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not answering the question Theresa May

Not answering the question is not the way to do it

Not answering the question in a media interview is never a good idea and can always be spotted a mile off.

Delegates arriving through the doors of The Media Coach are sometimes under the impression that we are there to teach them how to avoid answering questions they find difficult or awkward to answer.

The truth is that our sessions help them understand how to address questions during media interviews in such a way that both interviewer and audience are satisfied that they have understood the question, and have dealt with it appropriately.

Done well, it’s highly effective; done badly, it stands out like a sore thumb.

Not answering the question: Theresa May

Cue this week’s research by the University of York, which indicates that Theresa May is the ‘most evasive’ of recent leaders of the Conservative Party.

not answering the question

The academics involved studied how she dealt with MPs’ questions and media interviews, comparing her responses to the past three Tory predecessors in Number 10 Downing Street – David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

They found that in two broadcast interviews after she became Prime Minister in 2016 and four during the 2017 general election campaign, Mrs May answered only 27% of the questions put to her. By contrast, David Cameron answered 34% of questions in the 2015 poll, while both John Major in 1992 and Margaret Thatcher in 1987 answered 39%.

not answering the question

Telegraph article by Christopher Hope

The researchers identified techniques which included ignoring awkward questions without acknowledging that a question has been asked, as well as responding to her own modified versions of questions, rather than the version that was actually posed. The research made the front page of the Telegraph Newspaper. 

As it happens my colleague Lindsay Williams made this observation when Theresa May first became Prime Minister. Lindsay wrote this blog in September 2016.

Little wonder the Prime Minister has been nicknamed “the Maybot” by many commentators during her failed general election campaign in 2017, even admitting, ‘People used the term “robotic” about me… I don’t think I’m in the least robotic’ (there’s also a lesson here about not repeating negative words or phrases in responses – but that’s for another blog).

Media interview techniques

To be clear – being trained in media interview technique is not about not answering the question. Instead, we teach an approach that allows interviewees to address questions in a way that convincingly persuades all of those listening that they are being dealt with in an open and honest manner.

It’s a learnt skill, often counter-intuitive in its method, and there are dozens of tricks and traps in the interviewer’s armoury which are craftily designed to prevent you from carrying it out effectively.

But then, that’s what our sessions are for.

We’ll give you the skills you need, lay bare the techniques media interviewers use and provide you with plenty of practice to deal with them.

Of course, the alternative is to take the politician’s approach – which is to openly not answer the question. The trouble is, that method gets spotted.

Not only by university researchers, not only by journalists but by members of the public too.

Images:

Theresa May from Wikimedia Commons
Telegraph article by Christopher Hope

misspeak

Another Misspeak: Strachan Reminds us that Stream of Consciousness is Dangerous in a Media Interview

Another misspeak this week has landed a respected former football manager in hot water.

Strachan’s Confused Misspeak

If you watch TV sport, you are probably aware that Gordon Strachan, a former Scotland and Celtic manager, has been dropped as a pundit on Sky Sports after drawing a comparison that has infuriated many. He has apologised but the story is still running after several days.

misspeak

What actually happened? Well early in the Thursday night programme, The Debate, panellists had been discussing the problem of racism in football, prompted by Spurs and England defender Danny Rose, considered to be one of the most talented players of his generation. He said he couldn’t wait to see the back of football because of the racist abuse he suffers – and because of the lack of action taken against offenders.

Later in the same programme, the discussion turned to whether Adam Johnson, a footballer who has been released from prison after serving 3 years of a sentence for child sex offences, should be allowed to play again. He was found guilty of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old fan.

Strachan, who has said he would be happy to sign Johnson given that he had served his time, appeared to draw a comparison between the racist chants and the potential for abusive chants if Johnson appeared back on the pitch. He posed the question:

“If he (Johnson) goes on to the pitch and people start calling him names, have we got to do the same as it is to the racist situation?” Strachan said. “Is it all right to call him names now after doing his three years – have we got to allow that to happen?”

Misspeak trouble can come from nonsense

It’s a fairly non-sensical sentence and certainly not a thought out position. The nub of the argument is that many believe Johnson deserves abuse while (clearly) black players do not.

Whilst Strachan’s comments were ill-advised, and clearly not well thought out – the sentence barely makes sense – it is clear to me that it is extremely difficult to pick wise words all the time. It is extremely easy to say something stupid, or non-pc or just plain wrong in a longish conversation, in which you are being treated as an expert. We see it time and time again. It is not easy to be a professional pundit and in the age of Twitter, it is easy for anyone to misspeak in public or in the media, and kick up a hornet’s nest of fury.

misspeak

Misspeaks: a Long List

So next time someone tells you that they do not have time to ‘work on their messages’ ahead of a media interview, and they do not need Media Training, remind them of this long list of people who misspoke in an unguarded moment. Some just had an uncomfortable few days, others lost their jobs or ended up in court.

If you can remember some I can’t, please do share.

 

Is your message boring image

Is your Message Boring but Important? Important but Complicated?

Is your message boring or overly technical? What can you do to make it more digestible?

Making the Boring Digestible and Memorable

Those of us who care about communication –  and who work with businesses or organisations –  are constantly challenged to make something inherently complicated, easy to understand. It is not unusual to find organisations who have struggled for years with this core problem. Sometimes the spoken word really is just not enough and there is a need to be more creative. Here are some random examples of clever ideas, which I share, hoping they will provide all of us with inspiration.

BA Comic Relief Safety Video

I have been doing a bit of travelling recently and one cannot but admire the brilliance of the British Airways Comic Relief Safety video. Trying to get frequent fliers to pay attention to flight safety (whilst also getting them to donate money to Comic Relief) must be one of the biggest message challenges there is – particularly as the obvious option of scaring the bejabbers out of passengers – is not available. If you haven’t seen the second edition of this, the Director’s Cut is here:

Information is Beautiful

Information is Beautiful by David McCandless is a fabulous coffee table book which I think I must have lent to someone (if it’s you can I have it back please). It has literally hundreds of examples of different ways to present information visually. To reach the standards of ‘beauty’ demonstrated in the book would require a designer and a reasonable budget, but if you are just looking for inspiration for the latest PowerPoint presentation, you might find something you can replicate.

Is your message boring image

Is your message boring image

Of course, there are many other sources of inspiration for graphics. Infographics have come of age in recent times and can be a great way to get a message out. It seems to me you will still need a creative designer and a budget, but they can certainly have an impact. Although the word inforgraphics is modern, the idea has been around hundreds of years. This is a blog about graphics that changed the world – including the Florence Nightingale one pictured below. Nightingale’s charts illustrated month by month, the overwhelming number of deaths in Military Hospitals caused by preventable diseases. It changed hospital practice forever.  Others mentioned in the blog are Mendeleev’s 1869 Periodic Table and Harry Beck’s 1931 London Underground Map.

Is your message boring image

Tell a Story

I am not going to reiterate all I have said before about story-telling and how important stories, examples and anecdotes can be in message building. But there are people out there who are going one step further: weaving important information into a fictional story. This strikes me as being very hard work but is something of a specialism for the author Patrick Lencioni. He writes about business management and teams and I have read and enjoyed ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – A Leadership Fable’.

Is your message boring image

 

Most of the book is the fable or fictional account of the challenges faced by a new CEO tasked with turning around a cash-burning start-up. In the end, there is an analysis of the story explaining the ‘best practice’ that can prevent or deal with the problems faced. It’s clever and makes the otherwise dull topic, very digestible.

Another clever person trying to make learning easier is Matteo Farinella. He combines storytelling with comic style drawing using fantastical drawing to explain neuroscience in his book  Neurocomic.

In this example of his style covered by a creative commons licence, he is illustrating the water cycle.

Is your message boring image

The Humble Metaphor

It is not possible to leave out from this list my old friends – metaphors, analogies and similes. So often they explain things very well, either verbally or visually.

When Sir Ian Cheshire, Chairman of Debenhams wanted to kill a story that the company was insolvent this is what he said.

“The only analogy I can have to it is like having a bunch of nosy neighbours watching your house…Somebody sees somebody in a suit going into a room. The second person concludes it’s a doctor, the third person concludes it’s an undertaker and by the time it gets to the end of the day you’ve got the cause of death and everyone’s looking forward to the funeral.”

Social Media Videos

Finally, let’s return to videos but with rather lower production values than the BA example, we started with. I am a huge fan of the World Economic Forum’s bite-sized videos that appear on LinkedIn. An archive of them can be found here. As you can see they are very simple but very effective.

Here are five cognitive biases that could be holding you back at work

Studying your subconscious mind. 📕 Read more: http://bit.ly/2Hk9OSN

Posted by World Economic Forum on Friday, March 8, 2019

So now all we need is a story, or a novel, a graphic or a video, to explain the difference between World Trade Rules, Canada +++, Norway style deal etc. – just in case we have to vote on which one we, in Britain, want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacinda Ardern Image

Jacinda Ardern: Political Leader with a Strong Compass

Jacinda Ardern, it appears, has set the gold standard for how political leaders should respond in a crisis. The praise for her handling of the aftermath of the massacre in Christchurch is coming from all directions. Perhaps most unusually, her picture has been beamed onto Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building, accompanied by a special tweet of thanks from Dubai’s Prime Minister, HH Sheikh Mohammed. In New Zealand, almost 20,000 people have signed a petition calling for her to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Jacinda Ardern

Here are a few links to illustrate the extremely positive coverage of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, since the Mosque attacks on March 15th.

The New Yorker – Headline: The roots of Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinary leadership after Christchurch.
The Daily Mail – Headline: World’s tallest building lit up with an image of Jacinda Ardern as Sheik Mohammed thanks New Zealand’s Prime Minister for her empathy and support.
Indy100 – Headline: The world is calling for Jacinda Ardern to get the Nobel Peace Prize, here are 7 reasons why she should.
Vogue – Headline: Why Jacinda Ardern is a leader for our times.

So, what did she get so right?

A Swift Response

Firstly, Ardern was swift in her response. She was tweeting and then speaking about the attack on the day it happened. By the following morning, she was in Christchurch. Click here for the timeline.

Above All Inclusive

Secondly, she was sure-footed in her support and sympathy for the Muslim community.

When she spoke ahead of the one-minute silence in Christchurch, she kept it short and quoted from the Koran. Her sentences were sparse and her language very direct. Nothing highbrow here. “New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”

Ardern also wore the hijab. Human beings like symbolism. Whether it is a pink ribbon of breast cancer awareness or a silicon wrist band supporting a local charity. Choosing the headscarf, showed humility and respect. A gesture that has been copied by some New Zealanders.

Not Just Talk

Thirdly, she didn’t just speak, she acted. The day after the shooting she said “Our gun laws will change”. Within a week, the government announced legislation banning a range of semi-automatic weapons used in the Christchurch attack. [A stark contrast to the US refusal to reform gun-laws.] Ardern also not only visited Christchurch Muslims but also Muslims in Wellington.

And she promised financial support from the government, to bury the dead and help anyone injured. Here is the full speech but the key paragraphs are:

In an event such as this – murder or manslaughter – the family is eligible for a funeral grant of around $10,000. There are also one-off payments for the deceased’s partner, children and dependents, ongoing assistance provisions for things like childcare and of course compensation for the loss of income.

The Terrorism Word

Fourthly, Ardern did not hesitate to call this attack on Muslims ‘terrorism’. This was significant because there is a perception that a white man going nuts with an arsenal of guns is often described as a lone—wolf attack or instantly related to specific mental health issues; whilst a Muslim man doing the exact same thing will be branded a terrorist, before he has finished shooting. This concern is explored in this article from the Washington Post. Ardern was aware of this and chose to nail her colours to the mast and call the attack terrorism from the outset.

Challenge to Facebook

Finally, she has not flinched from challenging the world to do more to control social media – Facebook in particular. She said: “There are some things we need to confront collectively as leaders internationally…We cannot, for instance, allow some of the challenges we face with social media to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.” This will be a difficult one to follow up on, but she is already in discussions with Facebook.

What Can Others Learn From Jacinda?

Speed is Everything in a Crisis

It is so easy to hesitate and wait to assess the full extent of the crisis.  To be sure of the sequence of events or the nature of the damage. And, of course, an early reaction can be a wrong one. But a fast reaction looks authentic and uncompromising.

Embrace Emotion

Probably the smartest thing about Jacinda Ardern according to my ‘Media Coach’ analysis, is that she doesn’t shy away from emotion. As a young, female political leader you might expect her to be carefully unemotional. New Zealand’s young Prime Minister is prepared to show the world emotion. She lets her actions convince people that she is still rational and prepared to do what is necessary.

Use Simple Language

“We are one” is a very simple phrase but it did the job.

In a closely related incident, Emma Gonzalez the US activist and advocate for gun control gave a speech that went viral in February last year. She is a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida. She explained in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, that she felt she needed to find a phrase that would be repeated by others. “I knew I would get my job done properly at that rally if I got people chanting something. And I thought ‘We call B.S.’ has four syllables, that’s good, I’ll use that’  A super smart young woman!

Most people struggle to come up with the right words and many would have rejected both ‘We are one’ and ‘We call B.S.’ for being too simplistic. But in both cases, people were repeating them almost as soon as they were uttered.

Don’t Dismiss Symbolism

We are a pack species and we want to belong to a pack or tribe. Wearing something is a simple and easy way to say ‘me too’. But someone has to catch the mood and start it. Wearing the Muslim-style headscarf did just that.

Action Followed Words

The banning of automatic weapons. The instant offer of money. There is a need for action to make sympathy and concern convincing. Whether it is money or changing something, it needs to come swiftly.

It will be fascinating to see to what extent others follow the Jacinda way in the months and years ahead.

Photo Tweeted by HH Sheikh Mohammed

olivia colman

Olivia Colman Snivels in Front of 30m TV Audience

Olivia Colman is a wonderful actress, I have huge respect for her and make a point of watching anything with her name attached. But I am deeply disappointed that she did such a pathetic speech at the Oscars.

I understand this is an occasion of very high emotion but given that she was one of the favourites to win best actress, there was always a good chance she was going to have to make the winners speech.

Surely, a little bit of forethought would have been a good idea – ensuring that she was a bit more comfortable on stage and her audience was a bit more entertained by her words.

What Can We Learn From Colman’s Performance?

As ever I am not really commenting on Olivia Colman herself, one could argue she does not need my advice. But I do think there are some clear takeaway lessons.

Think About the Practical Aspects of Any Outfit!

First things first, it might be a good idea, as a woman, if you know you might have to go on stage, to think about the dress. Perhaps, as a result of one or two of her roles, Ms Colman has fallen in love with the very full ball gown style. But that together with the train made mounting the stage somewhat inelegant. For business women rather than film stars, there are other considerations. If you are climbing up onto the stage anywhere, you might want to give consideration to just how much leg you want to show. I have been criticised for saying this before but there is a reason why Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel always wear trouser suits. I commented on the dangers of showing a lot of leg in a previous blog here.

Prepare a Few Points

However, more important than the outfit, would it not have been a good idea to prepare a few words and even jot them down. This is probably not right for the Oscars: I can see it might have been a bit presumptuous for Colman to whip out a speech but in most other circumstances this would be a completely normal thing to do.

Reading a script is a bad idea. Unless you are trained it will be very difficult to get the inflections right. Better for most people to adlib around a few bullet points.

A Long List of Thanks is Dull and Risky

There is a particular difficulty in thanking people. It is very difficult to make a long list of people you want to thank interesting and the danger of missing people out, particularly if you haven’t prepared the list, is huge. My advice is to think long and hard before heading into an Oscar-style thank you list – ask yourself if there is a better way. Perhaps a story that illustrates how much help you needed along the way and a more general or blanket thanks – or just an expression of gratitude. It would be a lot less boring to listen to.

Shedding a Tear in Public is Good, Snivelling is Not So Good

Emotion is good in a speech but in most cultures not too much. Clearly, it can be difficult to control but it would help to think about how you want to come across before you get there. I personally hope I am never caught snivelling in front of an audience of 30 million. If you are with me I suggest in emotional settings, set yourself a clearly articulated communication ‘style goal’ and role-play it in the bathroom.

Quit With the Raspberries

Finally, call me old fashioned, but I am not in favour of blowing raspberries at the organisers who are trying to keep a long and complicated evening running on time.

 

getting out in front of the story

Getting Out in Front of the Story: Bezos Case Study

Getting out in front of the story’ is a phrase that comes up a lot in Crisis Communication Courses. It refers to coming clean about all the bad stuff in one go before anyone else releases it.

In my experience, it is extremely difficult to do.

Human nature is such that everyone balks at revealing negative information if they are not absolutely sure they have to.

Jeff Bezos Case Study

In the last week, Jeff Bezos (the world’s wealthiest man and the Chairman, Chief Executive and President of Amazon) has given us the most dramatic example I can remember of ‘getting out in front of the story’.

getting out in front of the story

Jeff Bezos

It is a complicated tale but at its heart the National Enquirer let Bezos know that it had compromising photos of him and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez – and told him they would publish.

 Political Motivation or Just a Good Story?

To prevent publication, the Enquirer wanted Bezos to stop or curb an investigation into an earlier leak of his private text messages. Also, to publicly state that he did not believe a story based on those texts (or sexts i.e. texts with sexual content) published in the Enquirer, was politically motivated.

Bezos has been married to wife MacKenzie for 25 years. The couple announced they were to divorce in January this year. Immediately after the announcement, the Enquirer published an expose of Bezos’ affair with the former TV presenter Sanchez, including the texts.

A crucial factor here is that Bezos, as well as his Amazon roles, is the owner of the Washington Post newspaper. The Post has been a long-time critic of President Trump, among many other things his relationship with Saudi Arabia. In particular, it has given a lot of coverage to the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – in which the Saudi regime is implicated. This criticism and coverage have annoyed the President.

getting out in front of the story

The National Enquirer is a supporter of President Trump

National Enquirer and its owner American Media (AMI) are supporters of President Trump. The group and AMI’s owner David Pecker are currently being investigated for their part in the election of Trump. They are also being investigated for various actions taken on behalf of the Saudi government. In other words, the group is under a lot of suspicion about using its power for political purposes and in ways that may be illegal.

We now know that Bezos believes the embarrassing stories about his love life and in particular, the threat to publish the photos, are all about silencing the Washington Post’s anti-Trump and some would say anti-Saudi stance. AMI denies this.

Here is a detailed account of all this in the Daily Mail.

Getting Out in Front of the Story

The point for us is that rather than giving in to the blackmail, Bezos published the emails that threatened him. He published them with his own commentary on a website called Medium.com– thus getting out in front of the story.

Rather than being the victim he is now suddenly the one in control. The price he has paid for this is letting the world know about the embarrassing photos and a lot of other private details about his extra-marital relationship. Like many before him (Prince Charles, Max Mosley, Jeremy Thorpe etc.) he knows these will affect his reputation for years to come. But he did the brave and difficult thing and published all the bad stuff but on his own terms.

As he says himself ‘If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can.’  In a particularly good line Bezos accuses the National Enquirer of ‘weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism.’

It is too early to say whether Bezos will be the eventual winner in all this. But for now, it has certainly turned the tables on those threatening him.

 Crisis Preparedness

The Media Coach and in particular myself and Catherine Cross regularly run Crisis Communication courses. Large organisations that have considered business recovery or crisis planning usually conclude that senior staff need some formal training so they are equipped to deal with the media in the face of a reputational crisis.   If you would like to talk to us about what we offer please do give us a call on 44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Photo credits:
Jeff Bezos: Wikimedia Commons
National Enquirer: Flickr, credit Rusty Clark

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.]

how to dress for TV image

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.
how to dress for TV image

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.
how to dress for tv image

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.

 

want to control a media interview image

Want to Control a Media Interview? 8 Naive Mistakes

Most organisations want to control the media or at least want to control what is written or broadcast about its business.  A surprising number of senior business people, in my experience, do not understand that as the ‘fourth estate’ journalists can write whatever they like – with very little constraint. There are laws of libel and slander and some very strict rules around court reporting. But beyond that in the UK, most of Europe, the US and Australia there are very few other restrictions. The freedom of journalists can be more restricted in other countries.

want to control a media interview image

It is not sensible to verbally attack or threaten a journalist. Most treat their independence as a matter of honour and they may be tempted to write a critical piece just to prove the point.

This press freedom is a source of great angst and concern to many senior people. Even those who have absolutely nothing to hide.

[By contrast, seasoned media performers realise that 100% control is impossible.  Whilst they prepare and are disciplined about what they say, they are likely to take a more ‘you win some, you lose some’ attitude to what a journalist writes.]

Given the high level of unease, there are often inappropriate attempts to control the interview and write up process. Here are my top eight.

1. Asking for a list of questions before the interview

At first sight, this seems completely reasonable but journalists hate it, mostly because it gives the impression that they are being overly controlled. Many will not provide a list, others will happily give a list of questions and then ignore it in the actual interview. The effect is counter-productive for the interviewee because preparing for one set of questions only to be asked completely different ones is annoying and stressful. Much better to ask a broader question such as ‘what are you interested in?’, ‘what’s the story?’ or ‘what’s your angle?’.

2. Telling the journalist you know the editor and have influence

I have only come across this rarely and find it very funny. All I can say is that editors are rarely open to any kind of external influence. Being independent is a matter of honour for most journalists. What’s more, claiming special influence is likely to annoy everyone in the editorial process and they might be tempted to ‘prove’ their independence’ by printing something you would rather not see in print.

3. Asking to check the copy before it is printed

This is not uncommon these days in the trade press but is not something that respectable national newspapers would allow.  There is a less intrusive version which is to ask to ‘check quotes’. It still smacks of naivety to my mind and can give the interviewee a false sense of security. Even if a journalist allows you to see the copy or quotes before publication, he or she is unlikely to allow you to make anything but the most technical of changes.

4. Telling the journalist what they can’t ask

Again, journalists do not obey rules. If you tell them they can’t ask something they are very likely to ask it. You are potentially alerting them to a sensitive area. What is more, making it look as if you or your spokesperson is unable to handle a question makes you or them look weak.

5. Allowing your PR person to intervene during the interview

PR people should only intervene if they absolutely have to. Again, it makes the interviewee look weak and the organisation look over-bearing. I blogged a few months ago about the interview where the off-camera PR person intervened because the former CEO of Persimmon did not want to answer a question about his bonus. As we know the CEO subsequently lost his job -after the intervention went viral on YouTube!

6. Attacking the journalist

This used to be more common than it is these days. Most people now understand that it is never going to look or sound good. Better to understand that journalists are allowed to ask anything and you as the interviewee can choose how to respond. Often journalists do not subscribe to the point of view they are putting in a question. They are just representing another side of a story. We are taught always to balance a story or an interview and asking a tough question is one way to do that. Accept they are just doing their job.

7. Questioning the source of the journalist’s information

This is a more subtle form of attacking the journalist. For my money it is fine to say ‘I am not sure those numbers are right’ or ‘I don’t recognise that’ before moving to your argument. But don’t get into a fight with the journalist by saying ‘where did you get that from’, ‘tell me where you got those numbers’ etc.

8. Giving information then saying: that is ‘off the record’

There are some occasions where ‘off the record’ has a legitimate place in PR but they are fairly rare. If you want any agreement to be respected it must be put in place in advance of an interview and absolutely not during the interview, after you have just said something you shouldn’t have said. In general ‘off the record’ is a tool that can be used by a professional PR but should be avoided by interviewees.

The way to control media interviews is to do your preparation and deliver high-quality information in colloquial language. You should, of course, also prepare for any particularly difficult questions. Finally, it is important to be disciplined and in control during the interview to ensure you don’t say things by accident that provide embarrassing headlines. In fact what you need is a little training, but then I would say that wouldn’t I?

Managing emotion in a media interview

Managing Emotion in a Media Interview

Managing emotion in a media interview can be a huge challenge.

Emotion on radio or television is considered good entertainment. Brutal but true. However, if you are a professional person, or you have an important point to make, your priority becomes not breaking down in public.

Andy Murray Breaks Down

Andy Murray gave a press conference just before the Australian Open last week, in which it was absolutely clear that he was struggling emotionally with both his continuing pain from injury and his decision to give up professional tennis. (The bit that makes even me cry in sympathy is at time code 4:45 minutes for about a minute.)

 

Having lived so long in the public spotlight Andy Murray is, perhaps, not uncomfortable sharing his pain, but most people would be.

So how do you cope?

Tips for Handling Emotion in Interviews

I have just a few tips:

Firstly, work with an adviser to work out what your trigger words or phrases or images are. I have worked with people who have lost children or husbands etc. who want to talk to the media (always about lessons to be learned) but don’t want to breakdown in public. It is usually certain phrases that trigger overwhelming emotion.

Once these trigger phrases are identified you can build a narrative or messages that avoid them. Knowing the trigger phrases is crucial to managing emotion in a media interview.

Rehearsal Acts as a Sort of Aversion Therapy

Secondly, rehearsal really helps. We always advocate rehearsing aloud for even a simple media interview. But for something of high emotion, it is critical. If you can tell the story several times the emotion triggered by that particular narrative decreases. It is something we all know from our life experience. It is a mild version of aversion therapy. Repeated exposure lessons the reaction, at least in most cases.

Brief the Journalist

Thirdly, if it is a radio or television interview tell the journalist what you don’t want to talk about, or tell someone else to do so in the briefing. Even the most aggressive journalist will play ball if you say: ‘I am alright so long as I don’t have to talk about the moment I identified the body’. In this sort of interview journalists and broadcasters will absolutely respect your wishes.

If you need help preparing for difficult interviews of any sort give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

start with the end in mind

Plan Your Communications: Start with the End in Mind

Starting with the end in mind is such a useful way of thinking. I am aware it does not only apply to media interviews or presentations but is widely useful in everything from preparing a roast dinner to writing a business plan. So crucial is this idea that it is one of the seven habits of highly successful people identified by author Stephen Covey. 

start with the end in mind

Planning your communications: start with the end in mind

However, as a media and presentation trainer, I can tell you that most people do not apply this simple way of being more effective when it comes to planning their communications. In fact, most people don’t plan their communications, period.  The reasons they give are many and varied:

  • Too busy.
  • Talking or communicating is already a professional skill (so detailed prep for an interview or for a presentation is not necessary).
  • It is boring.
  • It’s not about me, it’s about the subject.
  • I am not clear what if anything I want the audience to think or do.

I could go on.

5 minutes strategic thought saves hours of preparation

start with the end in mind

Of course, the reality is 5 minutes serious thought will save hours of preparation and will deliver a better result.

So, if preparing for a media interview it is worth asking yourself these questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Which bit of that audience matters to me? If you are doing national media it is clear that most people watching, or reading will have only a passing interest in the subject but the audience will include a few hundred key influencers, potential clients, important regulators etc. Knowing broadly who these people are and what you want to say to them is helpful.
  • Is there anything I want people to do as a result of this interview: click a link, pick up the phone or make a purchase for example?
  • So crucially – what headline or main idea do I want to see in the finished piece – or if television or radio, what do I want the audience to remember?

Once you have this clear in your mind the preparation of ‘messages’ or if you prefer your argument will be much quicker.

For a presentation, it is a similar process:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What do I want them to remember from the presentation?
  • Is there anything I want them to do as a result of the presentation?

Advice to a younger me

If I could meet my younger self I would have a number of pearls of wisdom to pass on – top of the list would be to stop wearing heels to walk in. (Apparently crushed toes 20 years ago mean I now have misplaced toes so my feet find it difficult to keep me upright.)

But also high on the list would be to ‘start with the end in mind’ for all significant conversations. Even more usefully, I would advocate the practice of not only preparing for important conversations but preparing for unimportant ones. Once they have taken place I would suggest that my former self got into the habit of reviewing her ability to continue the conversation with the end in mind. Preparation can easily go out of the window in the intensity of the moment unless you have trained yourself. Training is easy to do because every conversation with the butcher, a neighbour or your stroppy teenager provides good opportunities for practise.

The guy that made me take this simple mantra – start with the end in mind – from a vague idea to a solid practice, was a UN negotiator I met in Kampala. I have forgotten his name, but I vividly remember his stories of negotiating with rebel leaders who had committed atrocities, in various parts of the continent. He had trained himself out of having any emotional reaction to the history of those he was dealing with and instead stayed completely focussed on his strategic aim, knowing the lives of innocent people (sometimes hostages, sometimes children) depended on it.

Few of my clients have such critical communication challenges, but we could all learn from his ability to keep his target in mind.

Here are other blogs we have written on related subjects

Preparing for a Media Interview: 5 key steps

5 Ways to improve that presentation

Developing Messages: Are you guilty of navel gazing?

The Media Coach is a group of working and ex-journalists who provide media and presentation training and message building for a wide variety of organisations. If you think we can help your team give us a call on +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Photos used under creative commons licence.