Media training may conjure images of well-healed consultants prepping executives for 60 Minutes interviews, but preparing spokespeople for interviews with news outlets is a necessary business norm… even for the non-profit that grants the occasional interview to their hyper-local news blog.

Large companies are attuned to training leaders for time spent with the media. But small and medium-sized organizations must commit to this as well. And it doesn’t have to be a costly effort. It just has to be effective.

Four components to proper media training

1. Preparation and practice

Some spokespeople are in front of a microphone on a regular basis. Others may only find themselves in a formal interview or press conference, annually. For the frequent spokesperson, basic preparation for the upcoming interview and a quick debrief are enough practice sessions. For the leader who goes months without a press interview, it’s necessary to schedule a review and practice session every few months to keep the tactics fresh.

2. Message

This is an obvious component. The spokesperson must know the topic and issues well enough to ad lib and sound natural responding to questions. But the message must have elements that are prioritized. What if there’s only time or space for a one-sentence answer? Or suppose the reporter asks a question that leads to a lower-priority message. The spokesperson will benefit from knowing how she’ll politely lead the interviewer toward the higher priority message.

3. Tone

While it can be easy to practice, the right tone can be difficult to maintain under pressure. A defensive tone or an exasperated delivery can send all the wrong messages, even when the words are what you rehearsed. Maintaining an effective and positive tone is hard work. Practice by having your support team mock-interview the spokesperson, playing the role of tough or even rude reporter.

4. Control

Along with controlling the message and tone, your spokesperson must be in complete control of what they answer and don’t answer, as well as when the interview starts and ends. Sometimes what surprises our clients most is to hear, “It’s OK to tell the reporter you need a second before answering that. Or that you’ll get back to them with an answer later today.” In other words, don’t sweat it. Answer what you can and get back to the interviewer in a reasonable time with other answers later. It’s rare that an interview is conducted in front of a live or real-time audience. So rare, I won’t write about it here… but would be happy to give you the answer later.