Mailbag: Questions from the Online Road

I’ve had the recent pleasure of speaking before audiences at the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics and the National Press Club. The appearances have all been on Zoom.

There are many drawbacks to that technology, chief among them the lack of audience interaction before, during, and after the presentation. That said, there is one benefit. When, as the speaker, you actively invite questions in the chat box, you have a transcript afterward that allows you more opportunity to reflect on the issues. I am in the process of doing that now, and plan to reach out to questioners with deeper reactions than take place in the moment.

I want to share some of those questions with you, along with some rapid fire responses. I hope you will add your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

Faces question markQ: How do you go into an interview to make sure the reporter gets it right?

A: There are no guarantees. The best course of action is to reinforce your message throughout your exchange. Of course, that means you have crafted and refined a magnetic message in the first place.

Q: Should you ever turn down an interview request?

A: Sure, under two conditions. First, if the media outlet fails to reach your target audience. Second, if you detect the reporter to be hostile to your issue. In that case, you may be better advised to issue a written statement.

Q: If a script or notes are needed during a Zoom call, where is the best place to keep them?

A: You always want to keep your eye contact locked with your camera, which means you want your notes close to your camera’s lens. I sometimes place notes in a Word document, then simply scroll down manually as needed. It’s like the TV anchors who appear to be looking right at you when, in reality, they are reading from a TelePrompTer positioned slightly below or alongside the camera.

Q: If the interview is not going well, is it OK to simply end it?

A: One sure sign of an amateur is acting like a spoiled child by storming out of an interview. Be prepared for tough questions and have a plan for responding to them. That’s what the pros do.

Q: How fast is the news cycle today? Is it minutes or hours?

A: Several years ago I coined the term “Minute by Minute News Cycle.” The old moniker of a 24/7 news cycle fails to capture today’s environment. An issue could flare up on Twitter in an instant, so top media relations departments stay on top of things constantly.

Q: [Regarding advocacy efforts} Do you worry that this trend will become the norm and members of Congress will take fewer and fewer in person meetings and settle on more scripted video meetings?

A: My prediction — and it is only that (run from anyone who claims to know what things will look like weeks, months, or years from now) — is that we will end up with some sort of hybrid regime that combines live Capitol Hill fly-ins with remote video participation. This is not all bad news since it allows those advocates unable to travel to Washington to chime in from afar.

Q: Do you need to spend a lot of money on background, camera, or microphone to create a more professional look and feel to your presentation?

A: You don’t necessarily need to fork over boatloads of cash. You do, however, need to look and sound professional, whether delivering a presentation or participating in a remote media interview. Doling out a couple hundred bucks on an HD camera and a quality microphone is well worth the investment. If cash is tight and you need to prioritize, get the mic first. Sound quality is more important to most viewers, so start there. You can find dependable microphones for $50-60.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for someone not used to looking at the camera, but who looks at the screen to see people?

A: It’s all about practice, Yes, it feels unnatural to stare into a camera. How do you think experienced media interviewees get accustomed to it? They undertook a media training program that concentrated on that issue, then committed to practicing diligently over time.

Q: Is it acceptable to have pets in the screen shots? Or is it seen as less than serious approach to your presentation?

A: No pets. Period.

Q: Any recommendations for reaching reporters on the health beat during the pandemic when you cover a different health issue (anti-tobacco)? We’ve covered tobacco/covid-19 co-morbidities a ton, but we’re struggling to get traction on anything else right now.

A: There’s not much to be done when an enormous issue takes all the air from the media atmosphere. We are now faced with multiple screaming issues —pandemic, election, and social justice. About the only hope is to pin your issue, when appropriate, to one of those headlines.


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