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?

By Pieter Cronjé, an independent consultant.

By Pieter Cronjé, an independent consultant

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!)

Do’s:

  • 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.

Do NOT:

  • 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.

 

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