We’ve all been there, too many times. The world is coming to an end on all the news stations. Last winter, it was three to six inches of snow forecast for the Delaware Valley. NBC 10 tells viewers it’s ‘committed to seeing you through the storm.’ The KYW storm center begins providing updates eight times an hour. As for Action News, accu-panic sets in at the mere mention of nasty weather.
As a television news reporter for two decades, I spent my fair share of days panicking people about the threat of bad weather, especially snow. Snow is a green light for zealous reporters to blanket the region with live reports from highways that are not snow covered, but might be soon or from supermarkets packed with customers who fear the forecast will leave them stranded indefinitely with no ability to buy milk, bread and other necessities. Most reporters typically despise this obsessive approach to attracting viewers, but they have no choice. The worker bee must do what is assigned.
So one winter when I was assigned to stand outside and warn people of impending doom, I complained that we were unfairly scaring viewers to get ratings. I was quickly corrected and informed that when bad weather is forecast, the H-U-T levels (houses using television) go up which proves that people want this information.
While weather does attract more viewers than most stories, I have always maintained that hyping weather is a bit like the fabled boy who cried wolf. In that tale, the boy repeatedly tricks villagers into believing a wolf has attacked his flock. When a wolf really does appear, villagers don’t believe his cries for help and the flock is destroyed.
Turning a fairly mundane story into something interesting and accurate is also a challenge that people face at work on a daily basis. The boss wants an update on a report that hasn’t changed. Or you’ve been instructed to develop a fresh compelling and interesting presentation when there isn’t anything exciting to discuss. Perhaps lessons can be learned from the four key ways reporters engage listeners when the big story isn’t really that big at all.
Story behind the story — Reporters look for something different or unique that listeners can relate to. For example, it’s common to see workers salting roads before it snows. But that routine story is more compelling if an employee has an unusual story to tell or is doing something extra special for someone along the way.
Listen first, talk later — Most of us see television reporters as people who stand in front of a camera and talk. We don’t see the hours of fact gathering, observation and keen listening skills applied to understand problems and issues so they can be explained to you. Just like good listening skills are critical to good reporting, listening to understand client problems is essential if you want to provide valuable advice.
Help others visualize — Sharing facts and data are important but helping people visualize information makes it real for them. Just like a reporter will describe their surroundings and tell you what they saw while researching a story, you must do the same. For example, if you’re delivering a report about the cost of refurbishing a hotel, you might describe colors, layout, furniture and new technology so your listener can picture how guests might use the new space. When people can see what you say, they will be more engaged and receptive to your ideas.
Happy to be there — There were plenty of times I thought the story I was assigned to cover was not a story at all. In short, I didn’t want to be there. But when the camera goes on, so do you. Leaders and presenters must make listeners feel important and that means listening and speaking to them as if there is no other place you’d rather be.
Reporters are astute observers who look for moments and you can too. Look around the office to see how someone is using your data to do their job. Or perhaps you’ve had a heart to heart with a client who voiced important concerns. Share those moments with others to help them understand how information, no matter how humdrum or mundane, can affect or benefit them.