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Untrainable

The news that David Shearer is to ‘get media training’ from Ian Fraser in order to make him more visible to the electorate has tended to reinforce the notion that ‘getting media training’ is rather like getting a new suit from Hallenstein’s.

All you have to do is put the new suit on and you’ll immediately not merely look better but be a whole new person.

Unfortunately media training doesn’t fit this prêt-à-porter model. It’s a bespoke art. Everyone’s needs are different, no two people’s measurements are exactly the same, and there are some people who will never look good in anything.

I’ll abandon this analogy before I invite derision, but it serves to make the point that you can’t just ‘get media training’ in the same way that you might ‘get trained’ to drive a car, a skill in which most people are capable of being competent at least and which even indifferent drivers can teach you. Here, by the way, the Maggie Barry Principle applies – if you’ve never been a professional interviewer and haven’t had wide experience of all branches of the media, you’ve not really qualified to talk about media-training, let alone engage in it.

Hard to pin down
It’s rare for the diagnosis of what is ailing an interviewee to be obvious. 

With the exception of ‘umming and erring’, saying ‘you know’, ‘like’ , ‘I guess’, ‘absolutely’, ‘going forward’, ‘OK, so’ at least once in every paragraph, what prevents someone from coming across well on radio or television is often extremely subtle and quite difficult to pin down.

Some people are crippled by nerves; some – often graduates of poor PR schooling – robotically recite the ‘key messages’ they have been taught to deliver; some have unnatural speech patterns, randomly emphasising words or delivering their information in self-contained packages; some cannot retain eye contact with the person opposite; some are monosyllabic, others verbose; some fail to realise that punctuation is as necessary to clarity in speech as it is in the written word; some confuse pace with speed, sprinting through their consequently tedious answers; some take offence too easily, others are doormats; some are too careless with the truth, others too pedantic; some will never concede, others apologise too often and too abjectly – mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa; some come across in stereophonic sound and 3D, others are wallpaper; some lack confidence, others are brash; some are naturals, others will never get it. While it’s essential to be protective of the feelings of the latter, it’s a kindness to put them out of their misery and tell them the truth. Generally speaking, they’re relieved.

Pychologist, teacher, bullshit detector
So the media trainer needs to be diagnostician, psychologist, counsellor, teacher. He must be a good reader of people, have a bullshit detector for a brain and understand the power of praise. One thing becomes very apparent in this business: genuinely confident people are few and far between. If we contributed at all to Helen Clark rising phoenix-like from the ashes in 1996 – and she has been generous enough to say that we did – it was less as the result of ‘media training’, than of rebuilding her confidence which was at its lowest ebb.

Job cut out
So what of David Shearer? Ian’s media credentials are impeccable, but I think he will have his job cut out.

The one thing the media trainer cannot do is change the fundamental personality of his client.

It’s as if there were a performance gene that some people, regardless of their intelligence, education, socio economic standing, experience, moral character or any other integer, were born with, while others lack it entirely.

Being born with the performance gene tells you nothing about whether a man or woman will make a great Prime Minister – consider David Lange – but in the modern race for the glittering political prize having it is a distinct advantage.

I’m not convinced that Shearer has the performance gene nor that it can be conjured from thin air by even the most adept media training. Shearer may well be our next Prime Minister and quite possibly a very good one, but the achievement will be the result of serendipitous events rather than that force of personality which we sometimes call charisma. 

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards blogs at Brian Edwards Media.

More by Brian Edwards

Comments and questions
14

Surely could teach him not to do Old Man Tongue when he's thinking?

If Labour really want to get some credibility - they need to put Jacinda in front of the camera, wearing a bikini - saying nothing only holding placards with their message on it... "No GST on Asset Sales" and other brilliant Labour Party sound-bites of wisedom.

That might get some people listening to their messages... if it's a cold day - or if they really wanted to maximise credibility - they could ask Ronald McDonald to join the front bench along with all the other clowns...

Might work, she sure is easy on the eyes and I'm astonished she hasn't been head hunted by a toothpaste manufacturer.
As for Shearer, wot's the matter with the way he is, surely the best darned asset the Nats have got.

EXCELLENT idea!!!!!

The above headline says it all.

Shearer's a dyed-in-the-wool U.N. bureaucrat. And that doesn't give Ian Fraser much material to work with. He has as much hope of re-fashioning Shearer, as the former U.N. High-Priest Kofi Annan has of holding sway over Syria's Bashar Assad: It just ain't gonna happen. But all's not wasted, because Fraser gets to mint some coin.

Perhaps worth pointing out that I haven't said that Shearer is 'untrainable' or that Ian will be unable to help him. What I've said is that he will 'have his job cut out'.

Brian Edwards' original headline was "On David Shearer, Ian Fraser and the Bespoke Art of Media Training"

Let us hope that Shearer can indeed be an effective opposition to JK who is showing unmistakable signs of the arrogance that seems to inhabit NZ prime ministers who last two terms.
liberte

I'm always amazed to discover what I've taught people.

Brian, I'll say it for you.....since you won't: Ian might be a good media trainer -- you provided the full package and then trained Clark on how to baffle and intimidate the media.
Wake up Labour back-office, and hire the pro. The REASON the tongue is wandering is because Edwards hasn't taught him how to get to the answer quicker....by anticipating the question.

Actually my reply was to BS Bertie. I'm not very good at this computer stuff you see.

With due respect to Fraser, I can't see him being effective. Part of being a good media trainer is to instil that sense of 'self-awareness'; a quality that was not evident when Fraser was the head of TVNZ.

until Shearer starts to trust the inner machinations of his mind and verbalise them with flow...instead of 'umming' and 'ah-ing" and trying to 2nd guess himself...he'll go nowhere..that simple !!!

But now that Labour and their Union funding machine have rules about not dislodging the incumbent "dearest leader", what hope is there for Poser Parker, Ruck a Duck Mallard and all the other wannabe Labour leaders? At least Shane Jones has seen the real "blue" light, and who knows, he might join Winston Peters, or even National. Now there's a thought.