Giving the Author Elevaotr Speech a Lift – An Interview with Media Skills Expert Lorraine Howell

Lorraine Howell

Ironically, often one of the toughest things for an uthor to do is talk about his or her book in a way that gets people interested in buying it or at least learning more about it.  This is especially true when it comes to dealing with the media.  Micro short audience attention spans mean that authors need to learn how to communicate about their book succinctly and with impact or risk being ignored.  One way to do this – for those who aren’t born with the gift – is to seek the services of an experienced media skills trainer.  Someone like Lorraine Howell

give-your-elevator-speech-a-liftLorraine started her company, Media Skills Training, in 1998 after 12 years as a television news and talk show producer in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She coaches top executives and professionals on how to be more effective when speaking to the media or making public presentations.  Lorraine is a specialist in message development, presentation skills, media interview skills, and crisis communications. I n October, 2008 she returned for the second year to coach the five finalists in the Forbes.com national Boost Your Business Contest in New York City.  Her book Give Your Elevator Speech a Lift! is a step-by-step guide through her process for creating a winning elevator speech. Lorraine’s method helps eliminate the verbal clutter when answering the question “What do you do?”

We had the opportunity recently to meet with Lorraine and discuss her approach to media skills training for authors.

FPP – How did you get started in media skills training?

LH – Leaving broadcasting coincided with a family decision to move back to Seattle. I had considered working at one of the stations in Seattle, had even interviewed with a couple. But I decided to strike out on my own. All of my TV experience had been in live interview format programs, so I knew a lot about preparing people for media interviews. It was a marketable skill for which people would be willing to pay.

FPP – What does media skills training entail with respect to authors and publishers, and what is typically the goal of the training?

LH – The goal of the training is to provide authors and publishers with the tips, tools, and strategies the need to talk about their books and ideas in broadcast, print, and web interviews. I put people through practical exercises so they get an experience of what a media interview is like. We also work on messaging, meaning how to communicate in a clear, concise and memorable way about their stories and ideas. Many writers have a tough time condensing their material into economical sound bites. I can help them do that.

FPP – One of the things you do is help someone deliver an effective elevator speech. What are the key things an elevator speech should accomplish and what are the signs that it is or isn’t working?

LH– A good elevator speech will engage a listener and compel him/her to ask more about it because they are intrigued, not because they are confused. You can tell if your elevator speech is working based on the reactions your are receiving from people. If they ask you for more, then it’s working. If they give you a blank stare or change the subject, then you know you have a little more work to do.

FPP – What are some ways you would recommend for an author to “safely” practice his or her elevator speech?

LH – I suggest people put together a personal focus group of friends or colleagues, and even good clients, who know what you are all about and try a few ideas out on them. I have developed a list of 10 questions that really help people hone in on key phrases and concepts that lead to an elevator speech. I also think trying it out at networking events for organizations where you are already a member. Try it on people you know and trust first.

FPP – What have you found are the most common problems or mistakes that authors make when talking about their books to the media or any audience?

LH – The most common problem most people make is giving to much detail. Authors know so much about their books, their characters, and their stories, and they want to tell everyone about everything. Authors need to consider the big picture…what’s are the big themes, big issues?

FPP – What sorts of techniques do you use to improve their effectiveness with the media?

LH – I put people on camera in simulated interview situations. I also have a framework for developing key messages. I also teach people how the media works and how they can have more impact on the outcome of media interviews. I basically try to take all the mystery and stress out of the experience.

FPP – How does the type of media he / she is talking to affect what an author should do?

LH – For TV you need to think about visuals, how can you make you topic more visually appealing. For radio, stories are key…you want to tell stories so that listeners feel drawn in while they listen. For print you want to have several different ways to say the same thing, because a reporter may not hear what you are saying the first time through. With electronic media you are being taped or your voice is being heard. In print, it’s different.

FPP – What are some tips you would recommend for authors who are naturally shy, but need to engage the media?

LH– I have some relaxtion/visualization exercises that I take people through to help with that. As a matter of fact, I’m going into a recording studio this week to tape some that will be available in a few months. I also teach people how to shift focus. Instead of working about themselves, keep your audienc in mind.

FPP – What is the best way for an author to handle tough or hostile questions from a member of the media?

LH – Prepare, Prepare, Prepare! If you have something controversial to say, you can probably anticipate what questions or reactions you will have coming at you. Have responses ready. Put a list together of all the tough questions that could come up or the ones you would prefer didn’t come up, and develop answers to those questions. If you don’t want to talk about something, don’t do the interview. Once you say yes to the interview, expect everything to come up. It’s all fair game.

FPP – Within a range, how much should an author budget for media skills training?

LH – It depends on their current skill level and how quickly they can integrate what they are learning. On the low side I would start around $3,000. for one or two sessions and head up from there. The top trainers in the industry can charge $10,000. – $15,000 per day.


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