How to feel confident around journalists bombarding you with difficult questions? Anna Wates shares tips from the media training for charities we recently hosted.
The thought of being grilled by a journalist live on air used to fill me with terror. Yet after attending our media training event in August, I feel just that bit more empowered should the situation ever arise. nfpSynergy hosted a day of workshops and presentations, delivered by media trainers Inside Edge, as part of the Understanding Charities Group – a cross-sector alliance aimed at improving public trust and understanding of charities. Attendees such as myself were challenged with answering some of the tough questions posed by the media to the charity sector, sometimes in just 90 seconds! Initially, this felt like a daunting task, but with a few easy techniques from our trainers, it seemed less intimidating.
The potential for long-lasting reputational damage which can result from a media attack only emphasises the importance of knowing how to handle a difficult interview. To help avoid this, we thought we’d share some useful tips we picked up during the day.
One of the most useful things I took from the training was that, contrary to how it might feel at the time, you – the interviewee – have power to move the conversation in the direction you want. You’re there to explain and offer insight, and this means an opportunity to highlight important issues. With this in mind, come prepared with what you hope will be a compelling, newsworthy piece of information – something so irresistible the interviewer will have to pursue it further, and thus bring the conversation back onto ‘home turf’.
In doing this, it may be useful to think about what you want your audience to remember. Use specific examples – talk about real people – to give the listener a memorable phrase, fact, or image.
Given the time constraints you’re often under in an interview situation, however, it may seem difficult condensing your answers into the kind of bite-sized proportions that are easily digestible on air. Yet here’s where another technique can come in handy: focus on the issue. In focusing too much on process or background, you risk neglecting the most important part of what you’re trying to say – the broader meanings or implications of the information. Expressing yourself in writing and conveying information verbally are two different things, and demand varied approaches.
It may be useful in this regard to approach the interview as a conversation. Thinking of it in this way might positively influence the kinds of words you use. As such, be careful to avoid acronyms, or other sector-specific language, as these might alienate your audience. Use plain, accessible language instead. You probably have experience of this already, for example with friends at the pub or when speaking to an inquisitive aunt over Christmas pudding.
You can listen to our very own Joe Saxton putting some of these techniques into action when speaking on BBC Radio Four’s You and Yours programme about charity salaries.
As part of the Understanding Charities Group, we’re keen to host further events of this kind to help strengthen the charity sector. Watch this space for more info on future events, or let us know what topics you’d like us to focus on in the comments below.