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interview soundbites

Interview soundbites: prepare in advance or journalists will feed you theirs!

Interview soundbites are essential to journalists. They need those quotes and will often turn them into headlines. And that is why, at The Media Coach, we always spend time during a media training session helping clients prepare their own interview soundbites. This ensures they get their points across succinctly and coherently, in a media-friendly way, that makes an interview a win-win situation for the interviewee and the journalist.

Unfortunately for journalists, if an interviewee doesn’t do this vital preparation it can mean the process is more like a trip to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. There is an out and out battle to try and extract a few quotable words. Faced with dull and unquotable answers, journalists are highly likely to resort to trying to put words in an interviewee’s mouth to get something useable. [And that is why we think media training is so important as I wrote in a previous blog linked here].

Don’t let journalists write their own interview soundbites

A humorous take on this journalistic trick was highlighted in a montage on the US current affairs programme Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Time and again you see presenters or anchors suggesting a quote and the interviewee repeating it.

 

So, as we see in the video, a journalist may try to get something quotable by asking a question phrased with emotive or subjective language. As a journalist myself, it was not an ‘interview trap’ I was specifically taught; rather I just learnt quickly that if I asked a bland question I tended to get a bland answer.

Nervous interviewees in particular, or those doing an interview in a language which isn’t their mother tongue, often unwittingly repeat language from the question – helpfully fed to them by the journalist – to give themselves thinking time at the start of their answer. While it can be benign with merely an attempt to make an interviewee more succinct and ‘sexy’, it can also lead to unfortunate headlines and leave interviewees thinking they have been misquoted.

That’s why we strongly encourage people to develop their own quotes rather than relying on the journalist’s version of the soundbite. We also warn people to be careful about agreeing to or simply saying “Yes” in response to a journalist’s paraphrasing of an answer. It’s much safer to develop your own effective soundbites before the interview.

Beware the headline-grabbing last question

Another example of the soundbite-seeking technique is to round off an interview with a headline-grabbing closing question. This can be particularly dangerous if the interviewee is aware that the interview is coming to an end, so relaxes and drops their guard.

How to avoid falling into this trap was demonstrated by Andrea Leadsom during a recent interview with Robert Peston (view the full 12-minute interview below but the last minute is the relevant part).

 

Seeking Ms Leadsom’s views on John Bercow’s role as Speaker of the House, Robert Peston uses phrases such as “impugned his impartiality” in his questions. When her answers are fairly careful chosen (and unquotable), he also tries the paraphrase technique by asking her if what she is really saying is Mr Bercow should “wind his neck in”. Spotting the trap, she skilfully (and with some humour) sidesteps it by evoking the famous quote from the BBC’s original version of House of Cards saying “You might say that I couldn’t possibly comment”.

How to stay safe and in control of the interview soundbites

For the less experienced at handling media interviews, the solution is threefold:

  1. Prepare thoroughly.
  2. Ensure your messages and soundbites are carefully crafted into a format the journalist can use.
  3. Remain vigilant throughout the interview to avoid repeating any headline-grabbing phrase fed to you by the journalist.

Here are some of the other blog posts I have written on this subject:

Media interviews: is fear of failure leading to missed opportunities?

Developing messages: Are you guilty of navel-gazing?

If that feels all rather difficult you may want to pick up the phone and talk to us about booking a short media training session. The Media Coach 020 7099 2212 or drop us a line at enquiries@themediacoach.co.uk.

 

Lagarde

The Greek crisis in soundbites: this week’s top 5

Greece has been getting our attention at The Media Coach this week, meaning that quotes about the impasse over the debt crisis are grabbing headlines and making an impact.

As our clients know, our word for quotable language is ‘Sizzle’ which comes from the old marketing phrase ‘Sell the sizzle not the sausages’, meaning you need to put a spin on the language of your key message if you want journalists to pick it up as their quote.

In Greek I believe the word is το τσιτσίρισμα (to tsitsírisma) although please do correct me if I am wrong.

Here’s a quick analysis of some of the main quotes we liked this week (unfortunately, the Juncker cow metaphor was last week’s fodder, so it doesn’t make the final edit).  And for once, the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis isn’t leading the charge (which just goes to show how serious the crisis must be if all the key players are out there being quotable).

1. Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Greek Speaker of the Parliament scooped headlines by describing the Greek debt as ‘illegal, illegitimate and odious’. This no-holds barred tricolon is classic Syriza – uncompromising, hyperbolic and immensely quotable (both in Greek and English).  This kind of approach served the party’s leaders well when they were building their media profile in opposition. It’s not working so well now that the reality of being in power and the compromises they need to make with the Troika (European Commission, IMF and ECB) are kicking in. Beware excessive hyperbole – once you’ve used up all your red-hot phrases you’ve got nowhere to go and can look foolish. But in the meantime, it’s catnip for journalists.

2. Christine Lagarde
On Thursday the ever cool IMF boss opined that Greece can only arrive at a deal with its creditors through a proper dialogue ‘with adults in the room’. This put down is all the more withering because the colloquial language paints word pictures of squabbling children (no question who Lagarde is wagging the finger at) and goes against our idea of  the stuffy bureaucratic language that is normally used to characterise these kinds of talks.

Lagarde

IMF boss Christine Lagade said ‘adults’ were needed to resolve the Greek debt crisis.

3. Angela Merkel
You can’t really do a piece about Greece without featuring the German Chancellor Angela Merkel somewhere. Not exactly known for her pithy soundbites (even German-speaking journalists find it tough to edit her) Merkel put her head above the parapet on Wednesday with an uncharacteristically sharp comment that Greece had received ‘unprecedented help’. This is quotable, clear but still measured. It’s not the most exciting but given Merkel’s position and the context it’s still arresting.

4. The Bank of Greece
On Wednesday the Bank warned for the first time of Greece’s ‘painful’ exit from the Eurozone and (probably) the EU if the talks failed. We all get what painful means…. so nothing too remarkable here but how much more striking because the message is not expressed as a ‘sharp fiscal and monetary re-adjustment’ or something generic and dull.

5. Peter Kazimir
Slovakian Finance Minister Peter Kazimir, who can always be relied on for a frank statement, injected a bit of tongue in cheek colour to the emergency eurogroup meeting yesterday by telling reporters: “I do believe in miracles. I am Catholic so I believe in miracles’. A bit of well-judged irony can do wonders for a quote, particularly in this context which has consistently been characterised by the media as  Greek tragedy. Maybe Kazimir should have said ‘deus ex machina’ at this point…

These are just our top quotes of the week. Please do tweet me other suggestions (@mediawhizz) or favourites or comment on the blog.

Have a good weekend.