16 April 2019

Stare into the Lens Until You Feel Comfortable

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Jason Ballmann

As a classical pianist and composer, my natural talent was present but practice was essential. You need one or the other to be good, and both to be exceptional. All the hours each day I spent writing and experimenting with musical devices, or exercising a variety of quirky, intricate techniques on the piano, were crucial to forming solid skills and artistry. Practice makes perfect, and it also provides confidence, endurance, and mastery for when the stage is set.

An interview with the media is a performance (and a gift!). In my experience training scientists, emergency managers, and other communicators for media interviews, the biggest problem they continue to face is practice. We can pump all the messaging, graphics, and videos formulas into a workshop, get our hands dirty with interview simulations, and even “train the trainer”, but many walk away without planning to practice here and there.

  • Push yourself. It’s good to be confident and ready. Commit now to practicing in front of the mirror. Rehearse your key messages and how you prove them. Discover and stretch new intonations in your call to action. Drill how you pivot away from questions that are irrelevant or unnecessary. Record yourself and rehearse again, a billion times over. Be okay with repeating yourself and figuring out how to say the same thing in a different way.
  • Have fun. Think of media interviews like a game. A very, very serious and precious one. You have to tell the best story in a concise, factual, and inspiring way. You can paint a pretty picture, but you don’t have the time to stop and smell the roses. You have to fight for your story, but you can’t be so overtly emotional as to be unstable or hostile. You may be there to discuss problems, but people will also look to you for solutions.
  • Learn from others. Observe interviewees on local and national television and radio. See if you can discover their patterns, techniques, and habits in physical and verbal delivery. Decide if they are purposed or accidental, and if they are effective. How do they pivot or block and bridge from unnecessary or distracting questions and comments? What are they wearing and why do you think that is? Why do their soundbites resonate, and how do they set that up to succeed?

My AGU18 poster with coauthors Wendy Bohon and Beth Bartel.

– Jason Ballmann is the Communications Manager for the Southern California Earthquake Center, based at the University of Southern California.

Jason chairs the Geohazards Messaging Collaboratory (GMC), which recently published results from various media and social media trainings in their AGU Fall Meeting 2018 poster. The GMC is a joint working group of communications professionals representing some of the nation’s leading geological hazards research institutions, geophysical instrumentation facilities, and emergency management agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey USGS, National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration NOAA, Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), (UNAVCO), and Southern California Earthquake Center SCEC.