Okay, let’s be absolutely honest before we start. Most political interviews will drive about half the population bonkers because we just don’t agree with the political shade of what they’re saying. That’s not an example of an interview going horribly wrong. These next five are...
So let’s count down the Top Five interviews going wrong or as I know them, world class car crash TV interviews.
Interviews Going Wrong: #5 Peter Ward
In at Number 5 please welcome Peter Ward the Chief Executive of the British Dental Association. He’s accepted an interview to talk about the potential health risks posed by old mercury amalgam fillings. So that’s the Chief Executive of the British Dental Association talking about dental fillings. What could possibly go wrong?
What are the learnings of this particularly poor interview example?
Know your subject, do not try to deny the undeniable. And, for goodness sake, don’t do the hand waving ‘la la la’ thing to try to get an interview stopped. If it’s a recorded interview – yes you can stop it, but not by acting like a caught out child!
Rules of engagement say that if the interview is being recorded you can stop the interview. Simply say
"that’s a good question, I need to find something out so I can answer it correctly. Ca you give me a couple of minutes".
It won’t get you out of a question. But it means you’ll be able to gather your thoughts and respond - not look like an evasive fool.
Here the journalists was absolutely right. They asked for an interview on the safety of mercury amalgam fillings. Prepare what you have to say on that subject. Don’t say something is safe when it’s not. That’s not an interview strategy. That’s a recipe for the disaster it turned out to be.
Interviews Going Wrong: #4 Chloe Smith
One place higher at Number 4 our first politician, Chloe Smith, then a Treasury Minister in the Coalition Government. The Chancellor George Osborne had done a swift U-turn and instead of putting up fuel duty as he said in the budget, he later announced he’d frozen it.
Cue Mr Jeremy Paxman wanting to know some of the very basic journalistic question of who took the U turn decision and when? Watch from about 6 minutes in…
Every political party issues "Lines To Take". All of them. It’s essentially if you’re asked this question, then this is the answer. If you are towing the party line then Lines To Take can leave politicians exposed and inflexible. As a junior minister most of her pain could have been avoided by saying
"I don’t know who took the decision or indeed when. I’m a junior minister, but I was told this afternoon"
It’s important to address the question. Not necessarily answer it. But address it. And then move the subject on to something you actually can say. To avoid a question – repeatedly - leaves interviewers and audiences seething.
Interviews Going Wrong: #3 Chloe Smith
In at Number 3 an object lesson in preparation being the key to a successful interview. You have to have a clear idea of what you want to say. And the facts to back it up. A big idea and reasons to believe you. And the time to make these decisions is ahead of the interview. Don’t repeat and don’t start ‘making it up as you go along’.
Oh dear Green Party Chair Natalie Bennett! Even the interviewer said “Don’t you think you might have genned up on his a little before?”
Interviews Going Wrong: #2 Stephen Bates
One off the top spot at Number 2 is Stephen Bates the European MD of Blackberry maker RIM. Count the number of times he talks about excitement! See how sticking to his PR script makes him look so evasive. If something has gone wrong, say so. Especially when the whole world knows it has!
And the back ref from the sofa, talk about kicking a man when he’s down!
Here we see the basic media training skill of address the question. If he’d simply said:
"Two years ago the new Blackberry wasn’t ready. Today it is"
He’d have addressed the question and moved on. Address the question. You don’t need to answer it in full or I detail but you simply must address it. Grr. When will these people ever learn!
Interviews Going Wrong: #1 Ed Milliband
And finally in top spot, at Number 1 dear old Ed Miliband. Never the world’s greatest TV performer, ruthlessly caricatured as Wallace. Or was it Gromit? Anyway, political party Lines to Take at its absolute worst.
Three phrases, mixed up and dished up again. And again. And indeed again. Reckless and provocative anyone?
So, there you have it. My Top 5 worst broadcast interviews of recent times. Don’t worry there’ll be some more shockers along any time soon!
How do you avoid Interviews going wrong?
The answer is, of course, media training. Not the relentless parroting of some disastrous PR line. Proper media training which prepares you, honestly, thoroughly, to get the most out of your appearances in front of cameras. Whatever the crisis. Especially in a crisis.
To be fair, politicians, as a breed, are their own worst enemies. Lines To Take leaves them nowhere to run to, no freedom to improvise, no opportunity to react deftly under pressure from an interviewer.
But there are the basics of Media Training:
Strategy. Simplicity. Personality.
- Strategy: Know what you want to say and be informed. Know your stuff.
- Simplicity: Use language we can all understand, and understand first time.
- Personality: If you know your stuff and you know how you are going to express yourself, feel free to be the biggest version of yourself you can muster.
That’s the preparation. The delivery technique is:
Address. Bridge. Control.
...But that’s the second part of the training course!