Very often you will turn up at Sky News or BBC News 24 to do a live studio interview and, once it’s over, you will be heading for your waiting taxi or sitting down for a cup of coffee as you recover. Your ordeal is over, you think to yourself.
Then, out of nowhere, a Sky or BBC reporter, accompanied by a cameraman, accosts you with a request to do another interview on the same subject. “But I’ve just done one,” you exclaim. “Ah” says the reporter “this is for a package”.
By that, the reporter means they are looking for a short soundbite from you, lasting 20 or 25 seconds, that will slot into a two-minute news report on the same subject as your live interview. TV newsrooms call this a ‘package’ because the reporter covering the story has to condense a fair quantity of TV material into one edited news ‘package’ that will go out on the air.
Alternatively, the reporter and cameraman might turn up at your office or the conference you are attending. If they’re covering a story about road traffic accidents, and you are a road safety expert, they might just ask you to meet them on a bridge spanning the M25 and they’ll do the interview there.
Either way, this is a pre-recorded interview – it’s not live. That gives you, the interviewee, a little bit of licence when it comes to making mistakes.
The key thing to remember is that however long the interview lasts, the reporter will use only one answer as the soundbite for their news package. The reporter will want that answer to be as ‘clean’ and lucid as possible. So, if you lose your train of thought or mumble a couple of words, or you just think you’ve given a useless response, there is absolutely no problem about asking if you can repeat the answer. The reporter would be more than happy to re-record the answer, as 25 seconds of you rambling would not make for a punchy soundbite in the middle of the package.
So, if you do fluff one of your answers, come clean with the reporter. Admit it: “Sorry. I messed that up. Let me do it again.”
Don’t immediately rush into a re-take, however. Take a moment or two to get your brain back into gear, so that the one or two points you want to make come out fluently and with some impact. Then, ask the reporter to put the question to you again. In other words, buy yourself a bit of time to think. Obviously, the reporter won’t want to be there all afternoon while you collect your thoughts – there are such things as deadlines in news – but unless he or she is in a real rush, they’ll be quite happy to accommodate you.
The only exception to this is if you make a real gaffe – i.e. you say something you simply should not have said. You’ve inadvertently disclosed that your boss’s job is on the line, for example, or that you don’t appear to have much confidence in your own company’s position on the issue in question. No sooner have you uttered the words than you realise just what you’ve let slip. On this occasion, the reporter might agree to a re-take but would be under no obligation not to use the answer you’ve just given. In other words, the reporter will be tolerant towards you should you wish to correct an answer, unless you say something which is genuinely newsworthy. On that occasion, he or she might not be prepared to meet your request to lose your original answer in favour of a re-take.
As with all interviews, it all comes down to preparation – making sure that you fully prepare what you want to say, thus diminishing the chance of committing a howler.