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Media Training for Community Organizers

The health awareness advocacy group known as Sisters Working it Out has invited me back to do a media training session with them. My presentation is entitled “Community Empowerment and Today’s Media: How everyday citizens can strengthen their neighborhoods by leveraging local, national and social media.”

The goal is to give activists easy strategies for leveraging the media. This is one of my favorites!

What R & B Legend Chaka Khan can teach you about giving a great media interview

Monique Interviews R amp; B legend Chaka Khan

Last year I had the honor of interviewing R&B  great Chaka Khan.   From the moment I knew I would be up close and personal with this living legend, I knew I had to bring my A-game.  

I researched her story and listened to her music in the weeks leading up to  interview day.   I enlisted the help of two media colleagues to help me compose the right questions.  

Then the day finally came.   I was so nervous that I didn’t sleep at all the night before!   My anxiety had nothing to do with the fact that I was about to interview a music icon.   Besides I’ve interviewed big celebrities before.  

I was nervous because I knew that it would be my job to bring out the best in her.   Since I had never met Chaka personally, I wasn’t sure what her personality was in that setting.     Would she be soft-spoken? Cold? Reserved? Talkative? Distracted? Uptight?   I had no clue.

We met in private  five minutes before the interview took place.   I immediately noticed that she had freckles just like me–chaching!!   Instant connection.   I complimented her on them and we laughed.   After I admitted I was a little nervous about the interview, she said, “Girl, please!”   She embraced me just like one of my aunts and in that moment, I knew it would be a great conversation.

Even though that was one of Chaka’s first sit down interviews in front of a live audience, she nailed it.   She would take my questions and answer them with such honesty and forthrightness it was as if we were all old friends.   That interview was like a dream come true!

I don’t know if Chaka Khan ever received any formal media training for this kind of sit down interview but one thing is for sure:   She incorporated all the ingredients to deliver a memorable interview.   Her strategy, whether intentional or not, can be used by anyone in a media setting.   Do this and you will win fans:

1.) Be yourself – Too often people make the mistake of going into what I call “media persona” mode when they go on radio or TV.   Suddenly they become this stiff, overly-serious, proper-talking, suit-wearing drone because they think that’s how they have to be on TV.   Maybe that was the case 15 years ago but today you have to “keep it real” otherwise, people will tune you out.   Be conversational, talk in your normal vernacular and if you’re not a suit person don’t wear a suit!!   These days, people want to feel connected, so “do you.”

2.) Tell engaging stories – During my Chaka Khan interview, I asked open-ended questions that lended themselves to  answers where she had to go deep.   She couldn’t just give me a “yes” or “no!”   So she told stories about her life, the drugs, the men, the guilt about leaving her children while she was on the road…the audience was completely enraptured.   Now of course, not everyone has stories as great as a world-traveled,  globally recognized entertainer like Chaka Khan, but you STILL have a story.   What are the stories that capture your trials and triumphs?   Or maybe you have stories from clients you’ve helped succeed.   Before every media opportunity, jot down 3 – 5 great stories that relate to the interview topic that you can share.   EVERYONE loves a great story.

3.) Be transparent – In today’s reality-driven media culture, transparency  is a requirement.   These days, people can spot a fake person a mile away.   So in a media setting, be honest.   Talk about your  pitfalls if it’s appropriate.     Talk about the lessons learned from your personal mistakes.   Ms. Chaka did this so brilliantly that people loved her even more once the interview was over.   Also,  in a media interview  setting, don’t feel obligated to have an answer for everything.      If the host or reporter asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, simply say “I don’t know that, but I can say this….”  

Hopefully you took notes because these are all techniques I teach clients in my executive media training sessions and Chaka Khan used them so effectively.   She was not afraid of anything.   She was completely honest, open and giving and you should be too if you want to create a memorable interview experience for the audience AND if you want to win loyal fans…

Now, should you sing at the end of your interview?   Probably not, but Ms. Chaka Khan did!  The vid is a little grainy and it’s sideways but the voice….ohhhh the voice!!!!! Check this out:


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