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By Kathleen Hessert - Sports Media Challenge Last few seasons saw one of the highest turnover rates in the coaching profession. As we’ve seen repeatedly, having a winning record doesn’t always guarantee contract renewal. However, coupling finetuned communication skills with a terrific program may help ensure your coaching longevity. Media interviews have become the place in which you’re often forced to explain and defend everything that affects your program or sport regardless of whether it’s within or outside of your influence. When you successfully handle media inquiries, interviews become an increasingly valuable coach’s tool. You may never strive to make the "All Interview Team", however, no one wants or can afford to be misinterpreted time and again. The key here is to prepare and create a game plan to improve your interviewing score. When done well, you’ll be able to better avoid dangerous misquotes and other media nightmares. From an interviewer’s perspective, the prime requirements for being dubbed a good interviewee are: providing frank and candid comments, accessibility and the ability to explain ideas in an articulate manner. Conversely, from the coach’s corner, the objective is to get your message across as quickly and convincingly as possible. That requires focus, clarity, conciseness, repetition and charisma. All five can be attained by creating your own Interview Prep Checklist to use as a guide. Before we get to the checklist, let’s explore one area that gets coaches in trouble. "Off the Record" comments can be dangerous. If you choose to take the risk, be certain you know what’s on the line. Make sure it means the same thing to everyone involved and confirm it beforehand. What does it mean to you? 1. Your name won’t appear in the story but the information will. 2. Your exact words won’t be used in the story but the ideas can and will be attributed to a "source close to the team". 3. The reporter can’t use your information at all. It was only for background. 4. Your identity (as the source) will never be used in any way or divulged to anyone...even in a court of law. Now, back to how you prepare to deliver the information you want publicized. Your customized Interview Prep Checklist should address both content and delivery. The checklist should prompt quotable comments and help you anticipate and avoid misquotes. As in a game, you can’t win entirely with defense, you have to get on the scoreboard. Being accurately quoted can score points for you, your players and the program as a whole. The goal is to be quoted accurately and often so the story has you speaking, not someone interpreting you. Interviews can be a good source of public relations garnering new fans and building support. When the focus is negative, typically, the best approach is to go for "the quick bleed not a slow hemorrhage". Get the negative behind you as quickly as you can, then move on. Avoid using and never repeat negative words or phrases. Repeating negatives reinforces them. Whether you’re facing good or bad media inquiries, one way to enhance your performance is to extend your football focus to your media exposure. If you can map out what reporters are digging for, you can direct the interview to answer their questions while promoting your own agenda. Effectively, you’re balancing the power! Listen well, then connect the question to what you want to say. This technique takes practice because it requires that you ignore the words of the question and focus on the idea behind them. You have the ability to reinforce themes, reword questions and give the answer you want. In televised interviews, remember that your demeanor and eye contact are at least as important as your words. Use strategic pauses, gesture with impact, vary your speaking pace, and enunciate to be more dynamic and to help the reporter and ultimate audience better understand. Avoid misquotes at all costs. They tend to confuse the reader and portray you as something other than what you are. There are several techniques that will help you to avoid being misquoted in interviews: 1. Relax. Don’t stiffen up. 2. Don’t be baited. If you’re under fire, don’t get frazzled, the reporter may be looking for a point of attack, don’t give him extra ammunition. 3. Remember, you’re always on when dealing with the media. If you can see a microphone, camera or a reporter’s notebook, assume your words and actions are being recorded.
4. Make your point in 20 seconds or less. Elaborate only if there’s time, interest, or need. The average broadcast interview last 20 seconds or less. If you can’t make your point within that time, the journalist will paraphrase you which leads to obvious problems. 5. Avoid using jargon and generalities. People will warm up to you when you can explain things in terms they can easily understand. Paint pictures with your words. Reading columns, articles, and watching interviews can provide a valuable lesson just like watching postgame films. You can benchmark yourself against the best. Did you offer a good balance of fact and insight to help the audience understand? Watch yourself and ask, what could you have done differently? Was your message perfectly clear? Were your gestures and eye contact in sync with what you said? By looking at interviews like game films, you can learn valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t. Good interviews can’t erase losses, disgruntled fans or angry administrators, but they can significantly neutralize the blow. With job security in coaching becoming more evasive, these guidelines for dealing with the media can help soften the blow and gain supporters for you and your team. Even if you have a great team and your job is fairly secure, you too can gain valuable insight offered in these media tips. Stay one step ahead of the media during your next season. Kathleen Hessert is President of Charlotte, NC based Sports Media Challenge, a professional speaker, trainer and consultant focusing on crisis communication, public speaking skills and media relations. Sports Media Challenge’s website (www.sports.mediachallenge.com) offers regularly updated tips on media, crisis, image and presentation skills.