One of the keys to making the most of an opportunity during a radio interview is to “paint a picture with words.” The speaker on a recent appeal on the BBC’s Radio 4 did just that.
Sam, a doctor with the organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, was appealing for donations from the public to help with their work in Southern Sudan, where very few people can get hospital treatment.
Sam told the story of a young woman who arrived at the hospital one morning, obviously exhausted after a very long walk to get there. As the doctors started to ask questions, the woman opened the bag she had been carrying to reveal the three faces of her newly- born triplets. She had given birth to them on her own but realised they needed help and set off on the long trek to the hospital. All three babies were very cold, said Sam, but they all survived.
Sam told this story so simply but so well that she took us to Sudan over the airwaves. Whatever subject you speak about on radio and for whatever purpose, it always helps to tell us about individual people and just describe their lives.
Two other examples of effective communication, in very different situations, have come from Libya and the World Athletics Championships.
During the long weeks of fighting in Libya, NATO spokespeople and the politicians have stuck determinedly to their message that they are “protecting the Libyan people from Gaddafi, not seeking regime change.” They have maintained the line well, despite the obvious scepticism of interviewers.
I was also impressed with the way that Jessica Ennis, Britain’s heptathlete, responded to the disappointment of winning silver rather than gold at the World Athletics Championships in South Korea. She was calm, didn’t over-react and even managed to smile during her post event interviews.
She even convinced me that the old sporting cliché of “taking something positive” away from a defeat, may actually be true in her case.
Neil Bennett has worked as a BBC correspondent in crime, home affairs, sport and health.