by Steve Adubato, PhD

Q: You argued recently that Giant's rookie Jeremy Shockey should do a better job communicating with the media. You also said if you are honest with the media, they will give you a fair shot. But the media frequently takes things out of context, it's one of their favorite ploys. Isn't taking things out of context a form of deliberate lying? How should people who have to communicate with the media avoid having their words twisted?

A: We agree that the media--newspapers included--sometimes "take things out of context." But that's not the issue. Most people who have problems communicating effectively through this medium are not disciplined enough. One of the biggest reasons people get upset when they see themselves quoted in print or as part of a television or radio news story is because they rambled on and on without a clear, concise, focused message. Consider this example:

A few years ago, the former dean of an international affairs and diplomacy school at a major university recently gave an interview to a Star Ledger reporter. It was supposed to be a feature story promoting the new school. The reporter happened to ask about international customs and traditions having to do with food and attire. The dean went on for about ten minutes talking about which countries expect you to take your shoes off before a meal and which countries set a table a certain way. When the story came out, it sounded like the university was running an international charm school. The dean was livid. He wanted the Ledger to print a retraction. The fact is he had no beef with the reporter or the newspaper. He was the one who said all those things and went on in detail about international customs. Yet, he was there to talk about the mission and the message of a new school that would be training future diplomats in international relations. That's the message he was supposed to get across. That's the message he should have stayed on. But because the dean, like so many others who are forced to deal with the media, was undisciplined and unfocused he, the new school and the university paid the price. Your goal is not to ignore an off the mark or seemingly irrelevant question, but rather to answer very briefly and then move back to the main message you want to get across. That's disciplined communication.

TIP TO REMEMBER-When communicating with the media or dealing with a Q&A forum, be it a meeting, seminar or when making a presentation, your main message is your anchor. It should ground all of your communication. Your audience can't handle, nor can they remember, a half-dozen different points you want to get across. You also lose control when you talk about so many different topics. You leave it to the audience member (or media representative) to pick which point they choose to focus on. If their impression or opinion as to what is important or interesting isn't the one you wanted them to focus on, whose fault is that? When this happens, you as the communicator will say you were "taken out of context." But were you really? Didn't you say what you are quoted as saying? That's not being taken out of context. How is the audience supposed to read your mind?

Bottom line, when communicating in this type of situation have your main message at the tip of your tongue. Remember why you are there and what you want people to walk away remembering. If you keep that in mind and communicate accordingly, you will be amazed at the results. Try it next time and tell me how it worked.