When dealing with the media, messages, clarity, are key

August 21, 2012

When working with the media, dermatologists should build their presentations around a key message that helps to focus the audience’s attention, says Patricia K Farris, M.D.

Boston - When working with the media, dermatologists should build their presentations around a key message that helps to focus the audience's attention, says Patricia K Farris, M.D.

A key message is a clear, concise sound bite (one to two sentences) that delivers the most important information in 10 seconds or less, said Dr. Farris, a Metairie, La., dermatologist in private practice, at the 2012 American Academy of Dermatology Summer Academy Meeting.

Structural basics
Structurally, Dr. Farris says, key messages typically require three elements: a main message and two supporting messages. "The second key message is often a fact or statistic," she adds.

For example, a presentation regarding skin cancer prevention can include the supporting fact that proper use of sunscreen decreases the incidence of skin cancers. Anecdotes and comparisons also can be used as supporting messages.

"The third key message is your call to action: 'Make sure you're wearing SPF 30 every day,' or 'Go to www.aad.org to learn more,’” she says.

Presentation pearls
In presenting key messages, Dr. Farris says gaining experience in mock interviews - for both broadcast and print media - is very helpful. In both areas, she says, nonverbal cues such as body language, eye contact and the speed with which one speaks can convey volumes of information.

Dr. Farris also teaches a technique called bridging, which interviewees can use to bring an interviewer back to the desired topic when necessary. "If an off-topic question is asked, answer it briefly, then bridge back to your topic,” she says. “This allows you to stay in control of the interview and make sure your key messages are delivered."

Dermatologists also should be prepared for any type of question (who, what, when, where, why) and should anticipate negative or confrontational questions, Dr. Farris says, adding, "If you don't know the answer, say so," and promise to get back to the person with an answer promptly.

Dr. Farris also recommends that physicians be comfortable with a modicum of silence. "You don't have to fill that space. Once you've answered the question, pause and wait for the next question,” she says.

Although Dr. Farris' suggestions focus primarily on media interviews, she says, "These are skills that dermatologists can use with patients, in community meetings and at the podium delivering lectures.”

Disclosures: Dr. Farris reports no relevant financial interests.

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