by Gerard Braud
This first lesson may seem counter intuitive, so let me explain what I mean. You don’t want to talk to the media, but to the media’s audience.
Ask yourself, who is that audience and how smart are they? The general rule is that the average person who watches TV news has a 6th grade education. And, the average person who reads a newspaper reads at an 8th grade reading level. Those listening to radio news fall into those same ranges.
So when you do a media interview, you need to be talking to those people and using words and language that those people understand.
Drop all the big words. You don’t win any prizes for being multi-syllabic.
Can the corporate jargon. Synergistic win-win collaboration means nothing to anyone but you.
And get rid of the government speak and axe the acronyms. Neither your audience nor the media should need to be a code talker to decipher what you are saying.
Think of it like this… If you were asked to speak at career day to a 6th grade class at your local school, what would you say? In fact, my assignment for you is to call a local school and ask to speak at the next career day. It’s a great exercise.
OK, so the skeptics out there may disagree. Here are the things I hear from the skeptics:
• Well I’ll just tell the media what I know. It’s their job to simplify it.
• I don’t want to dumb it down.
• What will my peers think?
• My audience is different.
My answer is bull, more bull, definitely bull and absolutely bull.
If you want the media to get it right then simplify the information for them. Do their job for them. Do the translation for your audience.
No one wants you to dumb it down and I’m not asking you to dumb it down. I want you to simplify it. There is a difference. I want you to be inclusive. I want you to respect what the audience may or may not already know. Be kind. Help them out.
As for what will your peers think, seldom will your peers be your audience when you do a media interview. Chances are your potential customers are your audience. Doctors should not use technical medical information but should use bedside patient language. Corporate people should not use corporate speak but customer speak.
New research also indicates that even people with college degrees and advanced degrees prefer to read at an 8th grade level. Information overload means they really want to be able to skim and quickly digest everything they have to read, whether it is a newspaper, e-mail, web site or memo.
You have a responsibility to communicate in a way that the media’s audience will understand. You have a responsibility to communicate in a way that is easy for the media to understand, digest and repeat.
So our first rule is “don’t talk to the media.” If you’d like a reminder, send an e-mail to me asking that I send you one of my “Don’t Talk to the Media” post cards. You can put it on your desk where you’ll see it every day. (my address is firstname.lastname@example.org )
In our next lesson, we’ll talk about the connection between profit and a media interview.