Preventing on-air ‘brain fade’

It’s the moment that anyone being interviewed on radio and TV dreads – what Green party leader Natalie Bennett called the ‘brain fade’ she suffered in the middle of a car-crash LBC radio interview, while being quizzed on the party’s housing policy. There were long, awkward pauses while she gasped for air, clearly unable to answer some of the questions. I have some sympathy for Ms Bennett; anyone’s mind can go blank for a moment or two, when you simply can’t think what you were trying to say, or how to deal with the situation – you just have to hope it doesn’t happen while you are on the air. So what should you do if you have an interview coming up and fear freezing up in the same manner?

As all our media training clients know, the first thing is to be properly prepared. Ms Bennett has form on this; a month earlier she was mauled by Andrew Neil on Sunday Politics when she couldln’t answer basic questions about the costings of Green policies. That should have sent the alarm bells ringing – ‘no more interviews until I have answers to the tough questions!’ In the LBC case, she should of course have had the key facts and figures on the manifesto ready and waiting, but even in their absence she could have had a couple of points she could make, which might have bought time while she tried to recall some answers. Even a pretty lame sentence such as “I haven’t got all the figures on this to hand at at the moment, it’s been a busy day with lots going on, let me get back to you on that, meanwhile I think it’s worth pointing out that ….” would have been better than the embarrassing gasping for air.

The other piece of luck that the Natalie Bennett could have used, was the fact that she was on radio rather than TV on this occasion. The great thing about radio is that unlike when you are on camera you can have have a list of key bullet points in front of you, to glance down at while the interviewer is asking a question, so you can make sure you haven’t forgotten anything important. On this occasion that could conceivably have come to her rescue. She was heard rustling papers, but these obviously didn’t help – you need something tight and focused which you can scan in a second or two to find the key information.

It was later reported that Ms Bennett was ‘to undertake media training’ following the incident. Maybe she should have thought of this earlier.