Earlier this week I launched the preview of my online interview training program with the Henshall Centre. Here’s a video to tell you a bit more about it.
I’m very excited today because my online media training course has just gone live. It’s a preview version at this stage. There’s a new page on this website devoted to it but just to summarise, it’s aimed at:
- People who want media training but may not have the budget to get me in person (but you can book personal interview practice over the phone);
- People who want to learn to prepare interviews but who learn better in bite-sized chunks
- Clients who can’t spare the time for a full-blown media training session or who can’t co-ordinate diaries internally for a group due to other people’s commitments
- People who want to learn about media tips and how to make the most of an interview and who prefer to learn on devices
It’s formatted as a “build your own journey” thing, so you decide where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do. There are video clips, sample interviews and analysis, downloads, text-based hints and tips and the opportunity to schedule telephone interview practice if you would like it.
I did this in conjunction with the Henshall Centre, whose owner Liton Ali and I are pretty excited about this. There is a special price while we’re in preview mode – once we launch properly there’s likely to be a substantial increase.
We hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve done!
I’ve never liked the term “soundbite”. They can look artificial and frankly calculated, and as a method it can be out of date. Think about Tony Blair and his “Education, education, education” or “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. With hindsight, did that let someone into power without the substance and judgment he needed?
Let’s not be party political. Remember “You turn if you want to: the lady’s not for turning” from Margaret Thatcher. These are all getting pretty old, though. The popularity of Bernie Sanders in the US and indeed Jeremy Corbyn in the UK led me to suspect the age of the soundbite was coming to an end.
Enter Hillary’s soundbite
I should have looked more closely at what was going on. “Jez we can” might not have come from Corbyn himself but it proved a very effective campaigning slogan indeed, and may do so again during the summer. However, the best example I’ve seen was yesterday’s pronouncement by US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
She said, in one of her best speeches: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons”. This is clearly a reference to Donald Trump, who has tried to accuse her of living in fantasy land.
The reasons this one’s so brilliant, though, start with the ability to fact check it. The underlying assumptions are twofold. First, any US president has to be trusted with nuclear weapons (that’s beyond dispute). Second, Donald Trump is a man you can bait with a Tweet.
Her reading of Trump – and I really don’t want to get party political here but to focus on the personal – was brilliant, because the first thing he did was to attack her. On Twitter. Here’s a Guardian summary. Others see his social media as inspired, like this New York Times piece; if you want to make him look petty, though, it’s easy, as the Independent found when he first entered the contest.
So it’s easy to substantiate, or at least to argue the point. Trump can’t refute the suggestion by saying he’s a lovely calming influence on social media.
It’s also a soundbite that gives out a sense of balance, in that it juxtaposes one premise with another. On the one hand, there’s the idea of nuclear weapons. On the other, there’s the notion of allowing Twitter members to annoy or provoke.
This sort of tactic can actually make a soundbite work even when there’s no link between the two. The fact that it sounds balanced gives it an air of authority (in this instance I suspect the link is genuine enough). It’s satisfying and therefore it’s memorable.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s 78 characters long including spaces? That’s handy for Twitter. Add a hashtag or attribution and it probably still fits. Nobody’s going to tell me this is coincidence.
Do it yourself
Lessons from this sort of soundbite are many and can apply to any sort of business, not just politics. First, they still work, whether during an interview or during a presentation. Second, if you can embed some sort of verifiable fact in them and make them sound elegant, they’ll be memorable. Third, keep them short enough for Twitter and other people will amplify the message for you.
Image: Flickr: Mike Mozart
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I train people to interview others as well as to be interviewed themselves (generally not the same people, you understand). Something that’s changed over the last few years is that journalists are presenting their own interviews as podcasts. There are some things they could do to improve the result without much hard work.
For a start, if you’re marketing it as a podcast, consider publicising it as a radio show instead. Depending on your market you might well find some of your target listeners are put off by “podcast”, believing they need some sort of technical skill in order to hear it. They don’t care about whether it actually reaches them over radio waves; tell them it’s a radio show and they’ll get it.
Heeeere’s Guy! Start an interview strongly
I listened to a pretty good one the other day. The content was terrific. A lively interviewee and the interviewer knew when to shut up and let her speak (maybe a little too much for my tastes but he or she – I’m not disclosing identities – was perfectly clear that the guest was the star). That put it in the top niche of podcasts already as quite a number are ego exercises for the presenter, and I speak as someone who ran his own a few years back!
However, in this instance the presenter was too self-effacing. You wouldn’t have known their name from the show they put on, it was straight into “with me is…” and then bang, on with the interview. Always start off by introducing yourself.
Introduce the interviewee
The guest introduction was also low-key. The beginning of a show is always the attention-grabber, so here are a few pointers:
- Don’t announce the name immediately. I’ve introduced people on stage before and their agents have sent me intros that begin “NAME is an Olympic athlete, who has scaled Kilimanjaro, tunnelled underneath Everest and played the lead role in Bugs Bunny the Musical for 15 years.” I always leave the name until last, so it’s “My guest today is an Olympic athlete, who has scaled (etc…) – a warm welcome to NAME GOES HERE”. You’re actually building up to something with an intro like this.
- Ask your guest or their agent how they like to be introduced. Your idea of their professional highlights may not be theirs. And do make sure you introduce them. You might think it goes without saying that everyone will know who they are. You’d be surprised at the number of people who may not.
- Raise your voice, in tone if not in volume, when you get to the interviewee’s name. It signals to the audience that someone good is about to speak, and that you’re excited about it. If you’re presenting live, they’ll know it’s time to applaud.
Interviewing isn’t as easy as it looks. You need to know when to shut up, when to probe a bit, when to interrupt and also to manage the timings. Get off to a strong start, though, and you’ll at least have their attention.
Do you need help with interviewing techniques? Contact me and we’ll talk. If you want to know more about how I can add value introducing people and generally MC-ing your corporate event, check my speaker and MC page.
An interview is a great thing for a business or politician as long as the basic rules are understood. My media training is designed to help people understand them and make the most of the opportunity.
I don’t train politicians. I assume they’ll know loads about the process. This is why the interview from Andrea Leadsom, Conservative Party leadership (and therefore prime ministerial) candidate over the weekend was such a shock.
Her perspective is quoted in the Daily Telegraph today – she claims the Times interview, in which she apparently said she would be a better prime minister than her rival Theresa May, because she is a mother (May had recently given an interview in which she confirmed that she and her husband had been unable to produce a child), contained the opposite of her views.
The BBC has her quote from today’s paper here. She says she was pressed for her views. I highlight the BBC’s account rather than that of the Telegraph itself because a) it doesn’t disappear behind a paywall after you’ve looked at a few stories, and b) it contains the audio of the original interview. I don’t think she’s being pressed at all.
You can’t control your quotes from an interview
The most telling point came on Saturday when the Times interview appeared in the paper. She Tweeted that it was “Truly appalling and the opposite of what I said”, which the audio clip demonstrates is measurably untrue. Her ideas on media, though, are curious to say the least.
Here’a a cutting from the Daily Mail. Some way down it, she makes the statement: “In front of The Times correspondent and photographer, I made clear repeatedly that nothing I said should be used in any way to suggest that Theresa May not having children had any bearing whatever on the leadership election.”
Let’s get this straight. She started by angrily denying what she’d said and demanding that the Times produce a transcript (her Tweets demanding this appear to have been deleted but the Mail piece quotes them and I can confirm I saw them on Saturday). The Times not only did so but produced audio. She then defends her position by stating that she had instructed the journalist on how to use her quotes.
This is staggering from someone who considers themselves experienced enough to become prime minister. Interviewees at all levels need to understand that the journalist will consider themselves responsible to the editor and above all to the readers; if someone says something that is informative about their character and judgment, it gets reported. There is no “don’t use this quote in that way” – you can’t un-say things. If you don’t want it reported, don’t say it.
Leadsom emerges damaged, by this and by today’s revelation that she apologised to May by text rather than in person or at least with a call. She says in a statement today that she has been naive and she is right. It’s also That innocence in a person who might have to represent the UK in its negotiations with the EU as to some sort of deal on trade and movement might be unhelpful; in an negotiation with, say, Vladimir Putin, it could be positively dangerous.
Very few of us want to be prime minister. The lesson, though, is worth noting for anyone who’s going to be interviewed. Once you’ve said something, it’s said. The journalist doesn’t work for you and as long as the quote is accurate and in context we can use it as our judgment suggests is best. If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.
Do you need help with your interview technique and preparation? I can help – drop me an email for details by clicking here.
Photo: flickr: Policy Exchange
Pitching is difficult if you’re in public relations. As a journalist I’m relatively busy I like to think. So when someone who doesn’t know me calls up with a story pitch, it had better be good. “No thanks” is by far the easiest answer as I don’t have to make any effort to produce it.
I was reminded of this today when I had a pitch from someone who’d been trying to get me to meet their client for ages. He would be in my subject area, they told me. He’s interesting. You’d like him. Here’s a list of dates, they said, so I gave in and chose one. Then they asked the deadly question.
“What questions will you be asking and what areas interest you?”
Pitching can be courteous but ineffectual
That just sounds polite. Like a lot of journalists I don’t want to be told what to do. I don’t want to be told “such and such will not speak about such and such a subject”.
However, I didn’t have any strong feelings about the interview. I was going because they’d been persistent, not because I particularly wanted to speak to the client. “Who the hell are you” is a likely first question, not that I’d phrase it as such, and other questions will depend on the response.
I threw it back and asked what their client would want to talk about. They ummed and aahed a bit. In other words, they’d spent ages and a lot of energy setting up a meeting for which they had no real objective.
Know your destination
This approach is often the fault of the client. Get me some coverage, they say, and the PR team finds itself measured by the amount of journalists’ hands that get shaken. It’s a faulty metric but if your client uses it, I’m not going to hurl insults when you adopt it.
However, it’s better if you can work out some sort of game plan beforehand. Journalists are almost certain to ask why they should meet a particular executive, so tell us. We may well be receptive if there’s a good answer. We certainly won’t if there isn’t.
Today wasn’t the worst example of this that I’ve had. Many years ago (that’s right, I’m off again) I was sent to a press trip to America. There was a party, and in the middle of it all the European press were yanked out because the CEO of a company called cc:mail wanted to meet us, we were told.
(Never, ever, drag a bunch of twentysomething journalists out of a party. Or anyone, if it’s phrased like an order. It’s just rude.)
So they dragged us out and put us in a room with this CEO. He smiled at us, we nodded frostily.
There followed 45 minutes of the most strained silence I have ever endured. I imagine he’d been pulled out of the same party and told we wanted to speak to him.
The PR person blamed the journalists of course, it was easiest – I do wonder how much longer she lasted.
If you want to pitch to a journalist, great. Don’t let the fiercer ones put you off, we need interviews or we stop earning a living. Try, though, to have an idea of why we might be interested. You never know, we might even agree.
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