In the words of Oscar Wilde: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” True perhaps but when it comes to the press, mistakes are rarely forgiven.
Solicitors and barristers face the prospect of appearing on national radio or TV with equal measures of enthusiasm and sheer dread.
However a broadcast interview, whether live or pre-recorded, is an opportunity not to be missed. Well prepared and armed with a few basic techniques from media training it can easily be worth the effort.
Let’s start with the basics (unfortunately an element that many forget): What to wear. Very bright clothes and striking patterns should be avoided. More importantly: don’t wrap up too warm! Studios are deceptively hot places and sweat patches are just not flattering.
Before the interview you should never go off the record, remember that you are representing your firm and do not want to fall into divulging inappropriate material. Take a few minutes to acclimatise and become comfortable in the environment before you start a conversation.
Always ask what the first question will be. Though you will have done a little preparation for the interview a lot of people are caught off guard. Sometimes it is worth asking for a list of questions to be asked a few days before so that you’re comfortable with the style of questions asked.
Now onto the broadcast specifics, there are several pre-show pieces of advice you will be given by the presenter or producer. The more you appear on shows the more natural these will become although at first they may seem a little strange.
To set the sound levels you will be asked mundane questions such as ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ before you go on air. The lengthier the answers you give the quicker this is over as you’re voice is uninterrupted and the producer has a chance to adjust the mic to you. Whilst doing this however there are some things to note: don’t lean into the mic or turn your head towards it. Sit comfortably as you would during the interview and talk normally. The idea is that the levels are adjusted to you not the other way around.
Look into my eyes…
If you’re appearing on camera you’ll be told to look at the presenter at all times rather than into the camera. Of course it seems strange not to look into a camera pointed directly at you, like the proverbial elephant in the room. However when you’re watching TV at home it would seem extremely strange and uncomfortable if an interviewee would turn to the camera and talk directly to you, which is why you’re asked to focus on the presenter.
Always make sure you have a glass of water available before you begin, that way if you need to pause for a moment or your mouth goes slightly dry you have the opportunity to solve the situation and make yourself comfortable again. Think of it the same as having a glass of water available in meetings and conferences.
During the interview
During the interview you should stay calm and relaxed. The best way to come across well is to be comfortable, the only way you will do that is by being yourself.
If the interview is pre-recorded for a show that will be aired later remember that you can always stop and retake. Take in the key points of the interview and rehearse your answers before hand.
Try not to go into too much industry jargon, not everyone watching or listening may understand what you’re saying. Keep the language simple and your answers short as though you’re talking to a teenager who has no prior knowledge of the topic being discussed.
A slight animation and energy as you discuss the topic will go a long way to engaging with the audience but be careful not to go over the top. Imagine that you’ve had 3 or 4 drinks and are slightly bubblier.
It is important however to be aware of the puppet effect. You do not want to be seen as being controlled or directed by the presenter or by the firm or topic, which you’re representing. The easiest way to do this is to relax. Sit back in your chair and imagine that you have a pet in your lap. Again the main message is stay relaxed.
When you’re being interviewed it’s easy to get carried away in the topic. Remember to keep your key point until the end, that’s the last impression that the viewers / listeners will have of you and is the best time to make your point. The best advice you can be given is to enjoy the experience and the adrenaline it creates.
After the Interview
As you’re not controlling the recording equipment you don’t know when mics and cameras have been turned off. To avoid situations like Gordon Brown’s comment about Gillian Duffy maintain your position and composure after the interview has finished and wait to be told the interview is over. With many TV interviews an extra 60 seconds are recorded at the end of the interview in order to produce a good edit.
There are a lot of lead-ins that can be used during interviews. Everyone has their favourite and is usually used to explain and outline the current situation or topic that you’re discussing.
Let me tell you where we are right now….
Let me tell you exactly what happened….
Let me tell you exactly what the situation is..
There are also many easy ways to change interview topics. If you’re uncomfortable with the topic of questioning or just want to reiterate a point the simple phrases below can be used to subtly divert back to what you want to discuss.
Let me say again….
I think it’s important to note that our key focus….That may be the opinion of certain people, however…
Throughout the interview it is important to note the interviewer’s cues but that doesn’t mean that you have to wait for a pause to respond. Once you start talking the interviewer will stop to hear what you are saying and reiterate their question if they feel the answer was too broad or disagree with what you said.
Always responding to the interviewer promotes confidence in a very simple way. “Good Morning John” or “Thank you” when you’re introduced shows that you’re alert and listening. Strong short sentences in reply are a key interview technique with emphasis on natural but clear enunciation of all the points you want to make.
Any key points and phrases that you want to get across to both the interviewer and the public should be consistent and clear. Try not to rush or slur familiar phrases in the hurry to get your point across. It’s important to stay clear, concise and confident.
When the need to apologise arises it can be tricky to communicate this effectively. Make sure you introduce the apology with an explanation of the circumstance or situation and be sure to illustrate empathy for the effected party’s inconvenience or appreciation of their frustration earlier in the interview.
All of the things you say can be emphasised by the body language you use. For example lean forward slightly in a more engaging position opposed to sitting back with folded arms for a more positive note.
A business journalist by trade, Ralph Savage represents a series of B2B clients on media and marketing matters. He provides strategic PR advice, media training and consultancy. He also ghost writes regularly on behalf of FTSE 250 CEOs, leading counsel and senior professionals including solicitors, accountants and brokers.