helps build rap ore but also because there’s nothing worse in radio than talking over the top of guests but unfortunately when it’s a phone interview and your guest can’t see you sometimes there’s no way around that.  They can’t see you gesticulating that you want to move on or interrupt them so sometimes you just have to cut in. But I much prefer it when a guest can come in.

What are interview no no’s?  Are there habits or things interviewees do that really tick you off?

I’d say when a guest mentions their product over and over again.  That’s a major turn off.  I think announcers also get really annoyed when a guest talks about other media outlets or appearing on other programs.  For example I might ask a question and the guest might answer by saying “oh I was asked that on the ABC earlier this morning or Larry from the Morning Show asked me that same question. “  Hard to believe people would do that but they do.   Also journalists don’t like it if they try to ask a question in a different way and the guest refers to her earlier answer by saying “like I said before”.  That’s really annoying and a no no.

Jonathan Coleman has worked in both TV and Radio for over 30 years in Australia and the UK.  Jono started his career on Triple J and Triple M and went on to perform the Jono and Dano Show which was broadcast to a national audience both on radio and television.   You can catch Jono every weekend on Weekend Sunrise as the program’s movie reviewer and he continues to work with Ian (Dano) Rogerson on radio.  For more information or to ask Jono a question go to www.jonocoleman.com