Q&A with Media Trainer Rachel Hanfling on Distilling Your Business Messaging

Whether pitching their business on “Shark Tank” or interviewing with a major magazine, many entrepreneurs need help calming their nerves and honing their startup’s story before their 15 minutes of fame.

That’s where Rachel Hanfling comes in.

A former TV producer for Oprah Winfrey and Anderson Cooper, Hanfling teaches an online course called Media Power Plan and provides one-on-one media coaching for entrepreneurs and individuals including “Shark Tank” alums and other business leaders.

StartupNation talked to Hanfling about when entrepreneurs should seek out media training, what they should wear on TV and why listening is a vital skill. The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.

StartupNation: When do you think an entrepreneur should hire someone like you?

Rachel Hanfling: I can help somebody a few minutes before they go on TV, I can help someone months or years before they’re getting ready for appearance. Some results are really quick, but I always tell people that it’s better to get involved earlier. There are a couple reasons for that.

When you’re out doing great things in the world, you never know when opportunity is going to come and you want to be ready. The second reason is because when I get involved earlier on, it’s helpful on many levels. When I train people, it’s not just for media, it really helps them in so many other ways: when they do sales calls, or when they do speeches or if they’re writing a book. The sooner you start to think about your messaging, the more successful you’re going to be.

What’s the danger of not having clearly defined messaging?

Rachel Hanfling
(Rachel Hanfling)

You might miss opportunities because you’re not putting your best foot forward into the world. When you do have clearly defined messaging, then you really can shine in the way that you want to. Sometimes that just happens, but most of the time, that takes work.

Aside from unclear messaging, what other blunders do entrepreneurs make?

One of the most common mistakes I see—and it’s completely understandable—is that people aren’t focused enough on their audience, whether their audience is whoever’s buying their stuff or the media that they’re dealing with. Somebody might want media attention and approach it from the perspective of talking about everything that’s important to them. The more they approach it from thinking about their audience and would be important to the person they’re dealing with, what would be important to their viewers, readers, listeners, the more successful they’re going to be.

Do you vary your preparation depending on the type of setting an entrepreneur is preparing for, whether it’s a talk show or “Shark Tank”?

In some ways, it’s all the same. It’s all about who you are and how you present yourself to the world. But there are differences. For instance, if somebody was going on “Shark Tank,” it can be a contentious situation. Going into that, it behooves whoever is going to be on the show to be prepared, to know their information backwards and forwards and to put thought into their challenges, so when those challenges come up, they can address them in a way that is beneficial to them.

If you’re going on a talk show, you should be aware of what your challenges are and how you want to address them. More likely than not, it’s not going to be as contentious, so I might not focus on that as much.

Related: Pitching Your Startup to the Media

Are there certain colors or things you should avoid in your clothing when you go on TV?

I would encourage somebody to ask the show that they’re going on for their specific requirements. Typically, a show is going to ask you not to wear white. Some will ask you not to wear black. Typically, bright colors are what you’re going to see the most of on TV, because those are really going to pop. I encourage people to wear whatever they feel like they get the most compliments on. For instance, if somebody has green eyes, likely they’re going to get complimented when they wear green. In terms of other no-nos, busy patterns, stripes, anything that could be distracting on TV.

You mentioned that you do work with people who have a really short time horizon before they’re going on TV. When you work with clients in that situation, what’s the one thing you want them to remember?

In the end, it all comes down to connecting to the audience and connecting to the host. That’s what I would really encourage people to focus on. The more you connect to the audience, the more successful you’re going to be.

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Is there anything else that you want to share with readers before we sign off? Anything we haven’t touched on?

I believe so strongly in the power of listening. It is the foundation for any kind of success, whether it’s in media or business overall. When you listen, you make the person you’re listening to feel good. Everybody wants to feel cared for, special, important. You’re developing that relationship. Secondly, when you’re listening, you’re getting gold. The more you can focus on what somebody’s saying to you and figuring out what they care about, the more successful you’re going to be able to be in giving them what they care about.

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