Say the words “media training” to someone, and chances are good they’ll have pretty much the same reaction musical artist Grimes did:

To a lot of people, media training is a course in how to duck tough questions, mislead listeners and pretend to be someone you’re not.

Maybe it looks that way because there are a lot of people in the media who sound both polished and phony. They say things they clearly don’t believe, contradict themselves blatantly and come across as colossally fake. They sound smooth and confident… and sleazy.

That isn’t what media training is about. At least, not good media training.

A good media trainer wants you to speak honestly and authentically; that’s when you’re at your most compelling. But the trainer also wants you to speak intentionally and clearly. They don’t want you to be fake; they also don’t want you to be misunderstood. They want you to know what your message is, and to deliver it clearly and effectively.

If you’ve been shooting from the hip for most of your life, that’s going to feel weird at first. It may even feel, well, fake. That’s especially true for performers and artists, who’ve grown used to the kind of spontaneity and free flow of thought that helps them create and invent.

But the creative process and effective communication are different things — related, but different. And some of the skills that you’ve developed over years of face-to-face conversations won’t serve you or your audience well once you’re speaking from a much bigger platform. Especially if you’re speaking about contentious public issues.

Talking face-to-face, you get plenty of opportunities to see if something you’ve send was misunderstood, and to correct it. Get a question you weren’t expecting? You can mull it over, think aloud, explore ideas, backtrack…and then reach a conclusion.

Talking to the media, though, it’s a different story. You have no control over what one phrase may become the iconic takeaway from an interview, or over how much (or little) context that one phrase gets. And when that phrase will reach thousands, even millions, instead of just the person across from you, the stakes are a lot higher.

Will media training make you edit what you say? Absolutely…

…but you already do. You don’t just blurt out every thing that crosses your mind when you’re talking to someone; we all have filters that we use in every single conversation we have. They stop us from being needlessly hurtful and cruel, from venting wildly, from wasting our time and others’. They help us make deeper and more honest connections with people.

Media training in many ways is about creating exactly the same kind of filters, but scaled to a much larger platform.

Will media training teach you not to answer questions? Yes…

…but that’s also something you already do. Overly personal questions, questions where you don’t really know the answer, questions about a confidence someone has asked you to keep, questions where you could hurt someone’s feelings unnecessarily — you’ve learned how to respond to those questions without always answering them.

Good media training does the same thing. You’ll learn to address every question, but only answer those where your answer can make a positive contribution.

Will media training make you more cautious and less spontaneous? Yes…

…at first. You’ll be a lot more aware of what can go wrong: where the pitfalls are, how easy it is for one offhand remark to derail a whole message. You’ll start thinking — maybe for the first time about the impact — you do and don’t have. You’ll find yourself second-guessing what you say a lot.

But then comes the part where you start thinking about what you actually want to accomplish, not just what you want to avoid. You think about who you want to reach, and what you’d like them to hear. You think about the impact you want to have, and your media interactions can help you have it.

That’s when you see media training have real power: not when it prevents you from making a misstep, but when it enables you to deliver the things you want to say with much more power, reach and impact.

Photo by Laura Lee Moreau on Unsplash

Subscribe to SpeechList

Insight, advice and ideas for speechwriting, speaking and leadership communications — from my inbox to yours.

Thanks for signing up! Now just one more step: check your email inbox for a confirmation link, and you're all set!