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Practice makes perfect, and other interview tips

Photo courtesy of Red Media Group, Flickr, Creative Commons

When I work with nonprofit leaders who are preparing for media  interviews, one of my first pieces of advice is, “Remember, you’re in control!” The media needs your help to tell the story, and you’re the expert on your organization’s issues. So, if that’s the case, why do we find ourselves floundering in media interviews, being dragged off topic with no sense of how to bring it back to our core messages? It’s because most of us just need a little practice. We need to sharpen our interview skills, and learn some easy tricks to maintain control and stay on message.

If you’re looking for an affordable, efficient way to brush up on your spokesperson skills, sign up for our Spokesperson Superstar webinar on Feb. 23.  Learn interview performance tips like “bridging” and “flagging.” Find out what to wear on camera, and get advice on how to prepare. You’ll also have the opportunity to participate in a mock interview during the session.

You can also check out the Workshop’s “11 tips for broadcast interviews.” We hope to see you on the webinar!

Workshop helps employment center step up work with local media

A 2011 story by Barrington Patch about CareerPlace

At a time of record unemployment in Illinois and the country, organizations that can help people find employment and build their skills are more important then ever. Yet, CareerPlace, located in Barrington, found that more than 40% of people in their area didn’t know about their services and classes for unemployed individuals.

“We struggled with finding the time to reach out to the local media,” said Monica Keane, executive director of CareerPlace. “I thought Professional Media Relations would be a good way to learn how to get information to the public.”

After attending the Community Media Workshop’s Professional Media Relations course in early 2011, Keane said she realized that when working with the media, everything is about a story.

“I learned to stop telling the business of the agency and to tell the story of the people who are touched by what we do,” said Keane.

Since the Workshop course, CareerPlace has received more media coverage in community press (check out the Patch story here) and started developing relationships with local reporters. Keane says she can now pick up the phone and call certain reporters with possible story ideas. She’s also used the Workshop’s online press release generator and Chicago area media guide to aid in her media outreach work.

“I’m just really impressed with the Workshop,” said Keane. “The willingness of staff to roll up their sleeves and get involved with the nonprofits they serve is so important.”

Keane enjoyed her time at the Workshop so much that she decided to hire Workshop staff for a custom consulting project—development of a train-the-trainer curriculum “Using Social Media to Search, Network and Find Your Next Job” to give CareerPlace trainers tools to help job seekers use social media in their employment searches. The project was supported with a grant from the Barrington Area Community Foundation.

The Workshop team continues to work with CareerPlace to ensure successful social media trainings for its participants in the coming year.

The Workshop’s 2012 Professional Media Relations course starts Jan. 20. There are still spots available. Register today and start making your own local media connections!



Develop a media story for your organization and pitch reporters, face-to-face

RoiAnn Phillips of HealthConnect One

RoiAnn Phillips decided to attend Professional Media Relations because she wanted a better grasp of media strategy and outreach as she took on more communications work at HealthConnect One.

Her “ah-ha moment” came when instructors told the class how to tailor a pitch to pique reporters’ interest, but her big breakthrough came a couple of weeks later. During the five-part workshop, she was able to pitch her organization’s upcoming report analyzing breastfeeding rates in Illinois to WBEZ Reporter Chip Mitchell. That opportunity resulted in three stories (below) in the coming months about the report and HealthConnect One. One hospital even decided to step up its breastfeeding efforts after hearing one of Mitchell’s stories on WBEZ.

“The WBEZ stories wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken Professional Media Relations,” said Phillips. “Without the class, I wouldn’t have understood how to frame a pitch and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in the room with reporters.”


Check out the WBEZ stories that resulted from RoiAnn’s time at Professional Media Relations and follow-up work with reporter Chip Mitchell.

Report: Breastfeeding in Illinois hinges partly on race, income – April 26, 2011

Hospital regulators let formula vie with breast milk – May 5, 2011

After WBEZ report, hospital steps up breastfeeding efforts – August 2, 2011

Professional Media Relations
$395 for the five-part media workshop
Starts Jan. 20, 2012
Includes numerous handouts, worksheets & a copy of the 2012 Getting On Air, Online & Into Print media guide ($125 annual subscription value).
Reserve your spot today.

Visit our website or call 312-369-6400.

All the media tools you need to tell your story – for free!

In addition to communications trainings and one-on-one consulting, the Community Media Workshop also provides a wide range of free resources to help you get your organization’s story to the right reporter. Here are just a few of the many media outreach tools and tips you can find on our website.

Press release generator. Interested in creating a press release about your issue or campaign? Check out our press release generator to help you get started.

Media Event Quick Contact List. Looking for the most up-to-date quick contact list of assignment desks and editors at Chicago’s major media outlets? Download the 2012 Media Event Quick Contact List.

Community Calendars. If you have an event coming up that you want listed in Chicago media calendars, check out this resource to see a comprehensive list of calendars and links where you can submit your information.

Submit to Newstips. Newstips is the Workshop’s blog that distributes news tip information, submitted by hundreds of nonprofits across Chicago, to more than 500 journalists. Email Newstips Editor Curtis Black at with your story ideas.

Tip sheets, worksheets and up-to-date information about the shifting media landscape. We’re constantly publishing new tips and tools for nonprofit communicators such as how to set up your organization’s Google+ page or tips for building and maintaining your media list. Subscribe to our bi-weekly electronic newsletter or visit the NP Communicator blog weekly to see what’s new.

And don’t forget about Chicago’s most comprehensive media guide, Getting On Air, Online & Into Print. If you want contact information for thousands of Chicago-area and Midwest media outlets and reporters, subscribe to our 2012 media guide. Now in print and online.

If you’re interested in registering for scheduled trainings, visit our training page to check out what’s coming up. At the beginning of 2012 we’ll be offering Professional Media Relations, a five-part course that culminates with nonprofits pitching their stories to reporters face-to-face. For the first time ever, we’re also offering an intensive Social Media Bootcamp where attendees will walk away with an online communications strategy and social media policy for their organizations.

If you prefer a custom training for your organization or one-on-one consulting, contact me at or 773/510-4819. You can read more about two of the organizations we’ve recently provided one-one-one communications assistance to–Investing In Communities and LISC’s Smart Communities Program–at the NP Communicator blog.

Let us know if there are other resources you’d like to see on our website or training topics you hope we cover in the future. We want to hear from you!


An essential resource for every Chicago nonprofit and grassroots group… download it here

When I was a communications staff for a regional nonprofit organization here in Chicago over 10 years ago, I spent plenty of time calling and faxing city news desks and assignment desks very early in the day of an event or press conference to ensure that we were included in their agenda. Through this on-going communication and development of relationships with assignment desk editors I found out what times they were meeting, what information they needed and exactly who would be possibly covering our story or event. This practice got us coverage, helped expand our relationships with the media and pushed our mission forward to the public. Read the rest of this entry »

Five steps to understanding Twitter and six tips for social media work

A screen shot of part of the Workshop's Hootsuite dashboard. Hootsuite is a great tool to use to manage social media in your office.

After conducting some communications trainings in Minnesota and Indiana for LISC’s Institute for Comprehensive Community Development, I was interviewed by one of their writers about social media. One article addresses a question I hear all the time from people we work with, “Why Tweet?” I offer my thoughts on why it’s useful and how to get started.

The second article is six basic tips for using social media in your work. There’s also a list of useful social media resources at the bottom that you may want to check out.

If you’re still looking for more advice on getting started or improving your social media strategy, attend one of our upcoming trainings. I’ll be leading a Social Media Basics webinar on Nov. 1, and the Workshop is offering an intermediate social media training on Nov. 10 with popular trainer Adam Thurman of Mission Paradox.

If you’d like a custom social media training for your organization, just email me at

Happy tweeting!

7 Tips to Building and Maintaining Your Media List

Pitching your story begins with a good media list. Taking the time and care to put together a media list that puts you in touch with the right reporter is a smart investment of resources that increases your chances of success.

Use these tips to create a media list that will help you place your story. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding the right social media workshop for you

Still wondering why your organization needs a Facebook page? Or, maybe you have hundreds of followers on Twitter but need to improve your overall online strategy? No matter where you’re at on the social media spectrum, we have a workshop this fall that can build your online communications skills.

For social media beginners:

Sign up for the Social Media Basics webinar. We’ll introduce the “Big 5” online tools you should focus on first and how these tools allow you to engage with your audiences in different ways. And you don’t have to leave your desk!

Looking for something more intensive? We’re offering a three week Social Media Bootcamp this winter. With social media guru Demetrio Maguigad, you’ll learn the ins and outs of key social media tools and walk away with a social media policy and online communications plan for your organization. Because it’s a three part session, this series will be especially hands on with plenty of time for questions and conversations.

For intermediate and advanced users:

If you know how to use Twitter and Facebook, but you haven’t created a social media policy or plan, you might be interested in Social Media Bootcamp as well.

If you’re interested in creating a comprehensive communications plan but want to learn how social media fits into that, sign up for Developing a Communications Plan with Workshop President Thom Clark.

And if you want to focus on how to tell your organization’s story better and faster online, sign up for Taking Social Media to the Next Level. This workshop is ideal for EDs, CEOs and communciations directors who are empowered to make change.

We hope you’ll join us for a training this fall. We’re keeping our prices low to make these workshops affordable and accessible for all of our nonprofit friends. Check out the full list of trainings here.

Finally, a big thanks to everyone who answered our survey earlier this year. We based the fall line up on your feedback!



The Gate newspaper turns WordPress workshop into new website

The Workshop’s New Media Manager Demetrio Maguigad led a training at this year’s Making Media Connections conference to teach nonprofits how to build strong websites in WordPress. The Gate, a community newspaper in Back of the Yards, attended the training, and the new website they built in WordPress is already up! It looks professional, features great visuals on the home page, and easily links to their social media accounts.

WordPress is a powerful, flexible tool that nonprofits can afford. The Workshop’s main website and our blogs have also been built by Maguigad using WordPress. Although I’m not a website expert, I personally can attest to how simple it is to update a WordPress site with new posts like this one.

If you’re interested in building your own WordPress website or blog for your organization, give us a call. In addition to our conference and our regularly scheduled trainings, we offer a number of affordable custom trainings that we tailor to suit your nonprofit’s needs. Email me or call 312-369-6400. Your new website could be easier to produce (and thousands of dollars cheaper) than you think. We hope to hear from you soon.

11 tips for broadcast interviews

You’ve done the hard work–you developed a communications strategy, wrote media materials and pitched reporters. And voila! The local television station wants to interview your organization about your issue. Here are 11 tips to improve your spokesperson skills.

1. Practice, practice, practice. I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Some call in the three Rs–rehearse, role play, repeat. Review your key messages and materials beforehand. Know what you want to say in the interview. Ask a colleague, friend or partner to quiz you as if he were the reporter.

2. Be prepared for hard questions. Draft tough questions in advance, and think through how you’d answer them. Then ask your colleague to ask you those questions. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ exists for a reason.

3. Keep it simple. Remember, most broadcast interviews will be edited down to a sound byte here or a couple seconds there. Keep your answers short and simple. Don’t use jargon. And as I’m fond of saying, use the Grandma Test. If your grandma can’t understand what you’re talking about, then you’re probably making it too complicated.

4. But don’t answer with just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Use every question as an opportunity to tell your story. If the reporter asks you, “Was it disappointing when the legislation to support more affordable housing wasn’t passed?”, you could just answer ‘yes’ but you’d be missing a chance to promote your message. Expand on why, talk about what else can still be done, discuss the impact of that legislation. Use the opportunity to drive your message home.

5. Body language and facial expressions matter. How you sit, how often you smile, when you make eye contact – these things matter for television. Make it easier to convey expertise and authority by practicing good posture. Smile to put the interviewer and the audience at ease. Make eye contact with the reporter to develop a relationship and to convey the fact that an engaging conversation is happening.

6. Don’t fidget. We all have tics that come out when we’re nervous–we rock back and forth or we keep our arms crossed or we play with our hair. If you practice (see tip #1), you can identify these “tells” and address them in advance to appear calm and comfortable during the interview.

7. Paint the picture. If you’re talking about the need for more funding for schools, can you show the camera tattered books? Can you walk the reporter through a school in disrepair? If you can’t take the television crew on location, use colorful, descriptive words to paint the picture for the audience.

8. Tell the human story. Offer the reporter someone who has been directly impacted by your issue. Ask that person to be available to be interviewed as well. If they aren’t able to tell their own story, have a compelling example ready for the reporter. In your own words, tell them why your organization makes a difference for someone.

9. Dress for the camera. Solid, bright colors work best for television. That said, avoid an all white shirt if you’re fair skinned or an all black shirt if you have darker skin because they’ll wash you out. Avoid busy patterns–they don’t translate well on the screen. Pick a nice solid color (you’ll see a lot of blues, yellows and purples on TV reporters). If you plan to wear a dark suit or a blazer, where a colored shirt or tie underneath. And, think about where they can clip the mic. Do you have a lapel? A turtleneck won’t work. Finally, avoid anything that will distract from your message such as sunglasses or large hats.

10. If you don’t know, don’t make it up. If the reporter asks you a question you don’t know, it’s okay not to know. You can answer the question in a couple different ways. 1) “I don’t know the answer to that. Let me check on that when I get back to the office.” This works especially well if the interview is being taped. Or 2) “I don’t know the answer to that question, what I do know is…(and then promote one of your key messages).” The second technique is called ‘bridging’ and you’ll see skilled spokespeople do this regularly.

11. If the audience remembers one thing… Know your key messages in advance of the interview. If your target audience sees the story on the news the next night and only remembers one thing about it, what do you want them to remember? This is your key message, and you should use every opportunity during the interview to make that point.

The Community Media Workshop conducts media, messaging, social media and spokesperson trainings for hundreds of nonprofits each year. If you’re interested in learning more about how to become an effective spokesperson, shoot me an email at


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