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Advice from Aberfield on how to make the most of your broadcast interview opportunities, including tips on avoiding the perils of the 'hot mic' and the importance of body language

Posted on Wed 17th Oct, 2018 by Phil Reed

When he was filmed earlier this year quietly singing “We’re in the money” before an ITV interview to discuss his firm’s merger with Asda, Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe became another in a long line of interviewees caught unawares on a microphone.

The supermarket chain’s hopes of a positive platform to extol the merits of its mega-merger were completely hijacked when the footage went viral.

It’s just one example of how all the work that goes into preparing someone for a primetime telly slot can go up in smoke even before the first question’s been asked.

But it’s not just retailer CEOs who get caught out. Fewer people are more thoroughly prepared for interviews than British Prime Ministers, but they still have a habit of falling foul of the so-called ‘hot mic’.

Whether it’s John Major calling several of his Cabinet colleagues “bastards”, Gordon Brown referring to a voter as a “bigoted woman” or David Cameron having a pop at Yorkshire folk, it seems our PMs have a habit of forgetting when microphones are switched on and when they’re not.

So if our most experienced politicians can be caught out so easily, what chance does someone who only does a very occasional interview have?

Which is why good media training is so valuable – not just in terms of interview performance, but in how to avoid some of the pitfalls that could turn a positive appearance into an embarrassing one.

Here at Aberfield we’ve trained dozens of execs on how to handle the media, so we thought we’d share a few of our top tips with you. For free. Because we’re like that.

Assume a mic is always switched on

Broadcasters don’t always play fair, as Mike Coupe learnt to his cost.

Microphones can be left on – accidentally or not – when an interview’s finished, or a camera can still be rolling. The fact it’s not part of the broadcasted segment doesn’t mean any untoward comments or gestures before or after the interview won’t end up in the public domain. In the cases of Coupe and Major, the footage was leaked.

There’s a basic rule to follow: if there’s a microphone or camera in front of you, assume it’s switched on and recording. Keep focused (and keep schtum) until you’re well clear of any recording equipment.

Mike Coupe’s ITV interview was actually OK, but very few will remember it. Millions, on the other hand, will recall the singing and the subsequent (and very public) apology.

It ain’t what you say…

A good radio or TV interview isn’t just about what you say. How you look, how you behave and how you sound can have a major bearing on how successful your interview will be. That’s because the non-verbal element of communication is so important.

It’s human nature to pick up on non-verbal cues when others speak. You might think 100% of your attention is on what they’re saying, but the fact is up to 90% of what we register is based on things like eye contact, facial expression and tone of voice.

That means you need to think as much about your body language and tone of voice as you do your key messages.

So when you’re preparing for your interview, practice with someone who’ll give you honest feedback. Failing that, a mirror will do, or use your phone to record yourself. Work on it until you’re confident how you look, and sound, enhances what you want to say.

Choose the right spokesperson

The best interviews are more like conversations than Q&As. That requires the interviewee to be open and confident, even if the message is a difficult one.

The majority of organisations automatically default to their CEO or MD when it comes to media interviews. But if the CEO has had a personality bypass, or the MD is naturally defensive with journalists, they may not be the best people to represent their brands.

Good training might help eradicate (or disguise) some of those faults, but sometimes it’s just simply that the boss isn’t the best choice.

For that reason, it’s a good idea for organisations to have a range of spokespeople to call on. Depending on the nature of the interview, you can then choose the person whose approach and delivery will enable your key messages to be communicated the most effectively.

More top tips

Next time we’ll be sharing some advice on the best ways to prepare for a media interview, so keep a lookout for that on the Aberfield blog.

In the meantime, if you want to know how our media training services could help you, please get in touch.

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