Five big no-no’s for a live TV interview

rsz_1rsz_lord_bell_newsnightMuch has been made of the mind-bogglingly terrible BBC Newsnight interview given by Lord Tim Bell, the founder of the now-collapsed PR firm Bell Pottinger.  The car-crash appearance came in the wake of its highly controversial work for Oakbay Capital in South Africa, owned by the Gupta family.  Lord Bell made a bad situation worse by agreeing with interviewer Kirsty Wark that it was probably curtains for the company (which duly went into administration a few days later).   The so-called ‘master of spin’ was not in his usual professional form, to put it mildly, and had committed one of the big sins of a live television or radio interview – leaving his phone on, which duly rang twice during the broadcast as he struggled to put it on silent.  But there are other big media training no-no’s for anyone else having to ‘go live’ in the studio – here are our top five:
1. Don’t cut it too fine – a delayed taxi or train problems can mean you are in danger of arriving breathless and sweaty.  This is not the best impression to create, and you will not be focused on what you are there to do. At worst, you could miss the slot – then you’ve let everybody down.  Aim to arrive at least fifteen minutes before you’re asked, and gather your thoughts over a coffee.
2. Don’t have a drink in the Green Room (if there is one) – you need your wits about you.  Lord Bell had suffered a stroke earlier this year which presumably accounted for his speech sounding somewhat slurred, but appearances matter, and a lot of viewers on Twitter just thought he must have been drunk.
3. If things are getting heated, don’t add fuel to the fire.  At the time of the interview, there may have been scope to rescue at least something from the business.  But Lord Bell’s comment that it was ‘probably curtains’ for Bell Pottinger were damaging, and will certainly not have been welcomed by those at the company who were desperately trying to save their jobs.  He could instead have been equally honest but more sensitive, by saying something like “Well it will obviously be tough, but they have some very good people there and I know they’ll be working extremely hard to see what can be done’.  Sometimes it’s best to be a little diplomatic.
4. Don’t be elliptical or enigmatic – develop your point properly.  Many of Lord Bell’s answers were extremely brief, which can sound defensive.  When asked what had gone wrong, he replied ‘I think it can best be summed up by Walter Scott – ‘oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.’  Viewers were left to wonder to what or whom he was referring.  The sum total length of his first two answers combined was barely ten seconds.
5. Finally, don’t just put your phone on silent (the digital signals from an incoming call could still come through on air) but switch it off completely, to be on the safe side.  Double-check just before you go into the studio, to make sure.  If it rings, you look an idiot and it completely puts you off your stride.