It is time to make media trainings current with contemporary scientific knowledge about both verbal and non-verbal communication.
Whether I am media training somebody in Austin or in Brussels, I am constantly reminded, through what trainees share from previous training experiences or what they hear from others who have taken a training, of the fact that a lot of the training material that is used in the market is not evidence-based.
Media trainings have different components. There is the part where the trainee is walked through anything that comes before and after the interview. Message design will typically be discussed here. Also an explanation of how arrangements can be made for going off the record and what it means to offer an exclusive (or scoop) are included in this part of the training. This is all pretty straightforward subject matter.
Things become more complicated at the moment when the trainer starts work on the pièce de résistance of every media training: explaining to the trainee what good delivery looks like and having the trainee rehearse the recommended techniques through simulated interviews. This is the part where trainers will sometimes find themselves on less than solid ground.
Two possible results ensue when trainers teach non evidence-based methods of verbal or non-verbal delivery. Either trainees pick up adroit behaviors, but for the wrong reason (a pity, but not the end of the world), or they pick up wrong behaviors or unnecessarily focus on parts of their performance that do not matter much (which is far more problematic).
Three things your media trainer got wrong
In a recent article that I collaborated on with Tina McCorkindale of the Institute for Public Relations, I listed three things that you will often hear media trainers tell their trainees that really don’t make much sense:
- A message always needs to be repeated three times in order for it to be picked up
- One should never use negative statements
- Words only account for seven percent of the impact of communication
Where do these mistaken beliefs come from? I do not have all the answers to that question. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) doctrine seems to be the culprit for some of the misconceptions. Trainers pick up NLP insights consciously or assimilate insights from other trainers, the people that teach them to train for example, not knowing that their mentors were inspired by NLP.
Next to that, it seems to me that many misconceptions are particularly “sticky” because they intuitively feel right. Consultants and trainers are just people (does that come as a surprise?), meaning that they will always most readily accept models that dovetail with their gut feeling of what the world looks like.
The brain as a machine that hampers when you insert a negative statement, does that not make sense? It seems logical at any rate. The concept is easy to understand and easy to explain. Before you know it, a dire warning against negative statements finds its way into hundreds of media training slide decks all over the world.
More need for (access to) research
It would be a boon for media trainers if there would be more literature available, not distributed over myriads of academic articles, but summarized and condensed in a way that consultants and trainers can handle and oversee. The IPR could possible play a role in such future endeavor.
In the meantime, media trainers will have to do their homework as best as they can and dig up through whatever means available to them the evidence-based techniques that will serve their trainees best. And the buyers of media trainings will continue to need to inform themselves on the content of trainings ahead of time, and look for red flags based on the articles that others and I write on the topic.
Did you enjoy this piece on evidence-based media trainings?
You might also like my interview with Paul Gibbons where he talks about the need for change managers to apply more scientifically grounded approaches.