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How nervous should you be when you’re about to be interviewed by a TV journalist? 

For more than thirty years, I took some pride in being a TV reporter who never forgot how nerve-wracking the experience could be for the vast majority of the people I interviewed.  

I’ve always believed that everyone was entitled to courtesy and — as the camera operator adjusted the camera, I checked my microphone and their heart rate rose — an understanding of the process they were about to submit themselves to. 

The aim of my media training now is to continue that habit: reassuring anxious people, so that they get their messages across, and the reporter gets a decent interview. 

In the first thirty minutes or so of most of my media masterclasses, I run a little 3 question quiz.  Here’s the first question:

Which option would you choose? 

Okay, so you’ve decided on that answer.  Now let’s ramp things up. 

Let’s say you’re not simply promoting what a journalist might call a ‘soft story’, you’re defending your organisation caught up in the middle of an almighty row — what that journalist would most certainly call a ‘hard story’.

Have the rules changed?

Now let’s take a third scenario. 

Let’s imagine now that you’ve again agreed to do the bold thing, but this time the reporter won’t be sitting in front of you — you’ll be live on air that evening from your HQ, with an earpiece in your ear, and the voice of a presenter in the studio asking you questions ‘down the line’.

Does that change things?

I could tease you at this point and say that if you want to know what I think, you’ll have to book me for my Mastering the Media Masterclass.  

But I’m a journalist-turned-consultant who now wants to help people as much as I want to earn myself money.  So let me tell you what I think right here. 

Question 1:  I reckon the correct answer is B — to “stop, ask the reporter if you can answer that last question again and continue.”

Why?  Because on an upbeat story like this, the reporter doesn’t want a botched answer any more than you do.  They want a soundbite that has passion, that’s animated, that helps explain something really clearly.  And — especially if they’re on a deadline — they’d rather do it then and there, than wait to the end and try to remember what the question was in the first place. 

Question 2:  I reckon the correct answer is, in nearly all cases*, also B — “pick your moment, ask the reporter what the first question will be, and how long the interview is likely to last.”  

Why?  Because you’re entitled to a fair shot at defending something difficult — but to ask for a list of questions in advance would fail to acknowledge that this is a conversation, with the reporter equally entitled to respond to your answers and develop a discussion.  It’s only fair, though, that you have an idea of how long the conversation will last, so you can pace your answers and the messages you are entitled to get across.   

(*An exception to this might be a senior public figure, who’s widely experienced in live media interviews, paid a generous salary to be accountable, and who should be fully equipped to answer any question that comes their way.  But other reporters may disagree with me on this!)

Question 3:  I reckon the correct answer would be A — ask your Press Officer to clarify details of what will be in the taped report, and what the line of questioning might be. 

Why?   Because you have a Comms and Media Relations team for a reason, and it’s their job to have discussions with the journalist.  That said, when conducting challenging interviews LIVE from the studio myself, I was always happy to speak direct to the interviewee in advance.  It showed courtesy and built trust on both sides, without compromising my ability to be rigorous in the questions I asked. 

So — to answer the killer question:  who’s really in control?  

You both are. 

And if that comes as a pleasant surprise, then my job is done.


If you’d like to experience what it’s like to be interviewed for TV — before you actually are — get in touch to find out about my Mastering the Media Masterclasses.  They’re aimed in particular at those who are nervous of the media, and I customise them to address the particular issues your organisation may face. 

 

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Get in Touch

If you find these forms a bit annoying, just give me a call on 07850 188620 or 01273 606246 — I always like to chat about how I might be able to help.  Or just send an email to john@johnyoungmedia.co.uk — letting me know what you have in mind, and we can take it from there.  If you do like the forms, don’t forget to put something in each box marked with a *.




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