When millions are watching: Preparing for ‘going live’
It’s showtime! You have to face a journalist, or radio or television presenter for a live interview. Or a tense shareholder, stakeholder, union or staff meeting. If you get it wrong, it is there for all to see – and to remember and talk about. How can you prepare for ‘going live’, when thousands, if not millions, may be watching?
The importance of communication skills – your ability to convey your expertise simply so others will understand and appreciate it – can’t be overemphasised. These skills will help you face what I regard as probably the toughest test for a communicator – a live interview about a controversial issue with a hostile presenter. These ‘media skills’ will also help you in other tough communication spots, even during difficult conversations or meetings.
Based on many years of personal experience as a print journalist, a broadcasting manager and a spokesperson for top organisations, I’ve put together a basic Media Survival Kit for when you are ‘out there’ facing the masses:
In general, always remember:
- You are the expert – it is part of your job, not a burden
- An interview enables you to talk to thousands, even millions – think how long this would take you otherwise
- You are shaping the image of your organisation or cause (and your own!)
- Respond quickly, be available
- Know your facts and stick to them
- Use clear and simple language
- Stick to your own area of responsibility and expertise
- Be courteous and professional, and do NOT get angry
- Clarify the deadline and the angle of the story
- Keep commitments and meet deadlines
- Offer to review a draft, but remember – the journalist is not obliged to supply it
- If the draft is sent to you, correct factual errors only – not the tone or style
- If the topic is controversial or technical, respond by e-mail
- In a crisis, stick to one spokesperson – tell the truth, tell it all and tell it fast, followed by facts as they unfold
- Keep Atmosphere Communications in the loop if you are contacted by a journalist.
- Attack ‘the media’, ‘journalists’, or the interviewer
- Guess, speculate or panic
- Give ‘off the record’ comment
- Complicate matters
- Threaten anyone
- Be arrogant.
In the case of a radio or television interview, think about the following:
- What is the topic? Who is the audience?
- When? Where? How long?
- Is it live or recorded?
- Which programme? Who is the presenter/host?
- Who else is participating?
- Is this a telephonic or studio interview?
- Is this a phone-in, will the lines be opened?
- What is the angle of the programme?
- Get all contact details – studio, producer
- Accept short deadlines
- Learn the art of the ‘sound bite’ (telling your story in a short elevator ride)
- Avoid technical jargon and buzzwords – keep it short and simple
- Long answers are difficult to edit and you may not like the end product
- Short answers often escape edits and allow you to cover more ground
- Stay calm, focus, stay on message
- Stay informed, be available
- Answer the direct question first, then elaborate if necessary
- Looking at documents will distract you, and break important eye contact
- Once you are in or near a studio, watch your language, conversations or mobile calls – they could be on air!
- Talk to the presenter, not the listeners (except in a very relaxed interview).
Pieter Cronjé is independent consultant in communication, marketing and business strategy, and adviser to clients of Atmosphere Communications.