Did Anyone Media Train Lance Armstrong?

Cover of "The Power of Body Language"

Cover of The Power of Body Language

During the Lance Armstrong interviews on Oprah’s OWN station (there were two of them), I was particularly interested in body language, facial expressions, and an earnest apology with sincerity.

What we got was a stone “who” only on occasion succeeded in being sincere. Only once did he tear up and that was when he was speaking about the regret he had for his eldest son. Not once did he look into the camera and speak one to one with any viewer; in particular those he most bullied and abused.

When media relations specialists work with spokespeople, we do what’s called media training.
Everyone is familiar with the word “handler” in political and celebrity circles. That’s the pro who manages the media and turns away reporters getting too close for comfort. That’s also the publicist who has the frontline backdoor role to be on top of current events with a snappy response.

It’s obvious Lance Armstrong didn’t have a handler (they probably couldn’t lie like he did) nor did he have any formal media training.

Here’s what the pros say about Lance Armstrong’s performance (from “Experts: Lance Blew Last Chance” in Advertising Age, Jan. 21, 2013):

Lance Armstrong’s Marketability

  • Darren Rovell, Sports business reporter, ESPN: “Lance Armstrong doesn’t have any future marketability; it’s over. It was his inspiring story of a cancer survivor triumphing in races that made him marketable. If the wins are not legit, then neither is he.”

Lance Armstrong’s Body Language

  • Tonya Reiman, author, “The Power of Body Language:” This is the first time I ever heard the term “fig-leafed” – he nervously covered his groin with his hands. He was also wringing his hands, crossed his legs, tucked his hands between his legs, touched his face, bit his lip, took deep breaths, and swallowed hard. Tonya says these are all signs of a man under serious pressure and his face showed “so much arrogance and not enough real remorse” which is what viewers wanted to see.

Lance Armstrong and PR

  • Mike Paul is a crisis PR expert quoted in Advertising Age. He believes Lance only partially told the truth. In not so many words, Mike believes Armstrong failed his first crisis-PR move (when “scandal-plagued athletes often do confessional interviews where they come clean and throw themselves at the mercy of the court of public opinion.”)

How To Prepare For Media Interviews

Regardless of whether you’re a “scandal-plagued athlete” or a bona fide Wall Street executive, there are stones to turn over and it’s reporters’ jobs to find them (except in the case of the Manti Te’o scandal!). Preparing for an interview with the Wall Street Journal is akin to Lance Armstrong preparing for an interview with Oprah. It takes hours and hours of pre-interview preparation prior to sitting in front of an investigative reporter or someone with the skills the likes of Oprah Winfrey.

Here are several media training tips:
1. Use a message map. This tool is golden when it comes to putting a story on one page.
2. Hire a media trainer who consults with a media relations professional. You need someone from the outside who isn’t close to the situation to come in and drill. In the case of Lance Armstrong, he should’ve been preparing and practicing just like it was a presidential debate.
3. Write a Q&A document with every single possible question that could be raised. Answer these questions using a message map. In the case of Lance Armstrong, however, there was more than a decade of lies to address and rectify in advance of the Oprah interview.
4. Rehearse, but be careful how rehearsed answers become. Lance was too stone-faced; however, no amount of preparation was going to allow him to break down in front of an international audience. He failed to earn respect from anyone; he succeeded in being labeled a consummate liar.
5. Review reporters’ history of interviews and writings. This is a job for any good media relations professional. It’s called writing a brief. It allows spokespeople to reference previous stories, break the ice, and also be prepared for the type of style and to expect a barrage or line of questioning.

Here’s the nutshell…no one in this era of visible online identity should ever assume anything is private. Prepare for an interview as if you’re Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah.

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