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Media Training Tips: Ten DON’Ts For Media Interviewees

Media Training Tips blog posting - On Air image

Media Training Tips blog posting – On Air image

Media training professionals strive to get their clients to a high standard of knowledge and performance so nothing will throw them in broadcast media interviews – and give them the media training tips to come across as reasonable, intelligent and in control of their role or brief.

Sound media training with a seasoned journalist media trainer is key to this – as is being given and absorbing the excellent media training tips.

Nevertheless, some of the UK’s leading politicians have been demonstrating how NOT to give media interviews, as if they had never received a day’s media training in their lives.

Media Training Tips

Here are Ten DON’Ts For Media Interviews:

1. DON’T completely ignore the reporter’s question.

Media trainers generally teach interviewees to “bridge” from a difficult area of questioning to one with which they are more comfortable.

However, this sensible technique is not the same as ignoring the question completely and saying something with no relevance to what was asked.

This approach simply irritates the reporter who may then repeat the question, exposing the failure to answer.

It makes the interviewee look shifty, evasive and untrustworthy to the viewing and listening public at home.

Media Training Tips Blog - Theresa May on BBC TV's Newsnight

Media Training Tips Blog – Theresa May on BBC TV’s Newsnight

The greatest living exponent of this media interview blunder is, of course, Theresa May who rarely gives a straight answer to a straight question. Just look at this Maybot shocker on BBC TV’s Newsnight.

2. DON’T pretend the interviewer is your friend.

The reporter is there to do a job: to answer the interviewee on aspects of a news story or issue.

Therefore, the journalist needs to be – and appear to be – impartial and professional, and any degree of mateyness between reporter and interviewee does not produce that impression.

Sometimes, the interviewee will refer repeatedly to the journalist by his or her first name.

At best, this will give viewers and listeners the impression the interviewee is trying to curry favour with the reporter.

At worst, the journalist will be harder on the interviewee as a result.

Of course, some interviewees, who are particularly poorly trained or naive about the role of journalists, will even appeal to the journalist for help, as if they were on the same side.

Just look at this classic of bad interview technique by Labour politician Dawn Butler.

3. DON’T forget to prepare thoroughly for media interviews.

A media interview should be seen by the interviewee as a verbal examination.

You would not go into an exam without revising, so why would you attempt a broadcast media interview, which could be seen by millions of people, without preparing THOROUGHLY?

It is vital for interviewees to have grasped and committed to memory the salient facts and figures before any media interview. That’s basic.

Just look at the terrible mess Diana Abbott got herself into in an excruciating radio station interview in the 2017 General Election.

4. DON’T make it up as you go along.

An experienced media trainer will ensure that an interviewee has prepared and mastered key messages and been mock-interviewed and rehearsed using them.

So, there should be no reason to go off piste, attacking people, wildly speculating or making statements that are very doubtful or untrue.

Shooting from the lip in media interviews is not a great idea.

That’s the way to come across as a crazy person!

Media Training Tips Blog - Donald Trump

Media Training Tips Blog – Donald Trump

The world’s greatest exponent of this kind of media training failure of course is Donald Trump.

Just look at this interview.

5. DON’T walk out of an interview – even if it is going badly.

The extraordinary situation where an interviewee walks out of an interview is rare, and usually reserved for individuals who are about to leave their role or failing to cope with pressure of the job.

In which case, the interviewee should not have agreed to the interview in the first place.

However gauche or insulting the interviewer appears, the interviewee has loses the PR battle if they walk.

My favourite in this department was UK Conservative politician John Nott who in 1982 dramatically stormed out of a BBC interview after being called a “here today, gone tomorrow” politician. Take a look!

6. DON’T always answer questions instantly.

It is a better to take a beat to consider a tricky question or even ask for the question to be repeated to buy time than to come back with an inferior or irrelevant answer.

Sadly, interviewees are often obsessed with answering instantly.

By pausing very briefly and then answering a tough question, the interviewee comes across as thoughtful and intelligent, rather than rash or robotic.

7. DON’T forget who your audience is.

Too often interviewees become so focused on the reporter that they forget the real point of the interview – reaching the people watching or listening at home.

If the interviewee does not take the interview seriously or mistreats the reporter, he or she is disrespecting the public – a PR disaster.

8. DON’T question the questions.

Always remember, it is the reporter’s job to ask the questions and the interviewee’s job to answer them.

If reporter and interviewee stick to these briefs and show mutual respect, they should get along well.

Otherwise, their relationship could be acrimonious, making it impossible for the interviewer to ask his or her questions and for the interviewee to look good to the viewing or listening audience.

9. DON’T do the interview if you are feeling ill.

Interviewees are judged on their performance – and not the mitigating circumstances explained afterwards.

If an interviewee is feeling ill, can’t take a brief or has some other issue that is likely to lead to a car-crash media interview, they should turn down the interview or pull out, if it has already been booked.

Media Training Tips Blog - Diane Abbott

Media Training Tips Blog – Diane Abbott

For instance, in the 2017 UK General Election, Shadow Home Secretary Diana Abbott waited far too long before bowing out of media interviews, leaving plenty of debris in her wake.

However, hiding from the TV cameras for no sound reason, as Theresa May did with TV debates in the 2017 General Election, is not acceptable in such a situation. The public simply thought she has applied for a role and not turned up for the job interview.

10. DON’T complain afterwards.

If an interviewee mucks up an interview, they need to review it with their media trainer and learn from their mistakes.

Complaining you were mistreated by journalists or stitched up by the media – as, for instance, the risible Donald Trump tends to, just makes you look like big cry baby.

Nobody likes a whinger!

* Ollie Wilson is a Brighton-based highly experienced media trainer and crisis communication specialist, working in London and Sussex. He is also an accomplished copywriter.