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You have a story. You just need to find it.

April 21, 2011

Media training is an old and hallowed art. Taught by ex-journalists with deep radio voices, they put hapless CEOs through their paces in a worst-case-scenario interview.

The CEO emerges with an understanding of the media, and is duly chastened. Fortunately, most are unlikely to ever face such a drubbing again. (Although I’m sure Mark McInnes thought that at one point).

Media training is important for anyone who faces the media on behalf of their company. But most people don’t, so they miss out on the lessons it provides.

Yet for every media release a CEO puts their name to, a bunch of people have helped develop it. They’re often technical experts or salespeople, and as a result, have little experience in understanding what the media is after and what makes a good story.

It’s for these people that I’ve developed the ‘communication bootcamp’ concept. An offshoot of media training, it goes to the process behind every good story (whether it’s a media release, case study or simply a PowerPoint presentation). Here are some of the tenets it’s based on:

  • You are speaking jargon – everyone has a professional language, but they use it so often among peers, they don’t realise it’s incomprehensible to the rest of us. It helps to highlight these terms as they come to light, but many people feel dumb asking what something means; I consider it a professional obligation.
  • A sales message is not a story – this distinction is surprisingly hard for most people to make. Experience, examples and some brutal honesty can help illustrate the difference.
  • Credibility doesn’t depend on detail – the quality of your insights will impress people, not the detail behind it. Of course, you need to have it at your fingertips, but when a story is first told, too much information just confuses and distracts people. If they want to know more, they’ll ask.
  • You have a story, you just need to find it – I’ve met some amazing technical experts who’d never see themselves as storytellers. But with the right questions, and an ability to connect their technical knowledge to what’s happening in the world, even lawyers, actuaries and management consultants can weave a compelling tale.

This last point is important (and not just because I’d be out of a job if it weren’t true).

Maybe it sounds a little romantic, given that I’m talking about professional services, but I believe everyone has a story about what they do. They have something they can teach others. Sometimes they just need a hand to realise it.

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