On Sunday, an interview was broadcast between President Barack Obama and Andrew Marr.
In the interview, President Obama provided a masterclass in how to conduct an interview.
It was pre-recorded, so of course we don’t know how much or what was edited out. But my guess would be not much, since the time Andrew Marr was allocated for the interview would have been short, and the BBC would not want to cut out – and waste – much when they had secured such a prestigious interview.
This was a serious interview. It lasted 20 minutes – enough time to explore several issues in great depth and President Obama was not afraid to do this – there was no sense that this was ever going to be a superficial chat about the pressures of the presidency and what he felt about his forthcoming visit to Britain and whether he was going to meet the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
I’m not a political correspondent, or a foreign affairs specialist, so there are others far more qualified to analyse the content of the interview. But what I’d like to do here is discuss briefly the President’s performance as an interviewee.
Throughout the interview, the President was calm and collected, gracious and charming. He was confident and assured.
He is clearly a highly intelligent man, and he came across as someone who was very comfortable with himself – he wasn’t trying to pander to a particular audience with his demeanour, and he was not afraid of showing his intelligence.
He was thoroughly prepared and on top of his brief. He probably would have known the scope of the interview, although it’s highly unlikely he would have known the individual questions, but no matter what question Andrew Marr posed, he was prepared and knew what he wanted to say.
And he made sure that he did so.
But that didn’t mean he ignored every question in a desperate bid to deliver his key messages – as some politicians often seem to do. He gave each one proper consideration and answered it properly.
However – when he needed avoid answering a question, he was able to do so extremely skilfully.
One example was his answer about the question of the reality that Bin Laden would always be killed in the Pakistan raid, despite the order being to ‘kill or capture’ Bin Laden. One did not even really notice he’d ignored the question, and within his answer, he was able to pay tribute to his men and display gratitude that there were so few casualties.
Another was his answer about whether he would veto the application of Hamas and Fatah for recognition of statehood from the UN.
Humanity and humour
Although he came across as thoughtful and serious, President Obama wasn’t afraid to display his human side and his vulnerabilities, which we always advise our trainees as being vital for interviewees to reach out to their audience. For example, talking about his reaction to that Bin Laden raid, he said: “That was a long a 40 minutes as I care to experience in my presidency.”
And he displayed humour and grace: talking about the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, and about how his daughters rode in a carriage in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Despite having a somewhat anti-British reputation, he paid tribute to our Queen, saying ‘we’re very proud of her’, and holding her up as a symbol of decency for the world.
And his response to the possibility of having completely private audiences with the Queen, as David Cameron is able to: “Well I don’t know if anybody shoots the breeze with Her Majesty, the Queen. But…”
This is an interview that everyone who is facing a serious interview on a serious programme with a serious interviewer should watch.
It might well be one that we should start showing at the beginning of our media training sessions as an example of what to do – followed perhaps by some other US politicians showing what not to do!
Have you watched it? What did you think?