“Yo! Great to be here bro!”
Okay, I admit that’s not the best way to respond to the first question in a media interview, but given Boris Johnson, on becoming Conservative Party leader, declared, “Dude! We are going to energise the country!”, it’s tempting to think informality is the way forward.
This brings me to three interviewees I heard on the radio yesterday morning, who responded at the top of their interviews with, “Hiya”, “Hi there” and “Hello, thanks for inviting me on. How are you?”.
These are all, to hark back to Johnson’s joke, dud ways to begin.
When you’re invited on a flagship news programme to give your expert opinion on serious unrest in another country, as was the case with one of the interviewees yesterday, you’re not going to convince anyone of your gravitas when you begin with the word “Hiya!”. This is national radio, not a student station.
Your opening words are like a verbal handshake – they should be firm, authoritative and confident, not the oral equivalent of a tie-dyed T-shirt. The listener, rightly or wrongly, makes a judgment on your first utterance: is this someone I can believe or trust, someone worthy of my time and attention?
Next we come to that “Hi there” – words uttered by another observer of foreign politics, this time being asked to comment on an upcoming European summit. It’s way too casual, as if the speaker had stumbled into the studio in his flip-flops, mid-way from the sun-lounger to the beach bar.
And finally, let’s address the cheerful, grateful bonhomie of, “Hello, thanks for inviting me on. How are you?”. Please remember you’re there because the news editor believes you have something valuable to say that will inform and possibly even entertain the audience, depending on the subject, and above all to add to the story. There’s no need to express thanks – you’ve not been granted an audience with the Queen or the Dalai Lama. If anything, it’s the programme that should be grateful to you – you might well have helped them by agreeing to come in at short notice and saved the proverbial bacon of some lowly researcher, who was being bellowed at by the news editor to “Get me some spokesperson from company XYZ for the slot at 8.07am now!”. Until you agreed to come in, that poor soul was facing the terrifying prospect of “dead air” – the career-ending catastrophic sound of silence.
What makes this final opening salutation even worse is it wastes essential time. You might think you have all the time in the world to give your view, but you don’t. At best you’ll probably have about four minutes. Note that “At best” – truth is you might have barely uttered your first answer when the presenter hears in their earpiece that there’s been a major tsunami in Asia, a plane’s been hi-jacked over Los Angeles or a member of the Royal family has suddenly been admitted to hospital, in which case your interview is just as suddenly over.
What a shame if all you’ve managed to say, after getting up at the crack of dawn to make your way to the studio, is, “Hello, thanks for inviting me on. How are you?”!
And if that’s not reason enough to ditch this kind of cheery opener, then please heed this: no-one, least of all the presenter, is interested in how they are. Can you imagine how dull it would be if every interviewee, when introduced to the audience, replied, “Thank you. How are you?”. No presenter wants to waste time replying, because they know their audience doesn’t care…especially after the umpteenth time. Just get on with expressing your key messages.
A media interviewee is a golden opportunity for you to achieve something – raise your company’s profile, explode a damaging myth, restore your organisation’s reputation or just raise awareness of your amazing products; it’s not a polite drawing-room discussion over port and cigars.
Think of a TV or radio interview as a sprint, not a genteel perambulation along the broadcasting promenade. Hit the ground running and give it all the energy and focus you have until you cross the finish line and hear the presenter say, “Thank you Mr/Mrs X…Now let’s catch up with the weather/sport…”
So there we have it – how not to begin a media interview. I just have time to bid you cheerio and say thank you so, so much for reading. Bye for now and see ya later!
(See what I mean?)