Analysis: Media Trainers

Some people shouldn't be allowed to face the media without professional help. Russell Hotten suggests where to start
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The Independent Online

Khalid Aziz

FORMER BBC AND ITV JOURNALIST

Too often clients think, wrongly, that interviewing is a joust which someone must win, says Aziz. But it is easier to prepare for a Paxman-style interview because you know it will be tough. The softer approach that lulls people into a false sense of security is more dangerous. About £1,500-£2,000 will buy you an intensive half-day course, and Aziz warns against using PR firms which dabble in media training. Good advice: "No journalist will be interested in you unless you have something interesting to say."

Noreen Bray

FORMER BBC JOURNALIST

There's no mystery around media training, says Bray. It's about making people feel confident about dealing with journalists by providing a better understanding of how they operate. "That way," she says, "the journalist will have a better contact to use in the future." She cites a tendency to be verbose and drift into complex language as the most common mistakes of her trainees. Good advice: "On TV it is not always what you say that matters but how you come across."

John Stonborough

FORMER TV AND RADIO REPORTER

Being able to handle the media is a basic skill that all senior managers should have, says Stonborough. "But some people just never get the hang of it, and I'd rather they discover this within my office rather than during an interview." Charges about £2,000 for an intensive half-day course covering all aspects of media techniques. Worried that the booming media training industry has no trade body to monitor quality control. Good advice: "An interview is no time for an original thought."

Andrew Caesar

FORMER POLITICAL CONSULTANT

Uses a lot of working journalists as part of his training courses because "they still have the inside track". Believes that increasingly "content" is more important than "performance" because "we are moving beyond the era of spin". His courses concentrate on "refining the message". Even so, learning to be confident and clear is vital. Good advice: "Remember that you are speaking beyond the journalist to the viewer or reader." Charges £1,000-plus for a half-day course.

Max Clifford

FORMER MUSIC PR, TABLOID LEGEND

Clifford is not strictly a media trainer, but he has coached enough people to know how it works. Dismissive of the "production line" approach to training, which kills natural qualities and so can defeat the object of trying to get media attention. Uses a selection of close contacts in the media to train his clients. "If you want to teach someone to play midfield, you put them alongside the world's best midfield players." Good advice: "Cock-ups are not always bad - they can be an endearing quality."

Frances Hallawell

FORMER ACTOR, BROADCASTER, PR EXECUTIVE

Says it is important to understand that the media don't just want questions answered, and nor are they interested in corporate platitudes. What the media want is a story. Interviewees have to learn how to turn their message into a story. "But this involves being pro-active during the interview and not letting the journalist run the show," he says. "Look for a point of connection between the question and the message you want to get over." Good advice: "Morally and professionally, it is wrong ever to lie to the media."

Sally Hamilton

SKILLS EXPERT AND TRAINED PSYCHOLOGIST

Presentation experts usually work with people wanting to improve their public speaking, but their skills are increasingly in demand as media trainers, especially for TV. Clients of Hamilton's spend a lot of time in front of a camera, refining how they appear. A common mistake of public speakers is to speed up at the beginning (because of nerves) and speed up at the end (relief at finishing). She also works on body language, "which too often does not tally with what people are saying". Good advice: "Practise in front of the mirror. It works."

Jo-Anne Nadler

FREELANCE WRITER AND JOURNALIST

Warns against training firms that claim to make you an instant TV pundit. She says media training is about putting people through a series of role-plays and situations in order to make them feel comfortable. A common mistake for interviewees is to think they must keep talking in order to "fill the space". Also advises prospective interviewees spend time researching what the journalist wants from you and the angle being pursued. Good advice: "If you don't know an answer to a question or the full story, say so."

Vernon Mann

FORMER FOREIGN EDITOR OF ITN

Says that the biggest task facing trainers is how not to turn people into dull media-savvy politicians. Believes the role of the trainer is to play devil's advocate, and teach people that the media are there to be used, not ignored. Likes to use cameras in training, not because he is a former TV journalist but "because it is the best way to concentrate the mind of the trainee on a question". Spends a lot of time overseas training executives, and his advice for handling the media in any country is: "Be honest."

Alan Stevens

FORMER SPOKEMSNA FOR WHICH?

Stevens, a specialist in crisis management, and his camera team sometimes doorstep executives at 6am in order to bring home the impact of being in the media spotlight. "If there's been a disaster, executives need to know the blind terror of having the media pack pursue you," he says. He'll splice together footage into a news story, and work with the trainee to improve performance and build confidence. Costs around £2,000 a day. Good advice: "After a major incident, always express sympathy, but never responsibility."

Estelle Matthews

FORMER TV SPORT AND NEWS JOURNALIST

Was once flown abroad to train an executive who hit a journalist. "He was not used to being asked questions and got fed up with it," she said. Part of her training involves controlling the adrenalin rush caused by facing the media, which leads people to talk too much and too fast. Has worked a lot with footballers, who "are still buzzing when they come off the pitch to face the cameras". Good advice: "Even if things look like spiralling out of control, there is always something to be gained from good presentation."

James Pratt

RAN DE BEERS DIAMOND INFORMATION SERVICE

Advising people to "be themselves" is pointless unless they know how to be themselves, says Pratt. Hence, he concentrates on how to make people relax and talk in their normal conversational style. Contrary to many trainers, Pratt says being interviewed on the telephone is as difficult as TV, because there is no facial feedback to provide clues about how the interview is going. Good advice: "People being interviewed can find silence agonising, so they fill the silence by talking too much and forget how to breathe."

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