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Tom, a rising star at a large litigation firm was heading out of court when a local TV reporter thrust a microphone in his face and asked his reaction to a judge’s ruling in a case. He couldn’t resist. He figured, “I’m the expert … I know this case cold.” So he blithely answered questions for five minutes. Initially he thought he performed well. But a few days — and sleepless nights — later, he worried about what he’d said and the possible repercussions … to his reputation, his clients and, most important, his firm. Poor Tom. Perhaps he had seen one too many Johnny Cochran appearances, but he realized too late … he’d said too much and in the wrong way. He broke the cardinal rule meeting the media: Be prepared. So, even if you’ve mastered the case, perfected your oral arguments, and selected the right suit and tie, you may be ready for court … but are you ready for Court TV? There are literally hundreds of media outlets from TV to radio to print out there, some devoted exclusively to legal affairs like Court TV, CNN’s Burden of Proof and this very newspaper. Your 15 minutes of fame is coming — sooner or later. And with news breaking at warp-speed, you may face a media ambush the next time you step out of your office. Or the next time your phone rings, it may be a reporter asking you to comment as a legal expert. Unless you are alert to the potential verbal and nonverbal minefields of the media, you could find yourself in contempt. And unlike taking the bar exam, there are no second chances. Which is why, fortunately, there’s professional help. More and more media-savvy firms, especially those with criminal and high-profile corporate cases, are providing media-training services to prevent needless blunders and capitalize on promotional opportunities. So, until you are ready for prime time, here are the 10 most common mistakes lawyers make with the media: � Shooting from the lip: Don’t. Not being prepared for media questions — winging it — is tantamount to pulling the pin from a grenade. The smartest lawyer in the world can look like a rank amateur — or worse — in front of a television camera. TV magnifies the bad and only marginally helps the good. That natural eye movement of looking up while your think? Looks shifty to the viewer. That habit of saying “um” or “uh?” Sounds like you’re groping. You must anticipate what the press might ask, what you want to tell them, and practice, practice, practice. � Answering on the spot: Can be dangerous. The reporter’s deadline doesn’t have to be yours. Just say “yes” to the interview, but be smart about it. Take a moment to collect your thoughts before answering any questions. Better yet, ask the reporter’s deadline. It may be possible to do the interview in five minutes — enough time to slip off to the restroom, formulate your key points and then practice them. � Beguiled by buzzwords: Jettison the legal jargon. Remember, most people don’t have a law degree, so it is key that you speak in plain language. In order to capture your audience, you must grab them at the top, so don’t squander your media opportunity — be clear and concise. � More isn’t better: Be concise. If you overload your interview with elaborate logical chains of reasoning and obscure facts, the editors will cut it, as a general rule. Package your points in a way that is easy to listen to and digest. In a deadline situation, a reporter will be apt to use your sound bites just as you delivered them if they are short, user-friendly for the audience and sum up the situation. � Responding to a Hypothetical: Beware. Even if you won’t comment on a specific case, you may be asked to address a hypothetical situation similar to it. For example, “I know you can’t comment on Mr. Smith’s divorce, but in general, don’t you think fathers should have joint custody?” Beware. Your words could be used in a story about the case that you have tried to avoid. Don’t hesitate to just say no to a hypothetical. � Fill ‘Er Up: Be careful of silence. Most of us are uncomfortable with silence and will naturally continue speaking. That’s when you get yourself into trouble. Don’t try to fill up dead air if the reporter stops talking; it is a technique that many journalists use. Say what you want to say then stop and wait for the reporter to ask the next question. � Speaking “off the record”: Be clear. Some reporters will put away their pad and pen and keep chatting. You might say something you thought was off the record that they can’t resist using. Guess what? The interview is not over till, like Elvis, they’ve left the building. Be clear about the terms of the discussion. � Dead man talking: Be animated. Although you may be passionate about your topic, if your voice is monotone, your message will be lost. Emphasize key words and phrases that you know will make a positive impact. Pause; change tone and tempo to project confidence and ardor. Don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic … energy works on camera. � Anything goes: Look the part. Even a network anchor must bow to the visual demands of the camera. If you know in advance that you are going to be on TV, ditch the busy print tie or blouse, and run a comb though your hair. � Speaking from the Neck Up: Get into it. If you appear on camera, remember your whole body should tell the story. TV is a visual medium — be sure to gesture with your hands to underscore your words. If you are involved in the story, your audience will be too. These tips are only a snapshot of the bigger communication picture. As any pro can tell you, you need a good coach, a game plan and lots of practice. All of this works with television interviews, as well as radio, print, presentations and even client pitches. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Don’t blow it. Make sure you’re ready for your media moment. Heidi S. Berenson, president of Berenson Productions Inc., is an Emmy award-winning former network television producer and a veteran media coach who has trained Nobel Laureates, members of Congress, CEOs and the occasional lawyer.

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