Our firm has provided media and presentation training workshops for hundreds of top executives. Although our regular media and presentation training workshops are taught at a high level, executive media training workshops require a few additional considerations.
In this post, I’ll discuss seven key lessons I’ve learned from training top executives for more than a decade. I hope you’ll also add your own lessons learned in the comments section below.
1. Remember That Executives Often Have Short Attention Spans
That headline may sound like an insult, but it’s not. The very nature of an executive’s job requires them to juggle many tasks simultaneously—and being able to multitask (or, more accurately, “task switch”) efficiently is a critical asset. Therefore, it’s critical to keep as much of the training interactive as possible to keep executives fully engaged. It’s okay to have some lecture, but don’t make it the main focus of the day.
2. Keep The Session Moving
Executives tend to be especially time pressed. Dedicating an entire day (or even a few hours) to media training is a huge investment, and they’ll begin to feel itchy if they don’t feel like they’re using their time wisely. To help keep their attention, I’ve learned to keep the session moving forward instead of lingering too long on a single topic. (The exception to that is if the executive is clearly on the cusp of an “a ha!” moment.) In order to help do that, we use as many teaching techniques as possible. For competitive reasons, I won’t give them all away here—but I will say that lecture and practice are just two of the teaching methods we use to keep the session moving.
3. Deliver Honest, Direct Feedback
One of the most important roles a trainer plays is the part of trusted advisor. I’ve never felt that the best path to more business with a client was telling them what they wanted to hear. I’m going to be direct—diplomatically and politely so, of course, but still direct—in an effort to help them grow their skills. That approach has regularly led to repeat business, so the evidence suggests that executives crave honest feedback from third parties.
Mature man executive being questioned by journalists.
4. However, Remember They’re Human
Delivering direct feedback requires a deft touch. As trainers, we need to remember that executives are often vulnerable creatures just like the rest of us. A surprising number have admitted to suffering from the “imposter syndrome.” In order to succeed, we must develop trust with our executive clients quickly. One way to do that is to ask relevant diagnostic questions intended to help us learn more about them before leaping into the training—about their fears, concerns, and their communications strengths and weaknesses.
5. Minimize The Number of People In The Room
In many corporate cultures, it works well to conduct a media training with the full leadership team, including the CEO (doing so is often my preference). But for one-on-one trainings, I generally prefer no more than one other person in the room. Why? Because it’s difficult to develop a climate of trust when there are too many people observing the leader in a vulnerable state (being asked challenging questions on camera). I’ve found that executives often admit to me things they wouldn’t admit if too many colleagues were present—and that information is often key to helping the executive improve.
6. Know Your Sources
Savvy executives often ask a lot of questions. One board of trustees for a large medical not-for-profit organization, for example, recently peppered me with numerous questions about my sources (thankfully, I was able to verify all of the behavioral science I cited). Try to avoid making sweeping statements or over-generalizing. That’s always good advice, but it’s particularly important when dealing with people who are likely to question the veracity of your information.
7. Provide An Action Step
At the end of your training session, the executives will almost immediately be confronted by a more pressing demand. Therefore, there’s a danger that all of your great advice will disappear into the ether the moment they step out of the room. To avoid that, give executives an action step they can begin practicing immediately. That step shouldn’t be generic, but chosen specifically based on the things you witnessed during the training session.