Over the past two decades, I have media trained hundreds of spokespeople, including strong-willed CEOs and government leaders, passionate cause advocates champing at the bit to assert their strong opinions, and some painfully shy issue experts inclined to hide from microphones. However, some of the most consistently challenging students I’ve worked with are the very ones who have devoted their careers to learning – researchers and scientists.
The consistent problem I face with these audiences is that they – by nature – bury the headlines. And, there’s a great reason for that … because they have been trained to use deductive reasoning to build up to their conclusion. In their minds, it’s most persuasive to follow a path that literally proves their point by showing how they got there. Forget the stereotypical image of a scientist with his finger in the air exclaiming “Eureka!” and then pronouncing some great discovery, like “The World is Round!” That’s not the way the scientific mind operates. Instead, they are more likely to say, “Eureka, we were contemplating this problem, and we started with these assumptions, then we ran these tests, and next we found these facts, and from those formed certain conclusions, which we then confirmed to ultimately determine that the world is round.”
As you can imagine, this type of communication does not generate terrific sound bites. To break these habits, media trainers ask questions like, “How would you write that on a billboard?” or, “If you were driving by your audience in a car with the window down and had only a few seconds to shout your news to them, what would you say?” This “retraining” of how to present information in a media interview is made more palatable to researchers by reassuring them we’re not asking them to forget about proving their point. Instead, the lesson is to simply frontload your conclusion, then show your proof, then restate your conclusion. My guidance to them: “Declare, Demonstrate, Declare Again.”