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How to Be a Talking Head

Most small-business owners don't consider themselves potential radio or TV personalities. But the truth is, there has been a veritable explosion of talk-radio and cable-TV shows over the past decade, and all of them are looking for content, says Marsha Friedman, president of Event Management Services, a Clearwater (Fla.)-based full-service publicity firm.

Each year, Friedman books her business clients for appearances on national and local media. Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein recently spoke with Friedman about how entrepreneurs can attract attention from the media -- and make the most of it when they get it. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Which entrepreneurs might be candidates for radio and TV interviews?

Almost anyone, but especially companies that produce consumer-oriented products or deliver popular services. A manufacturer who makes a widget and sells it to another manufacturer might not have much appeal for an interview. But with all the niche channels out there, someone with expertise in legal or financial areas, or someone who sells gardening products or food products, might be a perfect match for a radio or TV segment on those topics.

Where would a small-business owner who wants to do a media appearance look to pitch his or her services?

Local radio shows on the 250-watt or 1,000-watt AM stations are a great place to start. There's also satellite radio, which is becoming more popular and could be a way to get started. Then there are local TV news programs that do lifestyle or business segments, particularly on the weekends.

With more radio shows going to national programming, by the way, the weekend programs are also the best place to find radio shows that are produced locally. And there's also community-access cable, which can be relatively easy to get on and can provide wonderful experience and a way to build up your confidence on camera.

Is this a "practice makes perfect" kind of thing?

Oh, definitely. The professionals who do this all the time make it look very easy, but actually it's a skill. The more you do interviews, the better you get at defining your message and honing your presentation skills. And once you do a few radio call-in shows and speak to a few hosts, you'll find that the questions you get are similar. Usually, there's one area of your company that's really interesting to people and you can start to craft your answers to respond about that area.

How would an entrepreneur get a producer of a show interested in his or her business?

Well, first, stay up on the news. Listen to the radio, read newspapers, watch TV. That helps you figure out what's in the news and how your message might tie in with it.

Once you have an angle or tie-in to a current news story, put together a press release that explains that and provides some background about your firm. You never want to go out pitching yourself or your company alone. You won't get free air time for your company, even at the smallest stations. So you want to pitch your company or your expertise in an industry as a solution to a problem that's making news.

O.K., how about once you get an interview booked. How do you prepare?

Make sure you're fully prepared with facts, figures, and anecdotes to talk about when you're on the air. Make up a cheat sheet or note cards loaded with your best information and key points. Most interviews are going to be very short -- three to five minutes at most -- so you really must know your message before you go on the air.

Do some dry runs with a friend or business associate acting as the host, so you get your answers down. The audience can easily detect the difference between a guest bursting with knowledge and one whose knowledge well is drying up. If you don't have much to say, you'll lose the audience's attention and any credibility that you had been building with them.

Assuming your company has a tie-in for an item that's in the news, do you book as many interviews as possible, or does that risk overexposure?

You definitely want to conduct as many media interviews as you can. And you should make yourself available at a moment's notice, if need be. Talk radio interviews are typically done from your home or office, so that makes it very easy.

Think of media appearances as instant promotional opportunities, and be available day or night. Anytime you're on the air, you're going to boost your company's visibility and sales.

How do you conduct yourself in a way that makes the host want to invite you back?

You need to sparkle on air. Enthusiasm speaks loud and clear, so in order to keep the audience attentive you need to maintain a high level of interest throughout the interview.

Remember, media is about entertainment. So you want to be both informative and entertaining, not boring. Do that, and you'll find the host jumping in to help you promote your message.

How does a non-media-savvy entrepreneur ensure that he's entertaining and informative if he's seized by a case of stage fright?

It sounds obvious, but the first thing is make sure you're really well-rested and well-fed. Your attention isn't going to be focused if you're hungry or tired.

Also, if you're doing a radio interview from your home or office, close yourself off in a room where there are as few distractions as possible. Get your cell phone out of there! Then, try and relax and be yourself. Nobody knows your information, your product, or your message like you do -- so you really are an expert. Have fun with it!

And don't be too hard on yourself after your first appearance. No one goes out and bats a home run the first time at the plate. So try to be as comfortable as possible and as prepared as you can be, and then enjoy yourself.


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