There has been much talk this morning about how David Cameron would be keen to appoint good communicators in his reshuffle today, with an election just two years away.
Communications skills are now seen as important in a politician’s or executive’s armoury, as a mastery of economic policy or marketing insight.
After all, what’s the point in having the most brilliant vision or ideas for your organisation, if you can’t communicate them to your staff, shareholders, customers or voters etc?
(If you’re in any doubt about this, just watch how big a role communication is playing in the Obama/Romney battle across the Big Pond.)
But even politicians who are experienced media interviewees can sometimes fail to make the most of the chance to talk to millions via the broadcast channels.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott seemed to fall into this category in a recent interview with Evan Davies on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Lord Oakeshott has previously been very good at ensuring a soundbite becomes tomorrow’s front page newspaper headline (he was the man who described George Osborne as a “work experience Chancellor”).
But in this particular discussion his first miscalculation was doing the one thing that angers the public most about political interviews – he didn’t answer the question.
He was asked what he made of a pollster’s analysis of where LibDem support lies. Instead of giving a view on it, he talked about how he’d worked with the pollster in the past and what that had led to.
That’s clearly old news and Davies knew it, so he rightly asked the question again, with notable irritation.
When a radio interview can be measured in seconds, you have to make EVERY second count. Put simply, get to the point.
Radio news interviews are short for good reason: journalists and producers recognise that listeners are not interested in every topic. If interviews are kept short, with luck uninterested listeners will not switch off, but hang on for the next topic which is just around the corner. So good presenters are skilled enough to spot obfuscation and cut through it.
They slice through it even more keenly when anyone threatens to land them in possibly the radio presenter’s most feared “hall of shame” – the one that’s home to anyone who commits the cardinal sin of “crashing the pips”.
Talking over the Greenwich Time Signal at the top of the hour is far more humiliating than burping in the Queen’s presence and just slightly less crushing than being booed by 80,000 spectators in the Olympic stadium…just ask the “work experience Chancellor”.
With 10 seconds to go to the “pips”, Davies attempted to wind up the interview. Lord Oakeshott had the opportunity to stop after a further five seconds, but kept going, forcing Davies to talk over him. It was a messy end to an untidy interview.
We often say in our training how journalists look for the “three Cs” – crisis, conflict and controversy. But delegates really should strive for another “three Cs” – clarity, conciseness, crispness.