If you want to understand the importance of media training, look no further than the Duke of York’s disastrous 2019 Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis, addressing allegations about his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Ill-prepared, naïve and insouciant, he became an object of ridicule, doing nothing to head off the scandal and instead damaging his prospects in an impending court case. It was the beginning of the end of his career in public life.
More recently, leading golfers who joined the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, breaking away from the established PGA and DP World Tours, were ambushed at a press conference on the eve of the first tournament. Asked if they would play in a competition organised by President Putin, or would have played in apartheid South Africa, they had no answer – though they should surely have anticipated hostile questioning.
"If Vladimir Putin had a tournament, would you play there?"
"Would you have played in Apartheid South Africa?"
Watch as multiple golfers duck the difficult questions about their participation in the new, Saudi-funded LIV Series 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/wlfHysE9L2
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOE_UK) June 9, 2022
Media training teaches you to deal with the tricky questions you do not want to be asked, as well as conveying the positive messages you want to communicate.
Here are ten essential tips you will learn from a media training session to prepare you for live broadcast interviews:
- Fail to prepare and be prepared to fail – you need to think about every aspect of a media interview, what you want to get out of it; the messages you are trying to convey; and the audience you are trying to reach
- Do your research – think about who is interviewing you; what interests them; whether they, or their media outlet, have a particular angle on the story or a history (positive or negative) with you or your organisation
- Understand the rules of engagement – journalists will not simply allow you to parrot a script, they will have their own angles they want to explore; the skill is not to ignore them but to pivot back to the subjects you want to discuss so your messages don’t get lost
- Think about what you don’t want to be asked – spending time thinking in advance about the awkward questions that could come up will help you to frame a strategy to respond to them more confidently
- Live broadcast interviews are a unique opportunity – instinctively, most of us would choose a pre-recorded interview over a live interview because mistakes can be edited out. But a live interview allows you to reach your audience directly and unfiltered on your own terms
- Time is short, don’t waste it – many live broadcast interviews are very short, five or six minutes at most, so you need to be focused to ensure you deliver your key messages in that time. Know what you want to say and how to say it succinctly
- Body language is a giveaway – live interviews can be daunting, but you need a strategy to stay calm. You need to look like you are in control, even if you are on the back foot. Never lose your cool or come across as too defensive
- Slow down – most of us talk too fast, especially when we are under pressure and we know that the interview time is limited. Deliberately slow yourself down, it can give you an extra split second of thinking time and will ensure you don’t gabble
- Plough on regardless – it is very rare that you will execute a flawless interview, but live TV is more forgiving than you think: slips of the tongue, brief pauses or brain fades are never as obvious to the viewer as you think, providing you stay calm
- Learn from the experience – watch yourself back, think about what worked and what didn’t; analyse whether you landed your key messages successfully or got diverted; keep topping up your training by having repeat sessions