Media Training for CEOs: How to Be Powerful + Beloved

media training for CEOs

SUMMARY: Learn the art of media training for CEOs to ensure powerful and beloved communication during interviews. Craft nuanced key messages that resonate with audiences in today’s fast-paced media landscape. Embrace concise sound bites that convey your message effectively without losing depth or meaning. Practice techniques like speaking in phrases that can’t be edited and creating modular messages for different audiences and vertical markets. Foster likability and openness in your CEO’s demeanor to enhance their presence and influence in the media.

Table of contents:

Create Key Messages With Nuance That Resonate With Your Audience During Media Appearances.

The late ABC Anchor Peter Jennings noted, “I find writing the evening news sometimes very challenging because I realize that what we’re trying to give folks in the evening is black and white when so often I want to give them gray.” That same frustration is only exacerbated these days for media, thought leaders and TV guests alike. Especially given the 24 hour news cycle where anchors and commentators are pressured to fill in every moment while the audience suffers from information overload and boredom watching the same images cycle through the screen. Bottom line: There is a place for nuance. It’s just a small place. 

Send a Clear Message That is Easy to Understand.

Attention spans have shrunk to the size of a Nike Swoosh. But one reason why the conservative right is so successful is that they give audiences one side and one side only. It’s simplistic, but it’s clear.

While I’m not advocating simplifying issues devoid of nuance, what I am suggesting is that to help your CEO or spokesperson learn the game that gets ink or air, you must help them develop a million-dollar tongue.

Deliver Concise Key Messages That the Media Can Use.

A large part of that involves delivering concise sound bites (key messages) the media will use.

I love poetry and nuance and subtlety. It saddens me that the place for it in the media is almost as extinct as the White Rhino. I’ve frequently said to my clients that the art of sound bites/messaging is like taking War and Peace and turning it into a haiku.

Learning to speak “sound bite” is like learning a new language. Here are some ways to do that without selling your soul (or losing your message):

Media Training For CEOs Technique #1: Speak So You Can’t Be Edited During a Media Appearance.

I media coached a former Jesuit priest for CBS’ “60 Minutes” who was protesting the sexual harassment he had endured that led him to leave the priesthood. The show was called “Is the Catholic Church Above the Law?” I played Mike Wallace. He got Morley Safer. He said the interview was easy after what I put him through. He was positioned positively. It could easily have gone the other way—except for one thing: When I taught him to only speak phrases that couldn’t be truncated and spliced to change his meaning, the six hours of taping that was edited down to five minutes turned in his favor.

Does this take lots of practice? Yes. But it can be done. And CEO media training is the quickest way to get there. The harder you are on your CEO or spokesperson, the better it is for them. Better you making them sweat and swear than Mike Wallace. By the way, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court and he won.

Media Training For CEOs Technique #2: Create Modular Messages / Sound Bites in Media Interviews.

I was media coaching a CEO of an up-and-coming company positioning itself to go public. The company was targeting business shows on MSN, CBS, CNN and wanted to attract investors. We created sound bites to include facts about the company’s financial well being, about the internal health of the company and employee happiness, and the ways that they were innovators in their field. Plus the company was growing fast, adding new stores nationwide at record speed, while staying in the black.

We took those same stories and angled them for the company’s other two audiences: consumers and trade. And we worked the CEO’s passion for fly-fishing into the mix, which brought out his sweetness.

PRO TIP: Work with your CEO or spokesperson not to memorize talking points, but to make them modular—to flex their ideas into different shapes and sizes for different audiences. Make them human and lovable by establishing some key stories about their personal life, which exemplify how well they lead their people—which is what we really want to see. We need more leaders and fewer protectors of the bottom line.

Media Training For CEOs Technique #3 Move People With Your Good Spirit in a TV Interview.

Words are less important than you think, likability more. In the Gallup poll taken during each presidential election since 1960, the candidate who scored highest in the likability category has won every election.

Making your CEO likable is crucial to their success in the media.

I was working with a CEO of a popular magazine who had a brilliant mind, was a talented athlete, but wooden.

As soon as I encouraged him to speak of his youngest daughter, his whole demeanor softened. His VP of PR cooed, “Oh, you just got soooo handsome.” It was true.

Once I coached him to speak from that place of the pride and love he had in his daughter he could talk about the difficult situation in his industry that directly impacted his magazine—formerly a stumbling block—with ease and grace.

Media Training For CEOs Technique #4 Express Openness Which Equals Power During a Media Interview.

The more open your CEO or spokesperson is, the more powerful they are. Practice having them remain open and loving when you grill them with tough questions.

That may sound ridiculous, but when we speak as if we were addressing a beloved child it’s pretty hard for the media to retaliate with the same vehemence than toward a person holding a sword ready to strike.

Spending time with your CEO or spokesperson to hone their sound bites, body and facial language to suit any situation will help make rich poetry in troubled times.

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Disclosure: Some of the above may be affiliate links that I will be compensated for at no cost to you. They are products or services I’ve either used, vetted or trust. Enjoy!



Hi, I'm Susan

I’m a media coach, martial artist + marketing strategist who helps you communicate your values, mission + message during media interviews to multiply your revenue while building your brand + business. I believe that you don’t need to brag, beg or whore yourself to get the publicity you want. Nor do you need to be an axe murderer, a shamed sports star, or be involved in a sex scandal. There is another way…

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