Sometimes when I watch or listen an interview on the news, I can tell immediately that an interviewee has been media trained.
There are some tell-tale clues, one of which is the use of particular phrases.
These are often ‘bridging phrases’, phrases which are designed to move an interviewee away from a tricky question so they can answer the one they wished had been asked.
Everyone will have heard these (particularly from the mouths of politicians):
‘That’s a very good question, but can I first say that …’
‘I think the most important point here is …’
During our media training courses, we aim to show our potential interviewees how to be a bit more subtle than that.
In (almost) all cases, you must acknowledge the question – the audience generally doesn’t warm to those who steam-roller over reporters, just as it doesn’t necessary warm to reporters who steam-roller over interviewees, unless they’re felt to be fair game. But aim to do so in a natural manner, before moving on.
Bridging phrases, however, aren’t my biggest personal bugbear.
No, my biggest bugbear pops out of the mouths of any spokesperson when his or her organisation or business or government department, or whatever, is facing some kind of problem, crisis, disaster, which has impacted on others in some way.
‘Our thoughts are with the family/friends/spilt cup of tea/pet hamster/overflowing rubbish bin’: delete as applicable.
This phrase is normally delivered at the earliest opportunity, and with minimal sincerity.
How often do you hear that phrase and believe that the person uttering it actually means it, is actually bothered by what’s happened?
Yes, if your organisation has in some way caused harm, or a problem, then you have to demonstrate that you are concerned about what has happened, and express sympathy for the ‘victims’.
But for goodness sake, find a form of words which is more personal to you, more relevant to the circumstances, and not such a CLICHE.
And above all, sound like you mean it.
Any crisis communications trainer worth their salt will tell you, you must express regret, but make sure that whatever you say is:
- proportionate – your thoughts don’t need to be with anyone, unless a relative has died
- relevant – related to the individual circumstances
- sincere – your expression and tone of voice are all important
- personal – you will come across far better if you giving your own reaction to the problem and make it clear that you are bothered by it.
And remember our advice from last week’s post about crisis communications, to make sure you put the problem in context, and make it clear you are taking action to rectify whatever it is that has happened.
Are there any phrases you would like to ban from media interviews?
If you would like help with media training or crisis communications, then do give us a call on 020 8332 6200 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org.