Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Media Miss: Lucy, the Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes

After Ann Coulter's recent and much-noted interview with Matt Lauer, I thought of the authors and journalists I train who need a dose of Ms. Coulter's single-minded refusal to get off-message. Ann is a dog with a bone.

Her extreme opposite is a new client I recently media-trained after watching her crash and burn in a national TV interview.

This is her story:

After 4 years, this author, let's call her Lucy, had a publisher, a pub date and was invited to appear on a national morning show for a 4-minute segment with a popular female host.
She had a day to prepare. Not an early bird, Lucy, was unfamiliar with this a specific morning show but felt confident-she was the expert. She sat down and imagined the questions she would be asked.

Afterwards, looking wildly in her closet, she had nothing new to wear. Out she went and purchased a black, short Armani suit, a silk polka dot blouse and sexy red heels. She knew the skirt was a tad too short, but she had great legs and it gave her a little 'edge'.
She called her publicist, found out her call-time was 6:00 am and was told she'd get the format later. Later never happened.

That night Lucy lay sleepless until 3:00 am . Finally at 6:00 am she flew out of bed, scrambling to answer her publicist's frantic call wondering where she was. She overslept. Careening out of her apartment, she ran and found a cab. Not a great start.

Her publicist (happy to see her alive) looked askance at her mini and suggested she not cross her legs.The hair and make-up man thought she was an actress. (maybe "edgy" was off) The producer informed her that her segment was bumped back and that the host was replaced due to a breaking news story. As for the format? No mention.

The producer suggested she keep her jacket closed since the polka dots would most likely jump.

What with no breakfast and too many cups of coffee, Lucy was becoming unglued.

The publicist, behind schedule, gave her an air-kiss and waved goodbye. At last, she was retrieved from the green room and escorted to the set.

The bright lights were blinding and it was hard not to trip over the cables, particularly in 3 - inch heels, but she landed on a squishy sofa while the sound man slipped a wire up her blouse and clipped a mike to her lapel.

" Do a sound check," he said.

"What's that?" she queried.

"Say anything."


There she sat across from America's favorite substitute Dad. He leaned over and whispered, "Sorry, but I just don't approve of male bashing", and extended his hand.
Male bashing? In a nanosecond, she realized they were are not on the same team.

Lucy was told not to look at the camera but to keep her eyes on Big Bad Dad.

Before she knew it, the camera was rolling and the anchor asked an abrasive question. Lucy spat out a response and continued to go up in flames with his on-going queries and her endless defense.

He was the household name, not she. Oh, he never asked a question she prepared.

Watching her, I remember thinking her voice sounded disembodied and tinny. She seemed unable to sit upright with her legs glued together and why was she bobbing up and down?
Before she knew it, it was over.

She tanked.

Her publisher wished she had more on-air experience.(Hence the call to me.) Her agent suggested she just forget it. (Does he mean the book? ) Her friends loved her shoes, but wondered what was wrong with her voice.

She took to her bed and emerged 2 days later and swore she would never be ambushed again.

I love Lucy, and after media training her, she now knows:

Prepare, Organize and Rehearse for every media, press, radio and new media interview.


  • Never imagine anything.
  • Thoroughly research the program
  • Find out who the audience is. Decide beforehand, what is in it for them? How can they benefit from what you have to say?
  • Figure out what you want the audience to do, think or feel as a result of your interview.
  • Stave off the impulse to shop or run for botox shots. Find a comfortable, attractive outfit that doesn't upstage your message.


  • Organize your wardrobe and all the little things you might need like water, tissues, contact lens and shelve anything plaid , polka dotted or glittery.
  • Reconfirm time, date, address, and the format the day before. Set your alarm clock.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast and drink water. It hydrates you and your voice.
  • On the set, sit at the edge of your seat and lean towards the host. Mirror his/her energy and body language.
  • Use the host's first name. Smile and thank the host for having you.
  • Keep the interview conversational.
  • Anticipate the tough questions.
  • Prepare the 3 to 5 core messages you want to state.
  • Say them in short, clear and dynamic sound bites. Think in headlines.·
  • Figure out a strong grabber to open your interview.
  • At the end of the interview, repeat your key points.
  • Bridge any questions asked back to your core messages.
  • End with a "call to action to the audience.


  • Practice the interview beforehand until it becomes second nature.
  • Video-tape it.
  • Vocalize the day of the interview. Sing, breathe, do 10 deep diaphragmatic breaths.
  • During the interview, pause and breathe between thoughts.
  • Never get defensive. Smile and reframe any negative comment in a positive light.
  • Take control of the interview and lead with your key messages.
  • Get the red shoes. A little "edge" never hurt anyone. Have fun.


  1. Eileen, what a great story, which I hope never happens to me, that's for sure!

    I have to especially underscore your point about knowing your audience. Even in the face of a hostile interviewer, or a surprise situation, if our unfortunate friend Lucy had known and kept the viewer demographic in mind, and what's important to them, she could have re-directed her energies to delivering the message "to them". I would think the key is to use the hostile questions as a springboard to talk to the audience and make that connection stick between you and them. Imparting that value reliably will bring you back as a guest on the show a second time ... although killer red shoes never hurt!

  2. Yes it's a very funny (and scary!) cautionary tale, we've all been there to some degree. These pointers are really handy even when considering going in to a pitching meeting, a situation I often find myself in. You have a very short space of time, you want to get your message across, and you have to stay focused adn positive even in the face of negativity and sometimes hostility! So v. good advice, thanks!

  3. Thomas N. Ryan, Esq.January 26, 2009 at 2:10 PM

    Having made the rounds of news network interviews, including the hostile and the friendly, I appreciate Eileen's astute and insightful suggestions. How do you get to the CNN studio? Practice, practice, practice.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Reading about Lucy reminded me of one of my worst nightmares. I was asked to speak at Fairfield University regarding my book "Diva's, Dames & Dolls" (a celebration of the female spirit) which was about to be released. Apart from acting, which by the way, is day and night from public speaking, I had never spoken in front of a large group of people before . I had no experience or training in this area. As I waited to step up to the podium the only thing I was aware of was my blank terrified mind and my body shaking. I knew after listening to the other seasoned speakers that I didn't have a clear message and was terrified that if anyone cared enough to ask a question...I wouldn't have a clue how to respond. To be honest, I didn't care about that audience, I wanted to disappear and deny I wrote a book. That was many years and many laughs ago. After being media trained by Eileen Winnick I became confident, poised and self-assured enough to love both the speaking and question and answer period. I had no doubt that I would be able to respnd intelligently, calmly and even (with a sense of humor) whatever was asked of me. I learned that when you are truly focussing on your message it's dificult if not impossible to focus on your ego. One of my favorite books is ... "Zen and the art of Archery", the message is to work and work and work until whatever you are doing becomes effortless. Without the training from Eileen that would have been impossible for me since I didn't understand how to deliver my message or even know what skills I needed to work on . I believe that once the conscious mind is relaxed the unconscious will bring out even more knowledge than we know we posess. For me explaining what I had learned became effortless and enjoyable. I had many speaking engagements after my first, which was at the National Arts Club in New York; infact, every time I spoke I was asked to speak again and sometimes by more than one group. I was having a wonderful time in front of that microphone and the audience knew it and responded. After a speaking in Chicago I was lucky enough to be commisioned by Glaxo, Smith, Clyne to do my second book..."Soaring Spirits"( the female quest for vitality and victory). Eileen once again helped me write the speech and deliver it with ease. Eileen has an uncanny ability to bring out the best in everyone she works with. I know there are many media trainers, but it's inconceivable to me that any posess her God given gifts. One more thing: at the womens conference in Chicago they asked to audience of hundreds to vote on the best speaker...because of Eileen I came in number one.

  6. I, of course, a newcomer to this blog, but the author does not agree