COVID-19: the ups and downs of life as a virtual media trainer

By Tim Focas, Global Lead Media Trainer and Head of Capital Markets at Aspectus

From a jam-packed schedule including trips to some of the world’s most glamourous destinations (and Basingstoke) to a life of, “sorry you cut out, can you repeat the question?” But like everything relating to this pandemic, one has to try and look on the bright side (even though Hong Kong was the opening trip on my schedule). And as someone who is used to spending half their time training execs on how best to handle the media, “can you repeat the question?”, is an all too familiar response from a spokesperson who doesn’t really want to provide an answer. At least now they can blame it on internet connection.

Five weeks into media training virtually, it would be, like Piers Morgan interviewing a government minister, very easy to pick holes. It would be equally straightforward to dive into cheap salesman’s talk about how Skype and Zoom deliver exactly the same benefits as an in-person session. So, like the goal of any journalist worth their salt, here is some balance.

From Frost vs Nixon to Paxman vs Howard, the most iconic interviews are always in-person. It is, and will always be, the best format to get underneath the skin of a spokesperson to uncover the truth. A journalist can see every flicker of fear in the eyes and every bead of sweat down their brow and a media trainer gets an equally intimate gauge of performance. Now, even if the connection is smooth, you do not get the same certainty that your advice has sunk in.

However (cue attempt to provide balance as opposed to shamelessly plugging virtual media training sessions), there are some unexpected pros to online sessions. For starters, the share presentation/video functionality provides a much better platform for collaboration. Just practically and indeed environmentally speaking, you can train spokespeople based across all parts of the world in one session without clocking up any air miles.

Beyond logistics, it would also appear that the novelty of some of the tools offered up by the various different platforms creates a freshness to the session. As a trainer, you can quickly share relevant breaking news articles that you have read on screen. While you can do this in an in-person presentation situation, it is easier when delivering the session via a laptop. Instead of news pop ups or twitter feeds being a distraction, you can click through to a story before instantly sharing it with the spokesperson for feedback. Also, the whole session, rather than feeling second best to an in-person experience, puts a greater emphasis on delivering clear and concise points. After all, you want to make 100% certain what you are saying is being picked up clearly.

To coin what is steadily becoming a loathsome cliché, this is the ‘new normal’ for media. The biggest takeaway is that like any good reporter, you are only as good as the story. Sure, there are limitations from a mock interview scenario perspective, but even a tech dinosaur like yours truly has to acknowledge there are certain advantages. Perhaps most importantly of all, the format of the training matches the reality. After all, not unlike COVID-19, virtual media interviews and corresponding virtual media training is here to stay for the foreseeable future at least.

See what one of our recent virtual media trainees said:

“Tim is extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the arts of media training. He helps the attendee learn all the core elements in a quick and precise manner, making this training course very doable with a busy schedule and allows the student to go away feeling confident that he/she has a suite of tools as aids.”

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