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The killer question for anyone being interviewed for the TV News: who’s really in control? 20 May 2022

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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