Last two weeks big media training test for Hekia Parata

9 June 2012
While it is debatable whether Hekia Parata was solely responsible for the whole class size fiasco, it’s been a baptism of fire for her when it comes to testing her media training skills. So how did she do? As a relatively new Minister, she did okay. The main problem she had was the message she was trying to communicate. From a media training perspective, she was reasonably successful at getting her message out. The problem was that very few people accepted that message. Convincing parents and teachers that an increase in class size was an acceptable trade-off so spending could be increased in other areas turned out to be about as difficult as getting blood out of a stone. In other words the problem was the message itself, not its delivery. However, while Ms Parata clearly has some obvious media training skills, there are some weaknesses that need to be ironed out. The main one is her tendency to use bureaucratic speak on occasions. This is difficult for audiences to understand. She needs to make her language clear at all times. She could also have accepted the emotion of those against the decision. For example, before the change, when responding to criticism, she could have prefaced her comments with: "I understand that many teachers and parents are concerned about the effects of the policy on their children but...then put her point", rather than just launching into a rebuttal of the criticism. However, on the positive side, her passion comes through in her interviews and she is one of few ministers who smiles on air. From a media training standpoint, this usually resonates well with audiences. Another thing she managed well was not falling into the trap of repeating negatives. For example, she was often asked this week: “This is a complete back down isn’t it.” If she replied with: “Yes, this is a complete back down,” that would be used as a direct quote by the media. Instead of falling for that, she just repeated the words: “We are reversing the decision.” The whole event does highlight one thing. Media training skills are vital in these situations. But regardless how good they are, if the message is wrong, it’s difficult to get a positive outcome.

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Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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