Have a look at the video above. It’s only a couple of minutes long. It’s Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, repeating himself and making the same point over and over again.
I show this to media training candidates and ask them what’s going on. Sometimes they respond: Miliband is an idiot.
So let’s leave party politics at the door for a moment. Let’s just assume the likelihood is that after May we will have one of two possible people as Prime Minister, and one of them is in the clip above. Even if he loses, becoming the second-likeliest Prime Minister after May isn’t something you achieve by being thick.
So what really happened? I wasn’t there but I can guess.
Find out about the interview
One excellent piece of advice I’ve heard a number of times is that people should find out about how a broadcast interview they give will be used. Ask the journalist: will you be using just my best quote or will you be putting everything out there, the full three minutes?
If it’s “just the best” then the standard advice is, no matter what the question, get your key messages out there.
This, I suspect, is what Miliband and his advisors were told before the above interview took place. So he’s dutifully brought every answer around to his central point; the strikes are wrong when talks are ongoing but the Government has behaved irresponsibly (disagree if you wish, but he’s expressing his view well).
The problem – and the refinement I’d add – is that someone, somewhere, will have a copy of all the repetitious responses and has the power to make you look (technical term coming up) a muppet. This is what someone’s done to Miliband above; according to some of the labels on YouTube it appeared in this form on Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe, a comedy/satire programme. They’ve just shown the unedited version with all of the identikit answers, and it looks absurd.
So what can you do to avoid this? In the context of a comedy programme Miliband still looks a fool; decontextualised he looks even more so. I’ve seen this circulated on social media without any reference to the comedy programme by people who genuinely get the impression that Miliband doesn’t realise he’s repeating himself. Don’t let this happen to you.
My suggestion to my media training candidates is that they answer the question. Prepare more than one message you need to get into an interview and push different ones. Respond to the questions rather than use them as cues for your spiel. They’ll naturally be different. You can still make your point.
You should end up with your message getting out there just as you’d hoped, but if someone gets hold of the unedited version then hopefully you won’t look quite as absurd as Mr. Miliband does in the clip.
It’s not his fault. He’s been manipulated for comic effect. However, by varying your responses, you can ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to you.