Learning to look good when on camera

A.N. Other, a well-known businessman, has always hated public appearances. On the few occasions when he was asked for televised comments, he was aggressive and abrupt – probably because he feared and despised reporters. But not long ago, developments had TV channels beating a path to his door. Wonder of wonders! The camera-shy executive had become the most interesting of talkers: He handled the subject with ease, stood easily and was articulate, contributed to the discussion and let others chip in. There was nothing metaphysical about this communicative transformation. It was all the result of media training, which an ever-growing number of entrepreneurs, people in show business and politicians are undergoing in order to learn the rules and codes of the mass media. Media training can teach how a press office works, how to write a press announcement and provide tips on techniques for giving radio and television interviews in order to convey a message effectively. Communication bridge «Reporters complain that they lack a continuous flow of information from the companies; they don’t know where to get the data from in order to do their jobs properly. On the other hand, companies complain that they don’t understand how the mass media work. They send a press announcement seven to 10 pages long and then they wonder why nobody bothers with it. A newspaper asks them for a 300-word interview, they talk for two hours and then wonder why most of it was cut. When asked for a statement of 10 seconds on television, they produce one 10 minutes long,» said Lydia Yiannakopoulou, general director of Media Training Experts. «What media training does is to bridge the communication gap between the mass media and enterprises, to the benefit of both,» she explains. Her team has been working closely with Civitas, a strategy and communications company. Following models from abroad (where media-training companies even specialize in specific corporate branches), she set up a separate company that has a strategic alliance with Civitas but also collaborates with other, similar companies. Simulations «Camera, lights, action.» Media-training programs focus on simulations of television appearances, since experience has shown that they are a bucket of ice-cold water for trainees. Trainers include well-known journalists. «They do a very specific job, they are the bridge between the trainee and public opinion,» said Marianna Pyrgioti, who has been involved in media training for six years. What are the first things she teaches people training for television? «For a start, they must correct their body language, especially the face, which is what the camera essentially focuses on. People don’t know how they look on television and when they first see themselves, it’s a shock. You explain they don’t have be born TV personalities. Then you correct imperfections that look bad on camera: lowering the eyes, gesticulating, looking right and left, speaking incoherently. Then you teach them – the hard way – that there is no off the record by letting the camera continue to roll, while in theory the interview has finished and the lights have faded! Or you explain they have to respect televisual time. If you tell them, for example, that a 10-minute speech costs 40 million in advertising time, being business persons, they grasp that immediately.» Hard questions To make simulations more realistic, the reporter needs to be at his or her most vicious. «The aim is to teach them not to take the journalist’s questions as personal attacks if these are tough questions about the company. They all take it personally, but we explain to them that they have to depersonalize it.» On leaving a media-training session where «we asked them hard questions to test them under pressure, they hate me,» said Pyrgioti. «I sit at the table and they look at me askance: I’m the baddie, the shrew! They reach such a degree of transference that they think their trainer is a spiteful, aggressive journalist,» she laughs. At the end of the program, when trainees have familiarized themselves with the medium, members of the training team make sudden appearances at their offices or outside their homes, to see how well they’ve learned their lessons. Media-training programs are tailored to suit the needs of each person or company. Lasting a few days, they need to be repeated at regular intervals. Companies in all sectors – banking, food, entertainment, services, or even heavy industry – seek out their services. «We usually train public relations or communications personnel, and the upper echelons of certain departments who need to come into contact with journalists and to inform them of their activities. It should be clear that we don’t teach them what to say, but to say it using the technique and method which is compatible with media rules. We put their messages in order of importance and tell them how to convey them effectively. We don’t make up the messages, nor communications strategies,» said Yiannakopoulou. People who have done media training, however, seldom confess it in public, possibly because deep down, they would like to belong to that rare breed (two out of 10, as specialists tell us), who are born with the gift. «It’s like wiping out their personality, having taught a person how to communicate,» said Pyrgioti. «When you correct their natural ways, they don’t want to admit it – they want people to think these are their normal communication skills.»

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