The Three Things To Kill In Your Media Interviews


A Guest Post By Brad Phillips, Author, The Media Training Bible

Brad Phillips HeadshotMemory studies consistently find that people forget the vast majority of what they read, hear, or see, especially if they are only exposed to the information one time.

One early study by Herman Ebbinghaus, the 19th-century German psychologist who was among the first to study human memory, found that people forget most of what they learn within days. Although his pioneering research was conducted more than a century ago, it still rings true for those of us who can never quite remember where we left our car keys.

Therefore, successful messages must remain unburdened by three things: wordiness, jargon, and abstractions. The more a message tries to say—and the more abstractly it tries to say it—the less likely it is to be memorable.

As a general guide, aim for messages that: have no more than two commas; contain no more than 30 words; and evoke concrete images.

1. Too many words: Resist the temptation to jam everything you can into a single message—omitting less important details makes good sense. After all, if editors are only going to include two of your quotes in a finished news story, don’t you want them to choose your two most important messages? If the editor decides to run your fourth and seventh most important messages instead, I’d question whether your interview was a success.

2. Technical jargon: Unburdened messages require you to throw jargon overboard. Our clients in technical fields—such as scientists, physicians, and engineers—are the worst offenders of this rule. In fairness, their professional lives are spent awash in technical gobbledygook, their office conversations littered with words rarely used and barely understood by the general public. But considering that the public suffers from information overload, any words that prevent people from quickly grasping your meaning will result in messages that are quickly forgotten.

Even if you think your audience will understand more complicated terms as long as you use them “in context,” don’t use them (or at least define them if you do). They won’t hear the end of your sentence if they’re still trying to process the unfamiliar word you uttered at the beginning.

As an example, here’s an actual quote from a real press release: “The gradualness (oriented primarily towards actual users) of the new Handy Backup is the succession of interfaces. With all the maximal simplicity and refined usability, the new one is designed to look structurally associative to the previous version…”

3. Abstractions: Abstractions, or broad concepts or ideas, are difficult for people to visualize. “Justice,” for example, is an abstraction—just try instantly conjuring up a detailed image of that word. A more concrete message about justice might mention the need to punish thieves who rob old ladies by imprisoning them for the next 20 years. That type of concrete message is much more memorable, and therefore works better for media messaging than an abstract one does. Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of the excellent book Made to Stick, write that “trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air.”

The goal of most communications is to move an audience from lack of awareness to awareness to action. The more unburdened your messages, the more likely you are to achieve that goal.

Brad Phillips is the author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He writes the world’s most-visited media training website, Mr. Media Training and is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm.

 


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Angela says:

    I think for many PR practitioners it is difficult to “resist the temptation to jam everything you can into a single message.” You are always worried about what has been left might become the weakness of your content. I sometimes find it hard to prioritize messages. But I found it could be effective and efficient to explain some complex wordy processes or concepts by using diagrams like flow charts and infographics; however, it does take extra spaces.

  2. Anchal Nayyar says:

    Hello Brad,
    Your post is very compelling. Thank you for sharing your views. I have also read Made To Stick. It is a wonderful compilation about building powerful messages.
    It is a very obvious fact that after a few words, or at least sentences, people lose track if they don’t understand what you are saying. But this is ignored many times because people have a lot to say and believe every word of it is important. A good way to avoid repetition would be outlining why you want them to know something and why they would want to know it. If this is clear, the rest of the script can turn out to be very influential.
    Creating mental images in writing is a great way to bond with your audience. Using action words, colors, expressions are all useful in creating meaningful and impressive visuals. Messages that stimulate visuals ensure that your audiences process the messages the way you designed them.

  3. kerodgers says:

    Brad,

    I found a lot of useful tips from this blog post in particular. I, too, have read Made to Stick and I’m glad that you have incorporated some of the principles in the book to media interviews- this is not something I would naturally relate those concepts to.

    I really like your simplicity of not using “too many words”. I feel this is something I often do, especially when conducting any kind of interview or presentation. It is important to remember that we are all humans and we all just want to get things done in a timely manner. However, without being too vague, it seems to be a true feat to be simple, to the point, but also cover all the questions or topics. It seems like you have really mastered this thorough simplicity and I was wondering if you had any tips for presentations specifically.

    I feel that conducting interviews are very similar to giving presentations, however presentations allow for more rambling as you’re not exactly expecting feedback from your audience like you would in an interview. Perhaps that’s the magic rule? Treat your presentation as if it was an interview? Maybe, maybe not. I would be curious about your opinion on the matter, especially since I will be giving a presentation in a few days.

    Thank you for the very resourceful and helpful tips in being direct. I hope I will one day master this ability as you have.

    Best,
    Kelly

  4. Jim Nico says:

    Fascinating, cutting edge, and immediately applicable information–my next episode of The Social Network Show will be better thanks to this sage advice. Thank you Brad.

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