Donald Trump’s complete domination of the Republican nomination race has baffled me.
At first, I expected political journalists to smile wryly at his attention-seeking antics and then get back to their jobs – assessing the skill sets and character of the candidates who want to lead the country.
Clearly, those days are over.
Traditional media outlets are now engaged in a desperate fight for survival. More clicks equals employment and editors often feel they have no choice but to lead with the most sensational story available.
As distasteful as Trump’s tactics may be, I have to give him credit for spotting yet another opportunity in a new market. Trump isn’t responsible for these emerging pressures in the media, but he has shrewdly used them to his political advantage.
As a media trainer, it’s my job to help people make a good impression during their interviews. Most of my clients are based in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and India but I feel there are a few things we can all learn from The Donald.
- Never Lose Your Cool: Don’t ever let a journalist or opponent get under your skin. Producers will cut the clip of you looking exasperated or unsure and play it later without the context leading up to your moment of weakness. Trump never allows anyone to throw him off his game. He understands that just one flash of uncertainty on his face will mushroom on social media.
- Subliminal Messages Matter: Human beings are social creatures and we assess each other subconsciously. One of the first things I learned as a news anchor was if you are unsure of how to pronounce a name, say it quickly and with confidence. Most people won’t even notice the mistake. Our brains are still wired like cavemen listening to stories around a fire – we respond to subliminal cues. If someone projects confidence through their voice and body language we are hard-wired to trust their judgment and view them favorably.
- Style THEN Substance: Having a meaningful message is still important, but it means nothing if you can’t get the attention of the media. A snappy hook or “news peg” is now a crucial part of your pitch to producers. If you do land an interview, make sure you are ready to deliver your message in pre-planned sound bites. Ramblers will not be invited back. You still need substance – you just have to change the way you package your message.
- Don’t get Bogged Down with Details: Most of the professionals who approach me for media training are thoughtful folks who have succeeded in life by paying attention to detail. But that doesn’t work on TV. Most interviews will require only a snapshot of your business no matter what the topic – an earnings report, a recent scandal, your view of economic conditions. Anticipate the questions and prepare honest, efficient answers. They want the elevator version of the story. Give it to them.
- Help Make the Sausage: The first television news director I ever worked for used to joke that producing a daily news show is like making sausage – you throw in whatever you can get, turn the crank and “churn out the sausage.” Journalists are under pressure to fill their allotted time with news that gets ratings. Donald Trump understands this and helps them “make the sausage.”
Here’s how you can do the same:
- Make life easy for the anchors. The day before your interview, send in three bullet points highlighting your top three messages. It will help them look good and improve your chances of the interview going your way.
- Don’t give long-winded answers. The average interview is less than four minutes long. A conversational, chatty approach is best.
- Learn how to close an interview with a punchy, pre-planned quip which sums up your message and is entertaining for viewers.
I wouldn’t advise any businessperson to engage in Trump-like behavior for the sake of media coverage – it would destroy credibility for most brands.
But we do need to pay attention to the vulnerabilities Trump has exposed in the media. Journalism is being reinvented, and only the clearest, most succinct business messages will be able to compete in a world where “click bait” rules.