The most important media relations tool money can buy...

What's your 'must-have' tool when preparing yourself or a client for an important media interview? A laptop? iPad? BlackBerry? Skype? Video camera?

As much as I love gadgets (and I do love my gadgets), I would gladly forsake all of these for the lowly index card.

In hundreds of media training sessions over nearly two decades, I have yet to see a tool that has such a dramatic, positive and noticeable impact on peoples' performance in their media interviews.

Here are the top four reasons why the this modest, paper rectangle will always hold a special place as my go-to media relations tool:

  • They force message discipline. If you can't get all the key messages for your upcoming media interview on a 3" x 5" index card, your story is too long. Unlike a Word document or legal pad, the index card forces you to boil your story down to a few key points. This is, by far, their most important benefit.
  • They're cheap. In fact, you can get 300 of them for less than five bucks. And unless you're a head of state, Justin Bieber or Anthony Weiner, that should be more than enough for all the media interviews you'll conduct over the course of your entire life. 
  • They're great in the event of a blackout. No cords. No batteries. Nothing to back up, nothing to save on a flash drive, nothing to be corrupted by a virus. Long after your laptop battery has died, your index card (and your key messages) will be there for you.
  • They fit anywhere. Your index cards fits perfectly in your shirt or suit pocket, wallet, purse, briefcase, portfolio, etc.

One of the biggest challenges when preparing a client for a media interview is getting them to focus on a few core messsages. The tempation for many spokespeople (especially when they're very knowledgeable about a product or company) is to talk, talk, talk. The simulated interviews we do with them tend to go on and on, wandering from topic to topic. When I encounter someone like this in a training session, I'll write three messages on an index card, hand it to the spokesperson, give them 30 seconds to memorize it and then start the interview over again from the top. The difference in their ability to focus on their key messages is usually nothing short of breathtaking.

Index cards are also handy for public speaking engagements. I prefer them over speeches printed out on letter-sized paper. It always irritates me when spokespeople are up at the podium, noisily flipping and turning pages into the microphone. Write out your key points on as many index cards as it takes, put them on the podium and when you're done a card, simply slide it aside and you're onto the next one.

So the next time you're stocking up on office supplies at Staples, be sure to visit the oft-neglected index card aisle and stock up. The next time a media interview or speaking engagment comes around, you'll be glad you did.

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