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Spokespeople: Not Learning from our Mistakes

David Brewer

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David Brewer

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Last month I found myself writing a lengthy LinkedIn post about interview opportunities during COVID-19 and how important it is to remain professional even from the comfort of our own homes. I selected the now-infamous Professor Robert Kelly interview, where he is ‘gate-crashed’ by his children, closely followed by his wife, as an example of how things can go badly wrong very quickly. Less than five days on from that post we saw two more extraordinary examples of how not to do a video interview from home.

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On Sky, we saw journalist Deborah Haynes, interrupted by her son who wanted to know how many biscuits he was allowed to eat, whilst over on the BBC, Dr Clare Wenham was discussing the COVID-19 crisis when her daughter appeared behind her and started rearranging a unicorn picture. She then proceeded to strike up a conversation with the newsreader. Whilst these are very sweet in isolation, and the general public think they are hilarious, which they are, they are also a stark reminder to anyone who has a media interview coming up – without the appropriate planning, this could happen to you.

Now I know that on the surface these examples seem harmless, but the effect something like this can have on a person or a brand is significant. You have an opportunity to portray yourself as a thought-leader, discuss your business, explore your area of expertise, land some really neat core brand messaging, and involve a huge audience in a discussion that you care about. Anything that detracts from this and leaves the viewers thinking ‘I have no idea what the interview was about, but it was really funny’, is a failure. In fact, one of the aforementioned interviews was cut short due to the interruption – opportunity gone. Imagine if Boris Johnson was interrupted during a COVID-19 update, it would detract from his important updates and undercut what is a serious issue.

Even though we are currently seeing some form of ‘normality’ starting to return to UK business plc, it is not going to be a quick process. During this time, the 24-hour media machine continues to rumble on, and the need to speak to experts and interview people on a variety of subjects is ever-present. With this in mind, video interviews are here to stay, so people need to try and maintain the same level of professionalism that you would expect if they were live from the studio.

We need to ensure that we are learning from our mistakes. Whilst the Professor Kelly interview was incredibly cringeworthy to watch, and has racked up over 40 million views on YouTube, it was the first of its kind, so perhaps he can be forgiven for his mistakes (perhaps!). So, should Haynes and Wenham have known better? Should journalist Will Reeve have been wearing trousers in his interview last month (really!)? The answer is yes! With so much at stake, no matter if you are talking on a regional, national or international level, it is basic common sense to try not to replicate someone else’s slip-ups.

In my opinion, people view these scenarios as an ‘it won’t happen to me’ situation, and they are usually right. But isn’t it better to be sure? As a team that regularly provides media training to its clients you really start to see the difference between someone prepared and someone that is just going to ‘wing it’. Preparation is key when it comes to media interviews. Doing them at home simply adds another layer of possible problems that people underestimate.

So, what can be done to stop you from being the next Professor Kelly? Well, lots if I am being honest. It depends on how prepared you want to be, but just by thinking about how the interview might work and ensuring that your interview environment is suitable, is a big first step for many. Obviously, we would advise that you speak to an expert in the field so that you are prepared for any eventuality, know what core messages to talk about and how to handle questions you don’t like, but simple things like checking your broadband can handle a video call, or briefing the family so they don’t come bursting in playing their woodwind instruments will all help. Oh, and don’t forget that the camera can always see more than you think, so please for the love of god, wear trousers.

One quote that sums up this situation rather neatly is from Benjamin Franklin, who said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Basically, it is better to not have an opportunity and be prepared, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared. Why go through all the hard graft of organising the interview, if it is going to be ruined by a lack of preparation?

As I jump down off my soapbox, I just want to make sure that anyone with an interview coming up gives it a little bit of thought before assuming it will be OK. I hope that it is, but you are running a personal and organisational risk by being too gung-ho. For those of you that don’t have an interview planned, please continue to find the failed attempts hilarious, but do spare a thought for the poor person who has seen their moment in the spotlight burst into flames.

To find about more about media training and how we can help you, click here or contact us.

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