“Don’t interrupt – it’s rude!”
Many adults have said this – usually to a very vocal child – but what do you say to a journalist who keeps butting in when you’re trying to make your point during a media interview?
Do you tell them not to be so rude? Do you just ignore them and carry on regardless? Do you raise your voice and sound increasingly annoyed, as seemed to be the case on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme and on BBC TV when Chris Nineham from Stop The War was asked about demonstrations over the conflict in Syria?
(He also called a question “trivial” and said another question was putting words in his mouth. Tip no. 1: It never pays to “shoot the messenger”.)
You actually should do something different to all of the above, but before we come on to that, it helps to explain why the journalist might be barging in.
A media interview is not a normal conversation and so different rules apply.
No matter how good an interviewee you might be, you must acknowledge you will never have total control of the interview, and accept the broadcast journalist will always have more than you. But that’s usually because they are themselves governed by something else – the clock.
It dictates when they must “hit the pips”, when they must cross to the sports desk, when it’s time for a traffic update etc.
And because it’s a cardinal sin of broadcasting to “crash” any of those, they may well have to interrupt you to ensure they cross to them bang on time.
So don’t take the interruption personally.
A second reason why they might butt in is because although you should always approach an interview with specific things you want to convey, the presenter may well have different points they want discussed.
Imagine you’ve created a new vacuum cleaner that is twice as powerful as the market leader, but the presenter has discovered ahead of the interview that it will be made in a Romanian factory.
Don’t be surprised if the presenter wants to spend a large chunk of the interview on how the EU referendum result might have influenced your production decision, how the tumbling value of sterling might affect your business and ask what difference a “hard” or “soft” Brexit might make to you.
If you simply go on relentlessly about the wonderful qualities of your super-suction, whizz-bang vacuum cleaner, you will be interrupted. Frankly, if that’s all you’re prepared to talk about, buy some advertising space.
Sometimes the journalist will interrupt to challenge assertions you’re making in your statements – it’s their job to test the veracity of what you’re saying, especially if you’re talking about “evidence” or something being “proven”.
Director Josh Fox didn’t seem to appreciate this – also on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – just hear him sigh at the end of the interview and apparently carry on talking as the sports report began!
So how do you make your key points, despite interruptions?
If you really don’t feel you’ve had a chance to make your point, simply acknowledge the fact the reporter is asking you something different, rather than ignore them, so:
“I’ll come on to that point in a moment, but just to finish what I was saying to your first question, this new appliance will revolutionise the way we clean our homes because it will halve the time we spend doing it; but to respond to your question about why it’s being made in Romania…”
As long as the presenter knows you will address their question shortly, there’s a good chance they’ll let you finish your point.
If they’re doing their job properly, never forget that they are simply asking what they believe their audience wants asked.
If you fail to acknowledge that, you’ll annoy the journalist, but, more importantly, you’ll anger your audience.
And remind me again, who is it you want to buy your new vacuum cleaner?
Overlook that key point and you’re dust…