Hurricane Isaac was coming ashore. The Weather Channel and CNN dispatched their correspondent to the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, tethered to a $65,000 HD Camera and a half-million dollar satellite truck. Meanwhile, the anchors back in the studio conducted a series of phone interviews with Emergency Managers and Public Information Officers (PIO) in the path of the hurricane.
So why is it, with the wealth of official knowledge available during storm coverage, the news networks suddenly cut away to interview a seemingly random resident, standing in rising flood waters at his home along Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana?
The answer? Because I’m the resident, I’m in rising floodwaters, and I have an iPhone with Skype and a network connection. In short, they picked me because I offer great visuals, firsthand information, and access to the technology necessary to broadcast to the world from my front porch.
While the correspondent might have much better equipment and PIOs have access to official information, the resident can add the much desired sex appeal the story has been missing; this resident offered better television coverage than any of the network’s other options (see samples at www.1234GB.com).
Times are changing and both spokespeople and media trainers need to take action now to prepare for the interview of the future.
This means you should take these 3 steps:
- Get the right technology.
- Get training on how to use the new technology.
- Schedule a customized Media Training class to help you better answer questions from the news anchors during your interview while you are simultaneously (and flawlessly) operating the technology.
Taking one step without the others is dangerous. You must do all three because operating and holding the technology while being a spokesperson is a daunting, multitasking event that goes beyond anything you’ve done before. There is no camera crew. You are the camera crew. There is no producer. You are the producer. This isn’t Skype from your stationary desktop computer. This is Skype while you walk, talk and hold your iPad, iPhone (or similar smart device). This isn’t FaceTime with your mother in which she doesn’t care how you are framed on camera. This is network news in which we clearly need to see you and see what is in the background.
What spokespeople and public relations professions will soon discover is that a) the media will begin expecting you to be ready to do an i-Interview and b) if you are not prepared, they will skip over your official information and go get information from an eye witness on the scene with the available technology to immediately share it, just as they already grab photos, video and social media quips from sources on the web.
Furthermore, your readiness gives you an upper hand when you can pro-actively show and tell the media something they cannot get from a less prepared source.
Here’s what you need to know to get started:
During Hurricane Isaac, Lake Pontchartrain pushed seven feet of water into my lakefront yard. From my house and front porch, raised 15 feet above the water, you could see white caps rolling down my driveway. Using my iPhone, with network connection and Skype, I was able to take television viewers to the heart of the story. I held the iPhone at arm’s length and offered a scene better than the one being provided by the correspondents at CNN and The Weather Channel. Producers even put me first on the broadcast, ahead of their own reporter, because nothing was happening where they were, while I had crashing waves and flooding.
iPhones, iPads and laptops, with a built in video camera, top the list of the technology you’ll need (any smart device will do). Using these for a live interview means you need to be connected to the internet and video conferencing application such as Skype. Under the right conditions, you can also Skype from your smart phone with a mobile network signal.
Many of you are already Skype veterans, but if you’ve never used it, Skype works essentially like a telephone call from your computer or smart device, except it allows your voice call to become a video call through your device’s built in camera. A network producer will call you via your Skype address, you answer, switch on the video feature and you are ready for your live broadcast.
Wireless signals, Wi-Fi, video conferencing and iPhones can all be somewhat temperamental. In my case, keeping the mobile phone dry was another challenge when it came to broadcasting during a hurricane. When the wind started howling and drowning out the voices of the anchors, I was forced to switch to my laptop to perform interviews using the built-in web cam and USB headphones with an attached microphone. Being prepared allowed me to continue being the go-to source because I could hear them better and they could also hear me better.
There are two parts to the technology training. Part one is learning which keys to push and what applications to use. Part two is having the talent to manage the technology, while holding the technology and conducting an intelligent interview with the news anchors. This can be tricky.
You have no margin for error when you are both managing the technology and the interview on live television. For that reason you need to combine the training to practice using the equipment, while holding it yourself, while talking.
The technology training needs to also include how to shoot additional video at the scenes of your event. That means learning how to hold your camera phone or tablet perfectly still, as well as knowing when to “pan” or turn the camera to enhance the video that you provide to the network. These days, the media will use even well composed still photos from a smart phone. While pictures and videos from the untrained eyewitness are often of poor quality, you have the ability to offer more compelling images that better tell the story.
Annual Media Training should be standard operating procedure for every spokesperson. Talking to the media is a skill much like playing sports; you must practice on a regular basis and increase the intensity each time in order to master it.
When you combine it with technology training, you will learn how to hold the iPad, iPhone or laptop at the proper distance so your arms don’t show. Next, you need to learn how to “frame the shot” so the television network sees both you and what is going on behind you. Then, you need to learn where to look, since the web cam on these devices usually tends to be off to one side or the top or bottom. Looking good goes hand in hand with looking intelligent and sounding intelligent. Likewise, saying what is most important upfront is critical, because your live shot will likely last only 90 seconds.
In the world of crisis communications, expect live interviews on the scene via Skype to become the norm. Soon you’ll see television stations interviewing police officers from crime scenes and first responders being interviewed from the scene of disasters.
But this technology shouldn’t stop with just the media. It also lets you post videos and interviews to YouTube, Facebook and your own website, so your public, your employees, and the media all have access to the best, up-to-date information.
Certainly, during a crisis, powerful communications before the crisis and rapid communications during the crisis has the ability to move people out of harm’s way. But that life savings critical communications depends upon you learning to do your part.
Is the Media Ready
The media are actually slow in evolving toward i-Interviews. Likewise, many corporate spokespeople are also still fighting to get their IT departments to authorize iPads and similar smart technology.
But as media revenues continue to fall and as layoffs continue among reporters and photographers, i-Interviews will be the media’s low cost alternative. The question is, will you be ready for the interview of the future?
Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) is known as the guy to call when “it” hits the fan. He is an expert in media training and crisis communications plans, as well as the author of Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to the Media. Organizations on five continents have called on him to help them master effective communications in critical times. He can be reached at www.braudcommunications.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view his tropical storm reports by visiting this link..