Occupy the Press

I’m one of the only people I know who was raised being trained to speak to the press and give interviews (my siblings are the only other people I know with this background) so I’d like to give a few tips, if I may. Speaking before the press is different from other forms of public speaking, because it is conversational and sometimes combative. Thanks to livestreams, people around the globe can listen to members of various Occupy camps speak their minds. Best to do so clearly and articulately. Here are a few ways to do that.

  • Get talking points. American corporate press agencies are highly drawn to sound bytes. Go ahead and let them know corporate personhood, corporate money in politics, and corruption are some of the major goals of the Occupy movement, even while acknowledging that there are many other issues besides. Alternatively, talk with your General Assembly and come up with your camp’s primary goals. In Denver, for example, Native American rights are a major theme of the Occupy camp. Pick three to four issues to stress; longer lists than that are likely to be ignored or clip-edited.
  • Get facts and statistics based on the issues you pick as most important to discuss. When I appeared on CNN on International Women’s Day in 2009 to discuss abortion rights, I had a handful of facts at my disposal such as global rates of abortion, who gets abortions in the US (poor moms in our 20s and 30s for the most part), etc. These facts as well as the reliable source where you found them (so viewers/listeners can verify your facts for themselves) add tremendous credibility to a message.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Come up with likely sample questions members of the press may ask you with your camp. You can look at video footage and print interviews to get good ideas of what you can expect. Practice with each other. Work on reducing your “ums” and make sure your answers/responses are under 45 secs when possible.
  • Recognize that every camera is potentially on and broadcasting you. If you feel harried, overly stressed or extremely angry, try to regain a measure of composure before speaking in front of a camera – any camera. I’ve been watching livestreams from numerous camps and have cringed a few times watching someone with no media training look a little bit crazy for simply not knowing how to “quit when you’re ahead.” Frequently I wish the camera operator would help by turning the camera away from someone in full rant-mode, and come back to that person when they are calmer. (I know I make funnier facial expressions and have a really hard time not using FCC-banned swear words when I’m upset.)
These are opinions and advice, nothing more. Discard or disseminate these tips as you see fit. I recognize our media has a lot of flaws, not least their preference for sound bytes and over simplifications. If you choose not to address the media in your area, or choose to address it in a different way, I heartily support your right to do so. Occupy for your rights.
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