Radio, as a medium for communication, can be one of the most effective for an interviewee.
Why? Because, if it’s live, what you say goes out without any editing or even manipulation. In other words, you’re unlikely to feel “my words were taken out of context” – an experience that can frequently follow a print interview.
Also, the audience only has your voice to concentrate on; there isn’t the visual distraction of your hairstyle, taste in ties, or dangly earrings, which can weaken a TV interview.
But this morning on Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today I heard an interview that was utterly ineffective for three key reasons:
Firstly, the interviewee – a shadow cabinet minister – totally ignored the first question. James Naughtie, the presenter, asked, “If it’s a rigged [energy] market, why did your leader not do anything about it when he was Energy Secretary?” The shadow minister simply said, “Well, one of the things we did do while in Government was…” and went on to repeat a point she’d already made.
This breaks the first rule of media interviews: do NOT ignore the question. If you don’t like the sound of it, at least simply acknowledge it and move on. She could have said, “Well, I totally disagree and in fact maintain the opposite was true. Indeed one of the things we did do was…”. She could have conveyed the same key message, but at least the listeners would have felt she’d dealt with the question. (Incidentally, the sentence we hear most often from delegates on our media training courses is: “I hate politicians, because they NEVER answer the question”.)
So Naughtie was rightly determined to make the politician answer the question and had another go, at which point the interviewee broke another rule: she kept raising her voice in an attempt to drown out the question.
This is pointless – never feel tempted to create a shouting match. If you really feel the interviewer is interrupting unfairly, then politely say, “If I can just finish my answer, I’ll happily come to your next question.”
Finally, she made the mistake of throwing the presenter’s name into the conversation – at least three times in as many minutes as it happens. On a hard news programme, this sounds inappropriately chummy and, particularly in a political interview, only strengthens the impression of the overly-cosy Westminster village. Referring to him as “Jim” and not “James” further amplified it.
As a listener, the only view I had of this interview was of an aggressive, inflexible and ultimately annoying interviewee.
By all means have a fiery debate – it makes great radio – but don’t pour fuel on the flames.