Tips from retired athletes about dealing with the media

I have recently been researching how Olympic athletes are impacted by the media. I asked ten Olympic athletes, based on their experiences with the media, to give advice to junior athletes just starting out in international competition. The most common and salient points were:

  1. Learn how the media works. This will take away some of the issues you may face, help you see that often negative comments are not personal and help you to make the media work for you rather than the other way round. Find a few athletes in your sport who you see handle the media well and ask them how they manage it.
  1. Know when you need to get into the bubble and come away from reading traditional or social media then so you do not risk distraction, frustration or hurt. If you want to hear what your fans and positive supporter have to say then hand over your social media account to a friend or relative who can mediate what you see and can print messages out for you.
  1. Remember your manners. Smile, be nice and remember the journalist is doing a job too.
  1. Be open and honest about your time commitments. Offer to help journalists when you can but keep it on your terms so neither your training or self-care is disrupted. You are only a good story for a journalist if you are performing well so don’t spend too much time on media commitments to risk that.
  1. Ask lots of questions. Understand what the piece is you are involved in and get exact details of what you are signing up for.
  1. Be an advocate for your sport. Tell your story, be honest and interesting. Work out and practice making any complex stories or ideas simple and how best to communicate those so nothing is lost in translation and you don’t feel misinterpreted. If you have had a bad race it is fine to admit you know that and that you are thinking about how to improve for next time.

The five Cs of networking

I recently attended a great conference having been out of the corporate world for a while. I immediately switched back into my ‘networking’ mode and realised it is a great skill that is hard to pick up (and scary to start with) but one that you never forget and will always value having. So if you are off to an event or conference or awards ceremony and there won’t be many (or any) people there that you know, rather than hide in the corner and pretend to be frantically working on your blackberry (yes – we’ve all done it) these five rules of networking should help you on your way,  ensure you make some new contacts out of the day and enjoy the experience a bit more too.

  1. Commit – to speaking to three people you didn’t know before at every event you go to. It gives you a target and stops you getting lazy or too timid.
  2. Conversation openers – If you don’t know anyone there are a number of different routes you can go down to open conversations. When you arrive speak to the host or the person who invited you and ask them who is interesting and ask them to introduce you. A great tip is never to walk up to a group of 2 people you don’t know (as they may be having a private conversation) but a group of three will always welcome you. In 10 years this trick has worked every time. Work out in advance some easy conversation openers or developers that you can fall back on if it gets difficult. The topic of the event or the subject of the session you have just been in is always the easiest conversation opener.
  3. Cards – always have business cards on you – you never know when you may need them and who you will meet.
  4. Cues – build up a bank of conversational cues you can use to escape dull conversations but don’t be rude. The worst people at networking events are those who spend your conversation staring over your shoulder for someone more important to speak to. Manners cost nothing and make a massive difference so extricate yourself politely.
  5. Confidently follow up – if you meet someone interesting or discuss ways either of you may be able to help the other, do follow up with a short email. Don’t be too shy to do so you never know how they may be able to help you in the future, or you to help them. And being able to give someone else a step up is a fantasitc feeling.