Hands Up! Police learn to manage news media effectively.

Talking to a reporter is way harder than it looks on television.

Real life has real challenges. Life would be much easier for law enforcement if the general public was more cooperative and police could solve crimes in one hour.

Here’s an interview I did recently with the Executive Training Institute / ETI 2017 for my April 25th presentation at Supervisor’s Day –  the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Conference

Thankfully, police officials have a number of tools to make their professions safer and more effective in protecting the public and getting bad guys off the streets.

The most effective tool in a police officer’s kit is communication.

Officers need to know how to “say what you mean, and mean what you say“. A leader who hesitates and stumbles can quickly turn a manageable situation into a crisis.

Narrative is defined as “your story within the story“, and it is framed by a reporter even before a police spokesperson has a chance to speak. It’s easy for reporters to take a paint by numbers approach, which means police officials need communication tools and skills that allow their messages to come across effectively and to be reported in a way that helps keep the peace.

A journalist’s mind is already made up regarding the characters in a story, and their questions often put police on the defensive. The skills required to get a message to the public through news media do not come naturally to anyone. Learning and adopting new communication skills is relatively easy once you know a few secrets.

During my presentation at the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Conference on April 25th, I’ll share decades of experience on the front lines as an investigative reporter, and give law enforcement officials insight that will ideally help police improve how reporters hear their message, and more importantly how they relay it to their audiences.

Mark Twain wrote,
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

As we’ve all seen recently, a lie does not have to be clearly stated. It can be implied and remain questionable until an untrained spokesperson in authority inadvertently and mistakenly confirms it through an improper statement. Once it leaves your lips it is out of your control and can be repeated over and over until the public believes the lie.

If you’re going to load and aim that mouth, you need to know how to use it responsibly before you pull the trigger on a sound bite that could reverberate around the world.

Spokespeople only have one shot at getting their message right. Speaking to news media is not a casual conversation. It is a performance, and you need to be on target at all times. Reporters are expert at baiting you to let your guard down, and it is at these times where you could say something you regret. Police officials have to come across with authority, but do it in a way that demonstrates concern for public safety.

Bad news is riddled with emotion, so when an incident occurs it’s important to recognize the emotion inherent in the situation. It’s a mistake to ignore how a person feels and instead only focus on the facts. Emotion always wins in the court of public opinion, and it’s where a spokesperson’s battle is fought.

Reporter’s are always on the prowl for an inflammatory sound bite, and will work hard to elicit something you would not normally say. If you recognize the set up you will more easily be able to direct the conversation so it meets your needs.

Social media today allows everyone to be a news reporter. Very often the narrative in social media is also framed first, while mainstream news media try to catch up. It’s a tidal wave game-changer that spokespeople need to recognize and respect. Ignore it at your peril.

It’s critically important to go into an interview knowing what you want to say. Information comes at you fast and furiously so you must be prepared with messages you want media to report. Know how you want to come across.

Media now talk to police in ways they never did before, which makes police feel disrespected and elicits a negative defensive response. Police spokespeople need to identify what words they want used to describe how they want stakeholders to regard their message specific to the particular situation. I address this concept in detail in my book, “When the Headline Is YOU” and call it your “Value Compass“.

My goal during my chiefs of police presentation is to provide law enforcement with a framework to tell their story in media, in a manner that allows them to influence the way journalists edit the story.

Reporters cast characters and very often look for a “star” of the show.

Speaking to the media represents a very unnatural dynamic. I’ll also show and discuss videos related to law enforcement in media, from both a pro and con perspective.

No doubt that talking to reporters today is much more difficult than in the past, but the good news is that managing media effectively and how your message comes across is a skill that can be learned.

I am going to open the Executive Training Institute’s segment, ETI 2017 Supervisor’s Day of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Conference on April 25th at the St. Cloud River’s Edge Conference Center, and expect everyone there will come armed, with questions.

FBI Director James Comey and Jeff Ansell at IACP

FBI Director James Comey and Jeff Ansell at IACP 2015

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Reporters’ Attention Spans Plummet Radically

8 Seconds?!

If you can get 8 seconds out of a reporter you’ll be lucky.

According to a recent fishy fact, the average human today has an
attention span of only 8.25 seconds, a drop of 3.75 seconds since 2000.

At the turn of the last millennia humans were purported to have had a whopping attention span of 12 seconds. But now, in 2017 at just 8.25 seconds, we can’t even concentrate as long as a bug-eyed goldfish, which apparently has an attention span of 9 seconds.

I say apparently, because no one knows for sure what the real numbers are, but it’s a lot of fun to roll these stats around and to think that a fish can beat us at a staring competition.

BTW, goldfish and reporters don’t have eyelids, so how’re we going to know if they blink?

The real danger here is, if you think a reporter will pay attention to you for 8 seconds, I have another hook for you to bite. It has been argued that if Microsoft advertising executives would have run their attention test on a journalist they would have seen it drop to -2 seconds. Yep, you read it right, that’s a minus sign in front of the 2.

Even before a reporter shows up at your door she’s outgoldfishing you. As soon as you open your mouth she’s already thinking about the next question, and her attention span for what you’re currently saying is hovering at around 1 second, unless of course you say something juicy and hand her a headline-worthy sound bite. Then, all of a sudden her attention span has jumped to eight hours, or maybe even eight months depending on what you said.

8 seconds would be a miracle! When a reporter has a bead on you the machinegun litany of questions come so fast and furious it would make even a mind like Einstein’s quiver.

Paying attention during an interview
is one of a spokesperson’s biggest challenges.

Did she just ask me if I was texting when my train jumped the tracks in the middle of the city, and was that before or after she asked if I was drinking at my birthday bash the night before?” Pay attention man! You’re life and career depends on it. Send in the Guppy, err, I mean the goldfish. Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention – a fish is a fish right?

Attention span is both objective and subjective, and actually quite hard to define scientifically. The Microsoft advertising team that ran the test was trying to figure out how long someone would look at an online ad before they bailed, which is quite different than how news media interpreted the report. News companies saw the stat, and instead of reporting it in proper context, they thought they’d have a bit of fun and make it a little provocative so readers would focus on their story a little longer, because apparently we have a shorter attention span this year than last year.

Here’s the good news; your attention span can extend beyond 8 seconds if you train your brain. According to common theory, our attention spans have decreased because of technology. If you have any age in your bones you know our world is hustling and bustling faster than it was a decade ago, and it makes sense that if we are always in a rush our attention spans will suffer. Fast food, smart-phones, and auto-checkout at the grocers add to a long list of things that make us impatient and lose focus. All we seem to want to do anymore is move on to the next nano-moment of excitement. “Oh joy, a new type of ear buds – without a cord. If I would have just paid more attention I’d remember where I left the left one.”

We have to train ourselves to reclaim some of the inherent skills a modern life has washed away. FYI, I’m making fun of this problem because I know humor helps people focus.

So lesson one is … organize your thoughts and RELAX! You’re welcome.

It’s not a joke though to have a low attention span. Among other reasons, it can be a career killer. Staying focused is important, so if you want to improve your attention span, make sure you are MOTIVATED. Give yourself a reason to stay focused.

Also make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do your HOMEWORK so you’re not drifting off wondering if what you just told the reporter will land you in the headlines.

Multitasking is for machines so ENGAGE with reporters and listen carefully to what they say. Give them respect and all your time without distraction – like your phone vibrating.

BREATHE too. You need oxygen in your brain
in order to think clearly and pay attention.

My colleagues and I have a few other secrets in our tackle box
you can use to help you focus while being interviewed.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need help figuring out
how to bait the hook and outfox the goldfish.

We have enough fish food for everyone.

I’m Jeff Ansell,
Be well

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Flips Flops and Flies Review of 2016

What a year!

2016 delivered more surprises than anyone could have predicted.

Jeff Ansell

The loudest news of course was the presidential election, and when Donald Trump won, it started the whole world talking. Well, more like arguing, with yelling and crying thrown in for good measure. Soon after, reports of Facebook Fake News stories became news itself.


Brexit exploded and share prices plummeted after the UK voted to leave the European Union. No one saw that coming either and it gave news media another excuse to pit politicians against each other, and against taxpayers too, which they did with a vengeance.

The world also watched the Summer Olympics in Brazil. It generated considerable controversy, maybe the most in all of Olympic history when news media reported heavily on human rights violations in Rio favelas (ghettos). As a distraction Brazilian politicians accused international media of blowing the Zika virus out of proportion and of chasing visitors away. Media disagreed, of course.

Syrian refugees filled the headlines too with their plight and the response from NIMBY groups yelling, “Keep Out!” It has been a heartless year in many respects with countless distressing stories pitting families and humanity against local and federal governments.

Fifty people were murdered in a homophobic attack on a nightclub where gay men and women frequented. It gained attention around the world as LGBTQ groups banded together to express anger and raise awareness. Many straight people marched alongside too.

Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late Whitney Houston, died in circumstances eerily similar to her mother who also drowned in a bathtub three years earlier. Mysteries surrounding Bobbi’s death swirled heavily with news media fueling speculation. Media is expert at speculation and a good reason why spokespeople have to be sharp.

Hulk Hogan won a 140 million dollar lawsuit over a sex tape Gawker published – they just settled this December for a reported thirty-one million. The interesting twist, as if it weren’t interesting enough, was that Peter Thiel a wealthy Hulk benefactor, secretly at first, paid all of Hogan’s legal fees, and because of this, he won causing Gawker to declare bankruptcy. It was fascinating to watch the social media pseudo news giant dragged to its death, and it sent a strong message that even social media needs to abide somewhat by journalistic rules.

Race riots spread across America and around the world at a feverish pitch. Almost every month YouTube and news programs were filled with horrific events of police shootings and angry mobs. Citizen video cameras often captured Black Lives Matter events and fueled a raging fire. Mainstream reporters had a tough time keeping up with cell phone reporting. Five police officers were killed by a sniper in one incident alone.

Marijuana use was decriminalized, and even legalized for recreational use in a number of U.S. states. The furor this caused had reporters scrambling feverishly all over the country interviewing users, church groups, and politicians looking for sound bites from victims, villains, heroes, and the village idiot.

Many more events in 2016 stirred emotions, and there is no end in sight for the new year either. I’m sure I missed a few that are important to you so don’t hesitate to let me know what made your list.

We take stock at this time of year, looking back at what was, and forward to what can be. Each year we hope our lives will get easier and our jobs more fulfilling. In many respects that often happens, but when a media crisis unexpectedly drops your name into a headline, communication gets complicated.

Spokespeople today have a lot to contend with when you take into account all the different levels of reporting currently available. We still have, of course, traditional newspaper and television news companies – many however who can’t afford to fact check as thoroughly as in the past. They no longer have time or finances to report as accurately as they would like, which leaves spokespeople and their companies to pick up the slack to ensure news information is delivered effectively.

Television comedy shows also deliver news, but their political satire is not just limited to TV. Younger news consumers watch Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, SNL and many more on their phones, and consider it mainstream news – millennials being one of the primary target audiences.

There is a long and growing list of independent reporters, professionals and amateurs alike who show up everywhere and anywhere thrusting smartphones into the startled faces of beleaguered spokespeople. Independents don’t necessarily follow traditional rules and the information they uncover ends up on YouTube and sometimes even goes viral. Citizen journalism has become the new black and became much more pervasive in 2016.

Under relentless assault by disruptive marketing and promotion competitors, traditional news organizations are reinventing themselves and their revenue models. They are fighting even harder to uncover information in a world that now recognizes that “Breaking News” means it is reported in real time on Twitter while the action is still occurring, and it is available immediately on your phone while you are at work or play. News finds us wherever we are day and night. Spokespeople are never off the grid and although they’ve never been able to hide, now, they can’t even run.

Trust in news media had officially sunk to an all time low in 2016 even though more news is being produced by a very large number of professional and citizen reporters.

So, where do we go from here? Ah, 2017 predictions. Speculation is fun, but dangerous, so don’t do it because that’s where a sharp reporter will get you every time. If you don’t know, say so and that you’ll look into it and get back with the facts when they are available! And then do it.

Hoping your news is good news.

See you on the other side of sixteen.

Happy Holidays!

Be Well,

Jeff Ansell

Jeff Ansell & Associates

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Trump’s Method to Our Madness

It’s going to be interesting over the next few months to watch the battle
between President-elect Donald Trump and mainstream news media.

It could be a tipping point for news companies, because whether you like the man
or not, he makes some valid points about reporters. Journalists are incredibly hard to control – most say even impossible. If you want to challenge news companies you need well-honed media skills and deep pockets to sustain the battle. We know Trump has the money, but he’s proven time and again he finds it difficult and often even impossible to manage reporters effectively.

Donald Trump is however the kind of guy to have a substantial impact on the way the public regards media, and on the resulting trickledown effect it could have on the media industry. He’s intelligent, driven, and assertive, many even argue overly aggressive. It takes confidence, courage, and a thick skin to go head to head with a reporter, let alone the reporter’s entire news agency.

Trump recently cancelled at the last minute a meeting scheduled with the New York Times because he claims “they” changed the rules. The NY Times however tells a different story.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Trump was scheduled to meet with the NY Times on November 22, 2016. When his people called shortly before the meeting insisting that the meeting be “off the record” the NY Times said, sorry, no. Everything you say will be fair game.

That’s how it works in a democratic society. In the past it was fully expected that media’s purpose was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” although many argue that today it is no longer the case.When The Headline Is YOU 

Pollsters already claim most people do not trust reporters or news companies, so for Trump, raging against media is a pretty safe argument to make, and also an opportunity to use a basic compliance strategy to have the public agree with you and support your cause. All Trump basically did was pick the public side of a contentious issue and argue for it with the conviction that his word would be the last word. Trump has trouble one-on-one with reporters, but he’s brilliant at using compliance to manage crowds. He is after all, a successful promoter who knows how to sell tickets to a Mike Tyson heavyweight match and to showrooms in his now bankrupt Atlantic City casinos.


Even less people will trust media if reporters allow
themselves to be censored by the people they interview.

Compliance works like this – to use a very simplistic example;
I say 
“Nice day.” You can’t help but agree and say “Yes.” I then say “Beautiful blue sky.” Once again, you agree and say “Yes, it is.” I then say “I’m warm, are you?” By this time you think, ‘wow we seem to have a lot in common,’ so you say, “Yes!” That’s three yes’s in a row, and while you’re innocently “complying with me,” the fourth question will be something like, “I think all this stuff about global warming is right. Don’t you agree?” Bingo! Odds are many people will say YES, even though it might not be their true feeling.

Basically, pick a favorite argument you know a lot of people will agree with and leverage it for your own benefit.  i.e., Yes! The media is untrustworthy. Trump says so, I say so and coincidentally according to Gallup, so do almost 60% of people in North America. It feels great to be on a winning team!

Always keep in mind there is a big difference between delivering a message to news media as a spokesperson, and actually convincing news media to report a story the way you want it told. Reporters love to report a spokesperson’s controversial ideas and inadvertent sound bites because they creates headlines. It’s easy, but that’s not the definition of managing news media. The hard part is getting a reporter to publish your ideas in a nonpartisan way when they don’t necessarily agree with what the spokesperson is saying. It’s up to the spokesperson to convince the reporter to share his or her idea with the news company’s audience, which is quite hard to accomplish, but not impossible if you’ve had training and know what you’re doing. You need the benefit of experience and practice to do it effectively.

At the end of the day President-elect Trump is right. The news media are hard to manage, but if you think you can go toe to toe with news companies the way The Donald does you’re in for a scary ride. Yes, it’s possible the pressure Trump is putting on news media will eventually have a long term positive effect for the public in general. As a result of him attacking reporters so aggressively everyone is now paying way more attention than ever. It’s deceiving though, and a big mistake to think your power and Trump’s are similar. Do you really want to mimic his behavior and risk being another of media’s sacrificial lambs?

You’ll need more than luck if you want to go down that road, but if you decide to take on news media, we should talk so you at least have an idea of what you’re up against. It’s probably not what you think. Nothing ever is.

Thanks so much for reading.

I’m Jeff Ansell, be well.

P.S. If you’re wondering what happened re the NY Times interview, Trump
caved and did it “On the Record.” Smart man. Good bluff though.

Wall Street Journal

Gallup Report

NY Times Interview

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5 Essential Tips for Spokespeople

The number one thing spokespeople fail to do
when talking to a reporter is breathe.

It sounds simple, but the reflexive thing to do when you’re nervous is to hold your breath in preparation for fight or flight! If you breath you’ll bring oxygen to your brain and think more clearly. It will help you concentrate on what you should be saying as you say it.

Use your hands to animate your speech. Don’t be scared to move around a bit and hold your hands up in an open gesture, palms facing forward to help put the reporter at ease. Speak with conviction, but don’t be arrogant. A spokesperson has to convince a reporter that they fully believe the words that leave their lips, because if you don’t believe it, they won’t either.

Here are the last 5 communication tips for spokespeople when being interviewed by a reporter. We hope you have enjoyed our series and found it helpful. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you have questions or need more information.

Be well, Jeff Ansell

Remember …

1. Breathe, especially when listening to or answering a difficult question

2. Focus on what you’re talking about as you talk

3. Use your hands to help you talk

4. Look like you mean it!

5. Say it like you mean it!

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4 More Important TIPS


Here are the entire 25 TIPS
in our Media Training Series

5 TIPS to be a Better Speaker

5 Critical Media Training Tips

5 MORE Critical Media Training Tips

5 Critical TIPS for Spokespeople

5 Essential Tips for Spokespeople


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5 TIPS to be a Better Speaker

If you want to be a better speaker and spokesperson you need to deliver your story one point at a time and not confuse reporters or your audience with multiple layers of information.

Keep it simple. How you speak can be as important as the words you use. Modulate your voice and don’t speak in a monotone. Breathe life into your voice.

Demonstrate your confidence by looking into the reporter’s eyes. Don’t stare them down, instead engage the journalist in a friendly, businesslike manner. Use your eyes and body language to emphasize your words, and be careful to not send mixed messages. For example, don’t say yes and shake your head no, or avert your eyes when you make a statement.

Slow down too. Rushing your words makes it sound like you’re nervous. Put space between your thoughts so the reporter has time to absorb your information, and also so you can buy a little time to think ahead.

5 Important Tips from Jeff Ansell to help you be a Better Speaker 

1. Focus on one thought at one time

2. Use inflection and emphasize words to strengthen your message

3. Have meaningful eye contact with the interviewer

4. Use your eyes to match your tone

5. Pause to be thoughtful

Jeff Ansell Presentation Skills


Here are the entire 25 TIPS
in our Media Training Series

5 TIPS to be a Better Speaker

5 Critical Media Training Tips

5 MORE Critical Media Training Tips

5 Critical TIPS for Spokespeople

5 Essential Tips for Spokespeople


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Free Speakers’ Training Videos

FREE Training Information! This week only!


LinkedIn has named October 24-30 the Week of Learning

During the entire week, LinkedIn members will be able to access its library of over 5,000 courses on LinkedIn Learning, entirely for free.

Be sure to check out my program, Communicating with Confidence by Jeff Ansell. I’m grateful to say my program has already had close to 600,000 views!

In my course I talk about how to be a confident communicator by learning techniques to help you sound more confident, and how to use gestures and your body language to look more confident too. Plus, I talk about how to overcome anxiety when speaking in public, and how to bring it all together by going through real coaching exercises.

I also address what good speakers do to draw their audience in, whether it is one person or a thousand. I talk too about what makes a person a good speaker. For example, “Do they care about their subject” and “Do they look genuine and sound animated.” A confident communicator is grounded and at ease in their own skin.

I also talk about the 3 “V’s”

1) Visual, which is about how we look and carry ourselves.

2) Vocal, how we sound, our tone and volume.

3) Verbal, the words we use to communicate.

55% of the way people interpret your attitudes and emotions is through VISUAL.

38% of the way people interpret your attitudes and emotions is through VOCAL.

7% of the way people interpret your attitudes and emotions is through Verbal.

Despite that last low number, 7%, words are still important.

A confident communicator is someone who is thoughtful with words.

A good speaker knows how to use all these elements effectively so you look like you mean what you’re talking about and sound like you mean what you’re talking about.

My training can help you choose words that describe how you want to see yourself and have others see you – words like confident, knowledgeable, and engaging, to name a few.

A good speaker is also someone who is will to be vulnerable in front of others.

A good speaker touches you, makes you listen and can make you act.

Effective communication is a key business skill that can be learned and refined.

All of my videos are FREE this week on LinkedIn, so please enjoy.

Be well,
Jeff Ansell

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