The joke is as old as Moses but I first heard it when I was a kid at church. My pastor (the right Reverend Robert D. Lewis) was getting ready to step up to the pulpit to deliver his Christmas message when his lovely wife Leona handed him a slip of paper. As he began his sermon, he managed to sneak a peek. What was written was a simple, lovely message: “KISS”.
This beautiful sentiment put a smile on his face and lit a flame in his heart that manifested itself in a Christmas oratory worthy of a Spielberg screenplay. On the way home, Rev. Lewis was befuddled by his wife’s harsh tone and her angry attitude. As he put the car into park he turned to her and finally asked what the cause of her irritation was.
“Didn’t you read the note I gave you?”
“Yes, I thought it was lovely. It really…”
“Don’t you get it?” as she jumped out of the car and ran into the house.
“K.I.S.S. – ‘Keep It Short, Stupid’ I have a turkey in the oven!”
The moral of the story: knowing when to keep it brief is always in your best interest.
In my previous articles I have spoken at length about the vanishing attention span of the typical American. If you make your living giving out digestible bites of information, then you need to learn the importance of the short, simple answer.
We are all in the information business. Delivering your clients message, your company’s message or your personal story to the media effectively is what MY little slice of the info pie is all about. You want your message to resonate, cut through all the clutter and ring clearly. If you want to be affective, eliminate the unnecessary. This is extremely important if you find yourself in a damage control situation.
Let’s get the protests out of the way right now. Yes, you are THE authority in your field and you are chock-o-block (a phrase I still don’t understand) full of important information. That’s great. But when giving out information, especially to the media, small doses are easier to absorb.
Look at it this way: sipping is the best way to enjoy an amazing glass of wine. Slugging it out of the bottle in gigantic gulps is a little much and not a pleasant experience. I can’t tell you the number of interview pitches I received where the PR people gave me WAY too much info. When you do that, one of two things happen: the recipient gets overwhelmed trying to decipher the message they just toss it in the trash or; you give up all the info and there’s NO reason for me to interview you or your client.
Also, by keeping your answers short, sweet and to the point, you give the media less ammunition to use against you. Most of you will never ever find yourself in the type of situation where your words will come back to bite you in the arse but there’s nothing wrong with a little self-preservation editing.
When being interviewed about anything, there should be an internal warning light that goes off whenever you stray off topic, get into what may become problematic situation or just isn’t necessary. You know the type of person I’m talking about, you ask them the time and they give you the history of the wristwatch. More often than not people get in trouble when they don’t heed that warning light or say something off the cuff in front of a camera. If you want an extreme example of what NOT to do, just take a re-look at Jerry Sandusky’s recent TV debacles. Take your pick, either the Costas interview or the New York Times interview.
Costas asked direct, specific questions. These questions would have been satisfactorily answered with short simple answers. But Sandusky didn’t do that, did he? It’s my theory that people in general have a natural tendency to ‘explain themselves’ (blame your mom). While watching the interview Sandusky did with the New York Times, I found myself screaming ‘My God man…shut up’. Instead of doing the smart thing, simply answering the question, he decided to ‘expand’ on his answers. I will wager my child’s college tuition that those ‘expansions’ will be turning up in court.
In no way whatsoever am I passing some sort of guilty/not guilty verdict on Sandusky, I’m only using him as an unfortunate example of how not to answer questions when a camera is in your face.
[This is important: Always, ALWAYS assume a microphone or camera is on when it’s anywhere in the vicinity of your face. It’s as simple as asking “Are we live? Are we recording?” if the person on the other side has any amount of professionalism, they’ll answer honestly.]
The more important point about brevity is that if you master this art, you are much more likely to have your comments remembered, re-tweeted, re-posted and all those groovy things otherwise known as having ‘stickiness’. (BTW: there’s a great article about this by Los Angeles radio producer Jason Insalaco on www.talkers.com)
The people you are talking to, not the media but beyond the media; the audience does not have the want, need or desire to listen to your three-minute responses, no matter how insightful. You’ve got them for ten seconds, forty-five if you’re really good. Media types like me aren’t looking for the big picture, we’re looking for the ‘hook’ that will get the audience to read or listen or watch the rest of the story on our website. That’s where you’ll be able to get your entire message out to the masses and hopefully get them to use your product, buy your book or follow your Tweets.
The best way to master this art (other than hiring me as your media coach) is to rehearse, watch and learn.
- Know your material inside out. Go over it again and again.
- Know who you’re talking to and adjust the message accordingly. Are these industry professionals or laymen? Do I have ten minutes or one? What does the interviewer want from this interview?
- If you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it. Truth ‘em.
- Find people who you think communicate effectively and use them to develop your own delivery.
- Watch and listen to your previous interviews. Be critical. Even though it’s exactly what they are, don’t let your sound bites sound like sound bites.
The last point is the trickiest. But if you know what to listen for, you’ll pick it up quickly. Watch the Presidential debates. Listen for what sounds like a genuine observation/answer/response vs. what sounds like a rehearsed sound bite. You’ll be amazed.
We all want the same thing. We want to leave an impression on the audience that will compel them to seek out our bigger message. Give them the right amount of the proper bait and you’ll succeed.
Skip Mahaffey in an award-winning broadcaster, Media Coach/Consultant and Author of Adventures With My Father: Childhood Recollections of Divorce, Dysfunction and the Summer of Love.