Get your message across in an interview – without sounding like a robot…

Former Labour party leader Ed Miliband, in a recent podcast, has talked about one of his most cringe-worthy moments as leader, back in 2011. In a pre-recorded interview with ITV news that turned into a bit of a car-crash, he was so keen to get his ‘key message’ across that he kept parroting almost the same words in his answers to every question. He admits now he ‘looked like a robot’. The interview is old but the lessons are current – without sounding like an idiot, how do you ensure your main point comes across in a broadcast interview, rather than ending up on the (now-metaphorical) cutting-room floor? In a ‘live’ interview you have to have your wits about you, to look for opportunities to legitimately make your points, while still answering the interviewer’s questions as far as practicable. I have heard PR people advise business leaders, particularly if they are in trouble, ‘whatever the question, just keep repeating your key message’ – but this is the opposite to what I would advise. It will just be blindingly obvious to all viewers/listeners that you are avoiding the question, and make you look a lot worse.
With a pre-recorded interview like Ed Miliband’s, the criteria are different. First, you need to understand if they are going to run the full interview, or at least a good part of it, including the interviewer’s questions – as in ‘earlier I spoke to Joe Blow and I asked him …’ In this case it’s best to treat the interview ‘as live’. Very often though, the broadcaster actually just wants a 20-second soundbite or two to be sandwiched between the scripted elements of a reporter’s ‘package’. This is the situation I imagine Mr Miliband thought he was in – in which case having a couple of goes at your key pre-prepared soundbite is a pretty good idea, to make sure the reporter is clear what you are trying to get across, and ideally has a couple of options he/she can work with. In this situation, if you think you haven’t got the point across succinctly, you can always ask if you can ‘have another go’. The critical mistake though is to imagine that your key message is actually the bit the reporter is looking for – it may not be. So you still need to answer the questions – just try to make sure that the central point you want to get across stands out as the punchiest soundbite in the interview, so the reporter is likely to choose it for broadcast ahead of any of your alternative answers.

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