From the 2006/2007
Edition, “Media Training Guidebook”/PR News
HUMANIZE YOUR ON-AIR
Mike Schwager, President, Worldlink Media Consultants
media training workshops relate primarily to messaging. The
better ones help participants identify and learn to communicate
essential communications objectives clearly, effectively and
In my 20 years
of training executives, politicians and authors about how to get
their messages across, the one key area that has been more
challenging to teach concerns presentational style, and more
specifically, the “likeability” factor.
One of the most
egregious examples I like to use to illustrate this problem is
then Vice President Al Gore's performance in the debates with
George Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign. Gore, who
came into the campaign as the probable favorite, ruptured
support among independent and undecided voters not based on what
he said, but on how he said it – on how he projected his
To many people’s
surprise, he was perceived as arrogant and snooty, compared to
Bush's earthiness and plainspokenness. This in spite of the
fact that in many instances, Gore was seen as being on the side
of the more compassionate perspective on issues.
If it were not
for this performance problem, Gore may have edged out Bush in an
election result that was the narrowest in American presidential
While it is true
that personality traits are inherent in the individual and not
always conducive to pliability, the effects of the worst traits
can be mitigated, at least in structured settings such as
debates or television interviews. Here are some points to
ANGELS OF OUR NATURE…”
beings consist of both light and shadow. Those of us who’ve
done some work on ourselves have learned about our darker
sides. Often stemming from negative belief systems and
unresolved conflict formulated in our formative years, tools are
available to begin the process of healing these more negative
aspects of our emotions.
healing process is well underway or less so, we can use our
intelligence to keep them contained, at least in a debate or
interview setting. Some careful introspection and feedback from
family and friends will allow us to identify the more extreme
negative emotional patterns, and to consciously counter them
with more positive substitutes.
For example, if
one is an interrupter, the common-sense solution is
not to interrupt. Here, during the training session,
work must be focused on the art of listening. If we
consciously intend to listen to the interviewer, or to the
debate opponent, waiting for this person to complete his or her
thought before responding, allows us to be perceived as
and extreme reactivity is part of our nature,
learning the art of unattachment from another
person’s positionality, allows us to address the opposing
point-of-view without being perceived as hostile, or uncentered.
Opposing points-of-view must be addressed with rational and
intelligent argument, explaining their lack of common sense,
workability and potential adverse impact on human lives.
On all counts,
avoid insults or invectives. If your interviewer or
debate opponent insults you or your organization, you can simply
reply, “I take exception to the way you’ve characterized me, my
intentions and my company. Then, go on to explain your good
intentions and actions, and the positive trackrecord of your
company. This way, you’ve put the spotlight on the other
person’s poor behavior, and highlighted yourself as a person who
takes the high road.
important – never get personal with the interviewer or
your debate opponent. Deal with issues, with arguments, with
the validity and sense of the statement put to you – but never
hurtle diatribes at the person him or herself. You simply will
be seen as an ogre, and unlikable.
yourself and your organization.
People don’t want to hear cold statistics or facts with the
simultaneous absence of expressions of humanness. Use
statistics sparingly only to emphasize the strength of the point
you’re making. Make more use of anecdotes. Tell a
story. Make the story human. If you’re illustrating the work
of your company, talk about people, about your customers, and
about your employees. Cite examples. Let the audience know
about your work within the community, about charities you
support, and why you support them.
A smile is
worth a thousand words,
and remember to smile when appropriate. Also, use the first
name of your interviewer, or opponent. When you transmit a
smile, or use someone’s first name, you’re energizing the
empathic cord between you and your audience. You become more
when appropriate. Humor
instantly can relieve the heaviness of a moment, and illustrate
to others that you can lighten up and put things into
perspective. However, for some of us, humor doesn’t come
naturally, so don’t apply it if it isn’t natural for you to do
If you or your organization has done a misdeed, ‘fess up. Admit
the mistake. Apologize for it. If someone has been hurt,
express remorse. Let your audience know you or your
organization will learn from the mistake and never repeat it.
Many people are inclined to forgive, if given the opportunity.
Give it to them. You’ll be seen as a better person for so
you’re not really talking to your interviewer or debate
opponent. They’re just
vehicles for your message. You’re really talking to the
thousands or millions of viewers or listeners on the other side
of the television set or radio. Remember that before you
but be your best self. If
you’re smart, don’t come across like a know-it-all. If you’re
impetuous, slow down and learn to think before you speak. If
you’re not a warm person, be conscious of ways to project more
humanness. Smile. Use first names. Use anecdotes. If you’ve
made a mistake, admit it and apologize. Don’t overreact, and
don’t get volatile.
someone you love or respect.
As you’re talking to an interviewer, think of someone you’ve
been close to who you love and care about. The interviewer will
feel that positive emotion. If you’re in a debate situation,
think of someone you respect. That respect will be felt by the
debater, and possibly lessen the intensity of his or her
opposition. Most of all, the energy will be picked up by the
audience – the people you’re really trying to reach.
Be strong, but
allow some of the vulnerability you’ve been afraid to reveal,
to present itself. People will like you better for it.
is a media trainer and publicist, and president of Worldlink
Media Consultants, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. As a media
relations professional, Schwager specializes in such areas as:
publicity, writing (op-eds, articles, speeches), media interview
training, crisis training, creative strategic planning,
cause-related marketing, radio & television production, and