The ‘Main Thing’ Your Spokesperson Needs to Know

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

– Quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain

Focusing on brevity and conveying a single message is one of the greatest challenges in media training yet it’s the key to increasing your “quotability quotient,” according to a train-the-trainer session I attended led by media training expert Nan Tolbert of The Communication Center.

Too often, clients believe that providing more information will help reporters “get it,” but that tactic usually backfires. You need to focus on the headline instead, she said.

Speaking at the Capitol Communicator’s Convergence in Communications Conference on March 6, Tolbert offered the following insights and tips:

  • Don’t forget traditional print when conducting media training sessions. Read a sample newspaper quote out loud to demonstrate how few words are used after a typical 30-minute interview.
  • Treat a phone interview with the attention you’d give to a TV interview. “It’s too easy to get to relaxed,” she said.
  • Think of each answer as a stand-alone statement to convey your messages.
  • Never repeat a negative statement or the reporter’s question. Otherwise, you’ll risk having that statement included with your quote.
  • What used to be called blocking and bridging is more commonly referred to as “pivot phrases,” used to re-direct an interview response. Practice using: “not at all…” “on the contrary…” or “what’s more accurate is…” as your pivots.
  • For message preparation, stick to three key messages, each supported by a fact and an example/anecdote.
  • Prepare your message with the soundbite in mind: “Simplicity is what gets you quoted, but is has to be done in advance.”

Tolbert shared the following quote from a client who summarized his media training take-away: “I get it. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”


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