By Michael F. Carmichael
April 21, 2011
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” - Franklin Roosevelt.
“My goal is to help you conquer fear.” - Shawne Duperon.
Duperon is leading what she calls a “media mastery bootcamp,” a two-day session designed to make her “boots” comfortable when dealing with reporters - or with any other occasion where they have to answer questions in public. Duperon knows her subject well because she is a six-time EMMY award-winning television veteran with experience on-camera and behind the scenes as a producer. She’s also an active speaker, talking with groups around the world and headed for Africa this summer. At the same time, she’s completing the requirements for, as she says, a “Ph.D. in gossip” -more formally, a degree in interpersonal relationships.
Bootcamp attendees are from a wide range of professions and an equally wide geographic spread. A recent camp in suburban Detroit attracted participants from as far away as Calgary, Alberta, and Minneapolis. There were lawyers, doctors, city managers, Hispanic community leaders, marketing and media relations types from large corporations as well as representatives from nonprofit organizations.
“Half of the corporate folks who take my training will never go on camera, half of them may end up dealing with print reporters,” says Duperon. “We use the media bootcamp as a template to master fear in any category. When you can powerfully be yourself in front of a camera, totally managing fear, you can do anything.”
“More people are afraid of speaking in front of the public than dying,” Duperon claims, laughing. “The worst fear is public humiliation on a massive scale.” And the global reach of news media certainly provides that opportunity.
“I get two groups,” Duperon explains. “I get a lot of entrepreneurs and I get a lot of corporate folks. In corporations it runs the gamut. I’ll get communications people, public relations people, C-level folks.”
Duperon says that one of her jobs is to help communications staff in large corporations explain to their bosses that perhaps they need some media coaching. “Communications people sometimes have to tell their CEOs that they’re horrible,” she says. “Their job is at risk to do it so it’s great to have a consultant like me come in to do that, because I can say things that employees cannot say.”
That said, Duperon explains that she gives them “cool tools to be able to coach a superior person within their company. When the CEO asks [after being on camera with a reporter] ‘how did I do’ I suggest that the communication person ask if she can say ‘can I tell you the truth?’ It’s always about asking permission before you coach. And, a lot of it is how you say it.” Duperon then says, in a gruff, no-nonsense voice, “Can I tell you the truth?” - and then immediately modifies the voice to a much more intimate “Do I really have permission to tell you the truth?” On the assumption that the communications person isn’t fired on the spot, Duperon suggests saying “‘Well, it’s not good news.’ and then, hopefully, they’ll both laugh. Then the communications person might say ‘You talked too much and didn’t answer the reporter’s questions.'”
One of the things attendees learn in her bootcamp, according to Duperon, “is that in a lot of cases the story is already written - especially if they’re doing 10 stories that day. The reporter is literally telling you what they want - but when you’re scared you have a hard time hearing what they’re saying. When you’re not frightened and calm and breathing, you can actually hear the reporter, you can actually smile at them if they’re sitting there in front of you.”
Bootcamp participant Jill Konrath is a Minneapolis-based author, speaker and sales strategist. Konrath agrees, “It’s important to have a conversation with a reporter. You have to relax and just talk.”
Asked how she deals with the differences between print and TV, Duperon says, “In TV you’re talking in 7-15-second soundbites, three sentences at a time. In print - as I’m talking with you right now - I’m talking a little bit slower because I don’t know if you’re writing really fast or typing or maybe recording the interview. My job is to make your job easy - and a lot of people don’t know that. We think you owe us but no, no, no, no. You have many choices of whom to do a story with. You’re busy and you’re doing me a huge favor [by making me a part of your story].”
Monica Martinez, is vice president of National Hispanic Business Affairs for Texas-based Comerica Bank and a supporter of Duperon when she does versions of her other workshops as fund-raisers for various nonprofit organizations. Martinez says, “Of course you need to be conscious of what you’re wearing on camera, but at the same time you have to be very clear about what you want to get across - and still be able to listen to what the reporter wants. You want to make it as easy as possible for the reporter because this is just one of many things that they have going on. Whether you’re being interviewed by CNN or Corp! magazine, you have to be ready.”
Being ready may mean dealing with some sort of crisis. But, Duperon says, “The mistake people make, especially corporations, is that when they’re doing media training they focus on crisis. When a crisis happens they have to deal with it. But, but,” she says with emphasis, “The game is to create relationships with reporters on an ongoing basis. That way, if a crisis does hit you will have friends in the media who will help you. Many corporations and business owners don’t understand that. Corporations and business owners and the media all need each other. There’s this exquisite synergy between them.”
Randy Gage (when we meet him he spells his name out letter by letter as he’s been taught in camp) is a bootcamp participant. He’s a professional speaker with eight books to his credit. Gage underscores that point: “To be successful in business we need to partner with the media.”
Deb Loeser, another bootcamp participant, is with CEED (Center for Empowerment and Economic Development), a multi-state organization focused on investing in people by facilitating training and development, providing micro loans and promoting women’s businesses.
Loeser brought three clients of CEED to the camp because, as she says, “Small businesspeople need to increase their confidence in the conversations that they generate. What happens here in front of a camera will happen in front of a networking meeting or a big presentation.”
While the focus is on media relations many of the skills learned in the workshops apply to other than broadcast media. Gage says he will use his newly found skills to polish his YouTube channels. “What I’ve learned will help me improve the deliverability of my videos. Also, when I appear on a national broadcast program they want 20-60 seconds of soundbites and that’s another thing I’ve come to work on. FoxNews wants 42 seconds and that’s what I have to give them.” That’s 42 seconds and not 42 minutes. Loeser, the small business advisor, confirms that she’s definitely learned “How to get to a point with brevity and be memorable. That’s what I’ll be able to pass on to my clients.”
Martinez agrees that the bootcamp provides a number of transferrable skills. “A lot of the things that she does in the media bootcamp spill over into her other workshops, especially the best practices in a particular area, so that we have those as takeaway tools. Whether you’re seasoned in media relations or not she’ll help you get to the next level. You think you know a lot about media relations and she provides another way of looking at things.”
Making a positive impression on reporters is vital, says Duperon. Just as important, as she noted earlier, as establishing ongoing relationships - something that can come in handy should a crisis ever arise. “Reporters go back to resources that help them all the time. They might even let them know that something negative might be coming their way and give them a heads-up. I’ve had that happen with clients of mine.”
Martinez and Comerica are promoting Duperon’s next workshop, which will benefit a local nonprofit. “Networking is for Neanderthals” on June 9 is free with a $10 donation to the charity: http://www.shawnetv.com/attend-an-event/networking-neanderthals.