Becoming a Spokesperson

How do you go from “flying by the seat of your pants” to becoming a “media resource?” Practice. And more practice. Thanks to a lot of conscious effort, Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, a leading voice in pediatric pain care, is hitting her stride as a spokesperson. Coming to the 2004 Mayday Pain & Society Workshop, she had two goals in mind: improving her interviewing skills and refining her message.

At the training, Zeltzer absorbed advice and proved to be adept at analyzing her own performance. Even today, she relishes opportunity to practice, looking for ways to improve. “I focus on hearing how I sound, critiquing myself, and becoming more comfortable in the interview,” she says.

With a pending book release, the mock interviews and on-camera work at the training were anything but academic exercises. Promoting the book (her first for a lay audience), Zeltzer conducted her first radio tour. Dealing with a variety of interview formats, show styles and lengths, Zeltzer had to be prepared for anything: “No matter what the anchor’s agenda, I couldn’t allow myself to get exasperated or frustrated, instead making the points I wanted to make and telling the stories I wanted to tell.”

Following her radio tour, she did television interviews for evening news broadcast and Good Morning America. “Getting over the hump,” she says, “is reaching the comfort level where you can pick your spots and even turn down the wrong interview.”

Distilling a message is now second nature to Zeltzer. “With my experience as a Fellow, I really know what to focus on to have a message that gets through to the public” she says, adding, “I constantly remind myself to boil down what I’m saying into simple terms as if I was explaining it to my grandmother to avoid jargon, and to tell a story.”

Pain is a serious issue. But Zeltzer also knows that to be effective, the message has to fit the medium. Hence how the pain-themed episode of the NBC comedy program Scrubs was born. Convincing her son-in-law, a writer for the show, that important pain messages could by both funny and effective, she was able to reach an important audience; a good portion of Americans get medical news through medical entertainment, such as ER. And programs like these reach viewers that may not regularly tune into the nightly news.

Zeltzer’s advocacy work, including the non-profit National Children’s Pain Center that she helped create, is supported by her media profile. Zeltzer also plays an advocacy role through her membership on the board of directors for the American Pain Foundation and as Secretary of the American Pain Society. As she says, “the media contacts I have made along the way provide leverage. I can pick up the phone and call someone I know at Time or Newsweek and that makes it so much easier to get a message out when I need to.” Furthermore, reporters now call her when they are looking for an expert and she helps steer them to the right person. So Zeltzer is indeed a “media resource.”

Lonnie Zeltzer, MD, 2004/05 Mayday Fellow, is Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and Director of the Pediatric Pain Program, UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California at Los Angeles.

23 March 2016