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risk communications

Risk Communications: COVID-19 case study

Risk communications is in my view is incredibly difficult. In the world of professional communications, it is one of the hardest things to get right. COVID-19 or Coronavirus is going to provide an interesting case study in how to effectively communicate risk (or how not to). And lesson one might usefully be the Prime Minister’s press conference this week.

risk communications feature

First the problem: Scientists and statisticians understand risk as a probability. There is a 20% chance of x happening means: possible but not very likely while an 85% chance means: really quite likely but not certain.

However, most people do not think as clearly as this. And in general, they are encouraged by journalists, especially tabloid journalists, to read low risk as a likelihood. [I strongly recommend Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise, if you want to understand this more clearly’. Since reading it I have become a student of Bayesian thinking.]

As a result, ‘over-reaction’ or ‘panic’ can easily be triggered by too much information. And if, as an organisation facing a problem, you know the press is going to over-react the temptation is not to provide information.

However, in public life, if you don’t come clean about risks you lay yourself open to charges of ‘white-washing’ or lack of transparency. This destroys trust.

So, for the government, this is a case where too much information, the wrong tone or a misspeak could cause or add to the panic. Too little information and it risks being accused of a cover-up.

The unusual Number 10 press conference on 3rd March may have looked calm and professional, but all three men knew they were walking that particular tightrope. It is a very good watch for students of risk communications.

 

Here are my take-aways:

  • The choice of people at the podium was crucial. We had the Prime Minister, the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Witty, and the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. These were very senior, obviously clever advisors. They stood either side of the Prime Minister giving a very nice image of support.
  • Both advisers constantly referred to the data and to modelling. They made it absolutely clear that they were sharing science, not opinion. I loved the point where Professor Witty said ‘The behavioural science shows that in times of crisis the British public demonstrates extraordinary altruism’. Even when saying people will help each other he felt the need to refer to science!
  • Despite the brainpower of the two advisers, there was absolutely no use of jargon. This looks effortless but I am certain it was really difficult. These men will have spent the last three weeks in technical briefings by data and health scientists. Having been in a few of those meetings myself I can tell you that the jargon will have been impenetrable. But also, as contagious as the virus itself.
  • Key points were stressed time and again. The importance of washing hands was not considered too prosaic for these great brains to pronounce on. And to repeat.
  • No question was dodged – except perhaps the one about the PM taking paternity leave. This gave a very clear impression of transparency. In fact, there were several questions that weren’t answered but in each case one of the spokesmen said either ‘we are not going to answer’ or ‘we can’t speak about that at this stage’. In media training, I am constantly reminding people that they must at least acknowledge the question before adding or changing the subject.
  • There was no repetition of the journalists’ sensational language. It was predictably the Daily Mail journalist who invited comparison with a war effort. However, the Prime Minister decided not to accept the invitation! All three spokespeople were careful to use their own words.

Despite the controlled and measured tone of the press conference, the coverage was extensive and somewhat sensationalist.

As a seasoned watcher of these things, it is clear that there was no great slip-up and no stand-out message from the press conference beyond the hand washing and ‘we have a plan’. Given these are a bit weak for a hungry journalist the coverage varies across newspapers and broadcasters as different journalists firstly choose and then beef up particular angles. When you don’t get agreement on the headlines you can be sure the story is not so strong.

The Daily Mail went with ‘Life on hold’, the Guardian went with ‘Murder inquiries to be axed’ which is more than a bit of a stretch from the very cautious ‘with a significant loss of officers and staff, the police would concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order’. The Times found an angle from elsewhere – video checks on some NHS wards, but used a sub-heading from the press conference: ‘Prime Minister unveils strategy to deal with coronavirus disruption’. The Telegraph led with ‘expect 20pc of all workers to be off sick’. This is definitely a misrepresentation: the tone of the press conference was ‘we don’t know yet’. The Express went with ‘Britain ready for the worst’ which is at least accurate.

Overall, the broadcast coverage I saw and heard was more measured, but there was an awful lot of it. That in itself gave the impression that Britain was facing into a major epidemic.

Downing Street will probably be happy enough with the coverage. The PR wisdom in such cases would be you do what you can to be transparent and factual but accept there will be a ‘sensationalist hit’. However, you trust that most people will not over-react to the headlines. What matters most is not the first hit of the story but how sensationalist the tail is – and of course how the public reacts.

It looks as if there will be many more chapters of coronavirus communications in the coming weeks and months for students of PR. We know that organisations are dusting off their pandemic policies and planning their own communications. If you want help planning or rehearsing for major communications events, I and The Media Coach team regularly help organisations craft and deliver nuanced messaging. Drop me an email on Lindsay.williams@themediacoach.co.uk if you want to discuss how we can help.

Virus image by iXimus from Pixabay

preparing for media interviews Feature

Preparing for media interviews: don’t overlook the obvious question

Preparing for media interviews is essential. You need messages, and you need to think about the tough questions. But we see people tie themselves in knots trying to anticipate all their nightmare or crisis issue questions: developing complicated answers to each and every one. Then in practise, the one question that really trips people up is nothing more complicated than “What does your business do?”

preparing for media interviews

Preparing for media interviews: Can you articulate the basics?

It sounds a simple enough question but failing to find an effective and memorable answer to describe what their business does, is a trap into which many interviewees fall into head-long.

[I have recently presented a webinar on this subject for the IOD. It’s free and you can find the link at the bottom of the page.]

Despite corporate jargon frequently being cited as one of the most annoying business habits, too many people still fall back on phrases such as “end-to-end solutions”, “digital platforms”, “vertical markets” and “leveraging synergies”. The digital and tech sectors, in particular, often over-estimate the understanding of their audience.

Can you ditch the jargon?

I hit this problem head-on recently, when training some otherwise impressive young entrepreneurs. Their descriptions of what they did were peppered with just these sort of phrases and it took numerous attempts of asking; “but what does that actually mean?”, “how does that work on a day-to-day basis?” to get an explanation from them along the lines of “we help our clients to use social media more effectively so they can raise their profile and win more business”.

Of course, it is not just media-novices who fall into the trap of thinking that complicated language or industry jargon makes them look clever. Last year Ocado included the following paragraph in a press release to explain a change in business strategy:

“The centre of gravity at Ocado Group has shifted from our heritage as an iconic and much-loved domestic pure-play online grocer to our future as a technology-driven global software and robotics platform business, providing a unique and proprietary end-to-end solution for online grocery, and an innovation factory, applying our technical expertise to adjacent markets and verticals.”

The howls of derision, particularly among journalists, were loud – just one example from the FT is linked here.

Preparing for media interviews: Not dumbing down is really dumb

Rather than impressing an audience, this sort of language merely alienates people. During training sessions, when we are helping to develop messages, participants sometimes question the use of simple language, as they feel it is dumbing down their work too much. In response I quote Albert Einstein who said:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

The fact is that if your audience doesn’t understand what you are talking about, they will tend to think worse of you, not of themselves!

Make it real. Relate to something people recognise

preparing for media interviews

Lord Browne
The former CEO of BP, understands the benefit of clear communication using layman’s language

When preparing for media interviews you could do worse than look to the example of Lord Browne, the former CEO of BP and an engineer by profession who, when asked what an engineer does, answered:

“Engineering is about creating practical solutions to humanity’s most pressing challenges – whether it’s building a bridge, finding new treatments for cancer or tackling climate change.”

preparing for media interviews

Warren Buffett
The legendary investor has a legendary way with words

Business guru Warren Buffett is another communicator who revels in the use of simple colourful language. For example:

  • “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
  • “If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes.”
  • “Buy a stock the way you would buy a house. Understand and like it such that you’d be content to own it in the absence of any market.”

More of his best quotes are linked here.

So, when preparing all your messages – whether for media interviews, presentations or simply for a networking meeting – think about the following three things:

  1. Mind your language! Keep it simple and avoid jargon.
  2. Make your answers memorable: use word pictures and metaphors which bring what you are saying to life for your audience and can effectively explain difficult concepts.
  3. Make your answers real: give examples which people can relate to so what you are saying becomes human and tangible.

For more advice on how to use simple and effective language, listen to my recent Webinar for the Institute of Directors ‘Bin the Babble: How to win more business with better communication’.  (You don’t have to be an IoD member – just chose the ‘Not yet’ option when asked if you are a member.)

More Info

Here are links to some other posts on messaging and language that may be of interest:

Developing Messages: Are you guilty of navel-gazing

Great media quotes

Using pictures to make your ideas memorable

 

Photo Credits:
Word Cloud – CC Gavin Llewellyn, Flickr
Lord Browne – CC Suzanne Plunkett, Flickr
Warren Buffett – CC Wikimedia

 

 

Shooting video for the web feature

Shooting Video for the Web: Another Angle

Shooting video for the web in-house is increasingly part of ‘business as usual’ for all sorts of organisations that need a professional, engaging online presence. Technology means that simple videos don’t need a professional cameraman. However, a little knowledge can go a long way to give a more professional feel to your films.

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The Challenge: Make Videos Visually Interesting

When moving pictures were first invented there was only one shot – a wide shot showing moving images from a park, a busy street (full of horse-drawn carriages and men in top hats) or even a steam train bearing down on the camera lens – and this was enough to keep people interested. But pretty soon that novelty wore off and we discovered that to begin to tell a story in film you actually needed other shots to draw in the audience. Shots like the close-up and tracking (or dolly) shots were invented and filmmakers realised that editing these shots together was the key to creating a compelling story. But even using all these techniques, when we sit down to watch classic black and white movies from the 1920s and 30s, they still appear to us rather slow-moving and dull.

A Second Challenge: We are all Film Literate

Shooting video for the web provides another challenge: We all consume a lot of filmed material. From an early age, we are learning what good, even amazing, visual story-telling looks like. We now expect things to move along at a much quicker pace, just in case the audience should lose attention. For example, in this one minute video, I’ve used 17 different shots, giving an average shot length of 3.5 seconds.

Two Cameras Can Give a Lot of Visual Interest

If you have the luxury of two cameras, it can be useful to film the interview from two different angles and then cut between them during the edit. Even when shooting video for the web, you could carefully repeat the interview. In professional television, the same thing may be filmed many times from different angles, and five or more versions cut together to create a clean and believable version of reality.

Just a few cutaways, some bold graphics and an up-tempo music track and modern videos have gone from seemingly simple shoots to something with much more pace and sophistication. It all takes a bit of planning and creativity but it is possible to make what is, in essence, a simple talking-head type video, into something that really stands out.

Shooting Video for the Web: Want to Learn How to Make Great Little Films?

Shooting video for the web 1

If you or someone in your team would like to be taught to create videos with style, why not give us a call. I run bespoke one or two-day ‘shooting video for the web’ courses under The Media Coach brand. We can together practise a wide range of professional techniques that will take your inhouse filming to the next level. Call +44 (0)20 7099 2212 in the first instance to discuss exactly what you need.

Prince Andrew

Prince Andrew rolls the dice

Prince Andrew’s grilling by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis is definitely the interview of the year.

The widespread criticism and hullabaloo would have anyone believe it was a ‘car crash’ and Prince Andrew should never have done it. I am not sure I agree.

Prince Andrew – car crash interview?

To me labelling this as a ‘car crash interview’ is simply journalists quoting some self-publicists who know how to grab the headlines.

First, if Prince Andrew hadn’t eventually done an interview, the very same media now saying it was a car crash – would have been saying it was time he broke with tradition and gave his side of the story. In this day and age, the public, encouraged by journalists, believe they have a right to a full explanation. There is no such thing as privacy for the Royal Family or many others.

Prince Andrew knows this.

And everyone knows it is infuriating to be accused of something (for 8 years so far) without being able to tell your side of the story.

He sounded like a man who wanted to set the record straight

I believe Prince Andrew weighed it up and on balance decided he wanted to have his chance to set the record straight. In the past, the Royal Family has not done this. They have stuck to the ‘never apologise, never explain’ rule. Of course, there have been exceptions: Princess Diana’s Panorama interview in 1995 and more recently Prince Harry and Megan’s ITV interview on the difficulties of dealing with non-stop press intrusion. 

I watched the Prince Andrew interview very carefully, paying particular attention to the body language and also looking for a level of coaching. This sort of long-form interview is very different from three minutes to get your point across. We all know the public will decide whether someone is lying or not based not on what they say, but on the impression they give. Any side-stepping or ‘bridging’ will give the impression of guilt. (This assumes the watcher was open-minded at the start of the interview).

Prince Andrew come across as completely credible

What I saw was completely credible and I totally fail to see how the interview itself was a ‘car crash’. His Royal Highness blowing his top, or demanding the questions were inappropriate would have been a car crash. If he had contradicted himself it would have been a car crash. If he had stumbled and look shifty and defensive it might have been described as a car crash. He did none of these things.

One of the things I look for above all else is the coherence of the argument. Were there any bits that didn’t add up? I could not hear any.

Interview criticism

Most of the people claiming it was a car crash are not specific about why they believe that. But there are three strands of criticism of the interview itself.

  1. The Prince should have shown more compassion, sympathy, concern, etc. for women who were trafficked for sex.
  2. He should have apologised or shown regret for his friendship with Epstein.
  3. His choice of words in categorising Epstein’s behaviour as ‘unbecoming’ was inappropriate (but quickly corrected).

From where I sit these would have been minor improvements to a very well handled interview. I fail to understand why so many people should be so vitriolic about someone cautiously regretting a friendship! Since when was being friends with the wrong sort of person a crime. Especially if they were not a close friend and especially if you did not know what they were up to. As for concern for the women (or indeed any victims of paedophilia), he was not asked about this and if he had artificially inserted this into the conversation all the Twitter trolls who are convinced he is guilty would have just howled that it wasn’t real.

Body language was mostly well controlled

Some have criticised his body language. Given that very few of the allegations were new to him it is a bit difficult to get much from the body language. You are not seeing the first reaction to new information. There were some accusations (staying at a beach house four times a year) that clearly did hit the mark. They were new to him and he was outraged because he believed they were untrue. We briefly saw the outrage because (it seemed) he had not heard this accusation before. That we could read in the body language but it did not harm his credibility.

I have friends who did not believe a word Prince Andrew said. Their reaction was: We know what men like him are up to. Who is he kidding? They are all at it.

I also have friends who think it was a credible and impressive interview and he came across as a guy who wanted to put his side of the story over.

It does seem worth saying that while the angry, the disbelievers, the haters of privilege, etc. are all over Twitter, there will also be a group of cooler heads who judge things differently but who are not choosing to share on Twitter.

Was it right to do the interview?

For me, Prince Andrew handled the interview extremely well. He answered each question directly, did not try to control the interview, gave detail and whilst not being overly emotional, he certainly showed his vulnerability.

I recommend Emily Maitlis’s own account of the interview in the Times (behind a paywall) and will quote her here:

‘Our news world is so often full of bland figures trying wilfully to be more bland. Say nothing. Avoid scrutiny. Dodge and deviate from every question asked. And whatever comes of this, I must admit to respecting an interviewee who is prepared to approach head-on every single thing that he is asked.’

The more you say, the more everyone else says

However, it is not clear whether doing the interview was wise. It was certainly a high-risk strategy. And the problem is that the more you say, the more everyone else says. He took this issue from a low-level grumbling story to front page across the world for three days. He opened the gates to a feeding frenzy of people who were never going to believe a word he says because he is a man with money, power and privilege.

I suspect this is why the Prince’s new PR advisor, Jason Stein, resigned ahead of the interview.  He would have been blamed for the feeding frenzy and it would have blighted his career.

Although the coverage of the last few days has been bloody and fuelled by huge amounts of ‘fake outrage’ on Twitter, not to mention a lot of PR people wheeled out to say it was a mistake, the key question is what happens in the next three months? After all this venting, will more come out? Will the story continue to be as toxic for the Royal Family or will everyone move on, having had their say? That is the real gamble.

If one believed in honest journalism in the modern world, you would hope that there are some investigations going on into the other side of the story.  After all, fuelling the fire in the way this interview did, also makes the protagonists a subject of more interest.

tough media interviews

Tough Media Interviews – How To Prepare

Tough media interviews require proper preparation. There are so many car crash interviews that you wonder why anyone ever goes on TV.

From a media training point of view a different question springs to mind. Why do very intelligent successful people make the mistake of not doing their homework, and allow themselves to ‘lose it’ on air? At the end of this blog post, I share my tips for exactly how to do that homework.

Keep Emotions Under Control

But first, let’s look at how not to do it. In the US this week there was a classic overreaction from a soccer coach who was asked a pretty ordinary question that, I read, was predictable and had been asked before. It would have been better to give a prepared diplomatic answer rather than storming off.

Tough Media Questions – Have a Prepared Answer

The Coach, Bob Bradley probably didn’t do himself much harm with his public display of petulance. But the former Persimmon CEO who was caught out in October last year, almost certainly lost his job, in part because of his refusal to answer a gently put question about his £75 m bonus. It was a subject that had been all over the media just a few months before and surely it would have been possible to have a neat answer such as ‘my salary is set by the remuneration committee, not by me’.

Tough Media Interviews – Do Your Homework

And here is a really old one that I had not seen until last week. It’s funny because this very senior chap thinks he can stop BBC Watchdog using the pre-recorded interview by waving his hands around. This may have been an issue of poor risk assessment. It was a pre-recorded interview and the Dental Association rarely attracts controversy. Plus the issue of mercury in fillings is an old chestnut. But this was Watchdog, a show whose reputation is all about tough interviews.

Refusing to answer a question, walking away, storming out, getting cross and ‘losing it’ once the camera is rolling is a seriously bad idea and is bound to make a bad interview more damaging than any uncomfortable struggling through.

The one everyone of a certain generation remembers is 1982 when then Defence Secretary John Nott stormed out of an interview. This is mentioned in a useful New Statesmen compilation of the worst political interviews ever.

It is much harder for politicians to anticipate all the tough questions and have all the numbers front of mind. I have quite a lot of sympathy for Dianne Abbot who spectacularly failed to do her sums when interviewed by Nick Ferrari on LBC two years ago. For business people, it tends to be a much more limited universe of possible nasties.

How to Prepare for Tough Questions – My Top Tips

  • With more than 2 people in the room brainstorm what the tough questions might be for any particular interview. It’s important to include generalists who have not been close to the issue.
  • Before the brainstorm, someone needs to look at the stuff the journalist has written about before. Check the cuttings.
  • Also, do not limit the discussion to directly relevant questions. What is ‘out there’ on the wider news agenda? Look at politics, regulators, scandals or trending stories such as the gender pay gap or mental health at work.
  • Once you have a list of tough or difficult questions, work out short but credible answers. These may be factual and dull or they may be ‘close down’ answers such as ‘that is simply not a question for me’. Either way, these lines can be prepared. These reactive lines need to be written down and stored somewhere secure. Do not take them into the interview with you unless they are locked in a briefcase or password protected.
  • Finally, rehearse the reactive lines aloud. Reading them in the taxi on the way to the studio is simply not real preparation.
  • Practise delivering the lines not just correctly but with the appropriate level of humility, warmth, authority, etc. Get the tone right. (I blogged about getting the tone right here.)

Of course, the sure-fire way to prepare for a tough interview is to hire Media Trainers with real front line journalism experience, who can, not just role-play the interviews with you (or your spokesperson), but help craft the lines and coach on getting the tone right. When you have been helping people get it right for more than a decade it becomes pretty obvious what works and what doesn’t.

tough and aggressive media interviews

Dealing with tough and aggressive media interviews

Tough and aggressive media interviews are in evidence most days in the British media. The Brexit frustration, chaos and confusion is making most of us exasperated and the journalists are reflecting that with challenging interviews.

As a student of managing media interviews, this throws up lots of examples of people handling difficult questions.

And this is front of mind for me personally as I had a client last week (no names, no pack drill, of course) who wanted to practise really aggressive interviews – interviews which in my view he is very unlikely ever to face outside a training room.

I always say the most difficult questions are those where you can’t tell the truth but you definitely can’t lie. Many people, when faced with aggression and persistence will give in and tell the truth even if they know they shouldn’t, which of course is why barristers and journalists have perfected the art of being aggressive and persistent.

[Just to be clear there are lots of occasions when it is ethically the correct thing to do – not to tell the whole truth. For example: when publicly asked about personnel matters such as salaries or sackings, ahead of mergers or take-overs when it is illegal to reveal to one set of shareholders something that is not revealed to all, ahead of legal proceedings and of course during negotiations.]

Most people who talk to the media will never face really aggressive questioning, but it is instructive to analyse how others do it. The most aggressive interviews that I am aware of these days are probably not on the BBC but are perhaps on LBC. Nick Ferrari and Eddie Mair are both capable of making anyone feel very uncomfortable.  Here is an example from a couple of weeks ago which not only shows Mair’s quietly aggressive style, but also that Jacob Rees-Mogg goes into the studio prepared to give as good as he gets. This ‘have a go back at the journalist’ technique is not one that we recommend but it does stop you as the interviewee being the victim. The question, of course, is does it damage or support the authority of the government’s message.

On Sunday we saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, interviewed on Andrew Marr. Javid appeared to blatantly make two mutually contradictory statements: One was that the government will abide by the law of the land and the second is that it will leave on October 31st even though a law was being passed to prevent leaving without a deal. What is interesting about the interview is the confidence and clarity with which Javid holds the line on this apparent impossibility, despite Marr’s best efforts.

The viewer’s reaction to this performance will depend on whether he or she supports or despises the current government. But again it shows politicians refusing to be bowed or manipulated by the interview process. I would conclude that the government spin doctors do not care what Andrew Marr and the Remainers think, they want the team out there talking directly to their own supporters. Javid is getting a message out to those that matter at this moment.

On the same programme, we heard Amber Rudd explain why she quit the government and the Conservative Party. It was absolutely obvious that this was a very well-prepared media event, well messaged and each line clearly articulated. For example, she had what sounded like evidence of not enough effort going into making a deal: ‘I asked and I was sent a one-page summary’. She also said ‘21 of my colleagues, who are good moderate conservatives’. Not a phrase she thought up during the interview. Personally, I think she came across extremely well in this interview and wonder if she is positioning herself as a possible next prime minister.

This is not a very aggressive interview but I have included it because asked by Marr if the issue that led to her resignation was a question of lack of trust, she said ‘I am not going to use those words…’

This is a very standard line that we often suggest in Media Training. People are usually surprised that we recommend they are so direct – but it is important to understand that every journalist is looking for a quote, a headline or a soundbite and they are often keen to write this themselves – and ask you to agree. Had Rudd said ‘yes’ to that particular question the headlines would have quoted her as saying she left the government because she couldn’t trust Boris. Stating bluntly that she will pick her own words allowed her to control both the interview in the moment and also the way it was reported during the day.

We have written about managing tough interviews many times before. Here are a selection of previous blogs.

10 Tips for surviving aggressive interviewers 

Media Interviews you just can’t win

Your TV interviewer may be annoying but storming out isn’t great either

If you think you need support preparing for a media event or a media interview give us a call to discuss how we can help tel:+44 0(20) 7099 2212.

metaphors

A Minute With The Media Coach: Metaphors

As we continue our summer specials, instead of bringing you our usual blog this week we bring you number five in our series ‘A Minute With The Media Coach’.  This week fellow trainer, Eric Dixon and I discuss the benefit of finding a good metaphor when talking to the media.

media training basics

Media Training Basics: On-Air Presence

Media training basics include how to behave on-air so that your audience trusts you.

Whether you are a candidate to lead a party, a new prime minister or a business leader launching a product or vision, we think this requires three key things:

  • Warmth – because it is a good idea if the audience likes you
  • Authority – because it is an even better idea that it sounds as if you know what you are talking about.
  • Animation – because the studio and the microphone will ‘shrink’ you.
    Most people have to be themselves plus 10% to come across well on-air. In this short video, previously shared on LinkedIn, fellow trainer Eric Dixon and I explain our thinking but disagree about how to explain this.

 

 

But if you don’t have these great attributes how do you acquire on-air presence?

Media Training Basics: Animation

Animation is perhaps the easiest attribute to acquire. The people who are naturally good on television are those that are larger than life and often rather hard work at dinner. This is not always true but people who seem quite normal on TV are often really big characters. An occasional interviewee doesn’t need to cultivate a whole new persona but just use a little more energy when speaking. Hand movement and head movement can be good so long as they not so noticeable that they are distracting.

Media Training Basics: Authority

Authority is more intangible. We know it when we see it but trying to cultivate it can be challenging. There are, though, some basics.

  • Don’t speak too fast. This is probably the most common way that people undermine their own authority.
  • On television make sure you are looking in the right place. This can be straight at the camera or at the interviewer depending on the set-up. But hold a steady gaze and don’t let your eyes flick up, down or sideways if you can help it.
  • Don’t use highfalutin language. We mention this every other week so do not need to labour the point here, but jargon and professional language does not make you sound clever; it makes you sound arrogant and out of touch. Be colloquial.
  • Consider a personal anecdote. People trust the opinions of those that have relevant personal experience. These need to be planned, rehearsed and above all short but they can really work.

Here are some other tips about being more authoritative in general. And here are some tips written especially for women in an article in Forbes, although most apply to men as well.

media training basics

Having a coach to help you improve can make a big difference

Media Training Basics: Warmth

Warmth is perhaps the most elusive. Some people have it by the bucket-load even if they are not the most polished interviewee. It is worth a lot. If you don’t have it naturally on-air you can try the following things.

  • Try smiling more, particularly at the beginning or end of an interview. Even on radio, you can hear a smile.
  • Try to be less formal. Often people lack warmth because they think they are required to be very, very serious and correct.
  • A trick I have often used is to ask the interviewee to pretend they really like the interviewer. Of course, in reality, they probably hate the presenter and the process but if they can pretend or act ‘attraction’ or ‘affection’ it will come across. Clearly, this could be taken too far and it will be acting. When coaching people we find that once they hit the right tone – and then watch it back on video playback – they can usually find it again. With coaching, it will become their default on-air tone at which point it is ‘job done’.
media training basics

Think about the tone as well as the words when preparing for an interview

Getting the tone right is half the battle and will compensate for other missteps in an interview. In the end ‘people buy people’ as the saying goes: so developing a good on-air presence is something worth working on.

Fake Outrage – Simples!

Fake outrage has had a great outing in the last week. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, sparked masses of column inches when she quoted the annoying Meerkat on the ‘compare the market.com’ adverts – by using the word ‘Simples’ in the House of Commons. [I’ve posted here previously about fake outrage].

Fake Outrage Image

The Meerkat’s favourite catchphrase was used by the PM in the House of Commons.

Fake Outrage in the Headlines

Apparently, this was a ‘misguided lunge at cultural relevance’ according to Michael Deacon in the Telegraph.

According to the Daily Mail it was ‘embarrassing’.

Huffington Post went for ‘bizarre’.

The Maybot

Theresa May is a terrible public speaker and she deserves the ‘Maybot’ tag. But really. Why does the fact that she used a made-up word, currently in common parlance, worthy of any coverage at all, never mind all this fake outrage? If anyone else had used it (Ken Clarke, John Macdonald, Amber Rudd) I doubt it would have been mentioned except on BBC Radio 4’s dreary Yesterday in Parliament.

Of course, it now seems she was persuaded to use the phrase by an aide, Seema Kennedy who had a bet on it with Simon Hoare MP. Bullshit Bingo, as it is called in several places I have worked, is a common little game that wordsmiths play: there is a small reward for the first person to get a particular – often unusual, bizarre or specific – phrase into a report or a speech or a broadcast. Journalists play this game all the time!

 Bullshit Bingo

This is a bit embarrassing for the Prime Minister, especially as she was probably unaware of the Bullshit Bingo bet. It makes her look gullible. Having said that, it is surely not worth comment that someone who is doing an almost impossible job and talking publicly about it every day, has people around her who suggest particular lines or phrases.

Using a phrase from popular culture is really not a crime. Nor do I understand why it can be characterised as ‘a misguided lunge at cultural relevance’. In many ways being colloquial is a good idea. It makes your speech less boring. And let’s face it, important though Brexit is, right now we are all pretty bored with the minutiae of the arguments around it.

Journalists manufacture fake outrage to entertain us all. They also pretend or imply that everyone else feels the outrage. There are many things that prompt outrage in me but ‘Simples’ is simply not one of them.

 

 

 

how to dress for tv

How to Dress for TV: Our Top Tips

How should I dress for TV? is a question we are regularly asked, so this week we are repeating one of our best performing posts of all time.

As media trainers, we think what you are wearing is one of the least important things to worry about if you are doing a TV interview. But we aim to provide the information our clients want. So here are our ‘how to dress for TV top tips’. [This post is dealing with advice for women but we have also posted advice for men, which can be found here.]

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Any sort of jacket is a good idea on TV, partly because it gives somewhere easy to attach the microphone.

How to Dress for TV: Normal Business Wear

  • As an overarching principle, start with ‘normal business wear’. We are not talking here about dressing as a TV presenter or as a celebrity (they do not need our advice). But if you are being interviewed as a representative of an organisation wear something that would be appropriate if you were going into the office.  This will clearly be different if you work for a tech company where jeans and a black polo may be the norm, compared to running a bank where you will be suited and booted every day. If you work for an NGO you will likely wear different clothes than someone running a funky design company. Whatever you would wear for work will probably work if you are being interviewed on TV.
  • Women need make-up. I remember seriously offending someone from a very politically correct NGO by saying this but I stick to my view: it is a bad idea to go in front of the camera without make-up. Firstly, it is important to understand that TV lights are harsh and will be unflattering. Secondly, almost every other woman on the programme will be wearing lots of make-up and you will look odd if you don’t. Clearly, there are exceptions; if you are reporting on saving lives in a war zone there are more important things to worry about. Orla Guerin MBE is a BBC journalist who reports regularly from the Middle East and is a legend in her own lunchtime. I don’t know for a fact that she never wears make-up but it certainly doesn’t look as if she does. But I totally make allowances as a viewer as she is usually wearing a flak jacket and interviewing distraught relatives of recent victims of some atrocity or other – and absolutely clearly has other things to worry about. But if she was in the studio doing an interview I am sure she would wear make-up and so should you.
  • This does beg the question what sort of make-up? My topline advice is a good foundation and take steps to make your eyes stand out. Use blusher if you need it and normally wear it while lipstick is optional.
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The safe wardrobe option for an interviewee is jacket and t-shirt, it is the outfit most often chosen by female television presenters.

How to Dress for TV: Jacket and T-shirt

  • For most of our clients, the ‘safe’ outfit for a woman interviewee is a jacket and T-shirt or jacket and shift dress. The T-shirt should not be too low on the neckline – any cleavage is distracting so you may choose to avoid showing it. Similarly not too high on the neckline: polo necks are very rarely seen on TV for good reason. They are too hot for a studio environment. Most female newsreaders stick to the jacket and T-shirt formula and it is a very safe one.
  • Having a jacket also gives somewhere to clip on the microphone and saves any embarrassing need for wires up under a dress or pulling a delicate top out of shape.
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Avoid scarves and overly large jewellery: simple lines are the least distracting.

How to Dress for TV: Avoid Scarves

  • Avoid scarves and overly large jewellery. I would advise trying to keep a clean ‘unfussy’ image and amazing jewellery will again only distract from your message. Dangly earrings are to be avoided as they will move and again distract from what you are saying.
  • The vast majority of TV interviewees are shot from the midriff upwards, something that is called a mid-shot. However, unless you absolutely know that is how the interview will be shot you may want to give some thought to the bottom half! Crucially, if there is even a remote possibility that you are going to be on a low settee – do not wear a short skirt. If you do you will surely spend the whole interview tugging at the hem at and worse being distracted by the amount of leg on show.
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Jackets can be worn with a shift dress but if it’s too short you might be worried about showing too much leg.

How to Dress for TV: What Colour?

  • People often ask ‘what colours can I or should I wear?’ The truth is it makes very little difference these days so long as you don’t wear checks. 20 years ago camera technology struggled to cope with black, white, bright red etc. Today, black and white are best avoided if possible but only because they can be unflattering in harsh light. Softer colours are more flattering. However, one important rule remains; don’t wear high contrast checks. If you do the picture will ‘strobe’ making it look as though you have recently been standing in a nuclear bunker. While this is not a crime, it is distracting.
  • Hair off the face. If you have long hair consider tying it back. Viewers need to see both your eyes to trust you. Also, there is nothing more irritating than someone constantly flicking their hair back off their face.
  • Finally, where you look during the interview is much more important than what you wear. Hold the eye line with the interviewer as much as possible unless you are doing a ‘down the line’ in which case you will need to stare down the lens of the camera.
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TV lighting means it is a good idea to wear make-up if you are being filmed.

If you want to prepare for a television or radio interview why not book a session with us in a studio. We can provide a realistic run-through and you can watch and critique your own performance as well as enjoying expert coaching. That all means you are much more likely to get it right on the day.

Other Articles

We have posted in the past about the importance of how to sit and stand on TV – you can read this post here.

But don’t just take our word for it, here is another article about what to wear on TV.