Men’s lack of news media skills opens way for women

A guest post by Peter Burdon, media and comms expert

Men are undoubtedly seen in the news media far more often than women, but that in itself doesn’t give them any advantage. That’s because it’s rare for them to have a clear message to tell, let alone the ability to get it across to their audience.

To make the need for a message clear in my media training workshops I always ask trainees the following question when we come up with a scenario a reporter wants to talk to them about. “If you could write the first three sentences of that reporter’s story, what would they be?”

If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re not prepared for the interview. There’s clearly no plan, meaning the focus of the story will be totally up to the reporter. It will basically be a Q&A and you will have zero influence over what’s covered.

This is how most people approach media interviews. It means that instead of taking charge and getting a valuable message across, most people go into the interview with the single aim of coming out unscathed, rather than seeing it as an opportunity.

This is where women can thrive

 If women who do appear in the media make the most of it, they can have far more influence than men, purely because they would have a message and know how to get it past media gatekeepers. It’s not difficult, but it does require a new set of skills and practice.

In a nutshell, they need to come up with the three key points they want the story to focus on. These must be clear, interesting and last no longer than 25 seconds combined.

They then need to dress these points up in ways that make them more attractive for reporters to use. This is done by saying the key points in different ways such as using analogies, emotion, absolute language and examples. These are what reporters want for the quotes and sound bites in their stories. So if they dress up these points in this way, there’s a huge chance that they make it into the story.

For example, a policewoman may have a message point: “Police should be able to carry guns.” As the interview progresses, she could say it this way. “How many more police have to die before you give us a gun?” How much more interesting is that second way of making the same point. The policewoman could walk away fairly confident that it will make the story. The reporter will also be happy that he has an interesting quote or sound bite for his story.

There is more detail to this including how to return to your key points and prepared sound bites throughout the interview to make sure they are the focus. However, you can see how much influence the trained media spokeswoman can have. 

If women master these skills, they will have more impact through the media than men, even though they may appear less frequently.

Pete Burdon is a Media Trainer working across New Zealand and Australia. For more on Pete, including his book and online training, visit


More from the archives ...




Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months