For me one of the stars of the current election bunfight being played out on our tv screens is Evan Davies… who last September accepted the Newsnight poisoned chalice following Jeremy Paxman’s departure amidst much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the Paxmanistas who argued that the BBC was dumbing down and that the Dragon’s Den frontman would give politicians an easy ride compared to the bloodsport of a typical Paxo grilling.
How wrong they have proved to be. Davies’ more reflective style has been showcased to great effect over recent weeks in his 30 minute interviews with the party leaders. As you’d expect, his grasp of the economic detail is second to none, but his departure from the sneering rottweiller school of interviewing should give us all food for thought.
Specifically how would YOU feel if you were called on to represent your organisation at a time of crisis? And if you had the choice, which of course you won’t, would you rather be Paxoed or Evanned?
Watching David Cameron and Ed Miliband try to handle Davies’ style also demonstrated to me how both politicians came out fairly well. Yes of course Cameron didn’t answer Davies’ question about exactly where the planned £12 billion of welfare cuts will fall. And Miliband remained coy about exactly how much money Labour are planning to borrow to fund their spending programme but I believe both came out as well as their PR teams could have expected.
That is, they didn’t collapse and start frothing at the mouth when Davies smiled his Dr Who smile and said to Cameron “Since 1992 the Conservatives haven’t won a majority in the House of Commons? Why do think that’s the case?” Or when he wrong-footed Ed Miliband by simply asking “What’s happened to the number of jobs?” in relation to the last 5 years of coalition government and he was forced to answer that the job figures have indeed risen.
So are there lessons for those of us who may be thrust into the media spotlight with little or no notice? Well, both politicians were across their briefs, and when they were faced with sphincter-tightening moments (of which there were a few) they simply repeated their “bigger picture” mantra and ducked the question, in both cases, on a number of occasions.
But they’re politicians. That’s what they do. As tv viewers we may not like it but at least we can click the remote or cast our vote as appropriate.
But if you’re head of a company which has just made 200 job cuts or discovered that an employee with a previously great track record has just run off to join Isis, how would you deal with media intrusion into your life?
The rules of the interviewee game are fairly simple and straightforward whether you’re a politician or a postman but they’re not easy. And I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to adopt the politicians’ technique of ducking the question by just repeating what you said a few moments earlier or talking over the interviewer and giving the impression that you have actually answered the question when in reality you’ve come nowhere near, because you’re afraid people won’t vote for you if they hear the really bad news before they go into the polling booth.
How to be interviewed…. 3 simple rules.
[ There are more but this will do for starters and may hopefully start a few brains ticking….]
Work out beforehand what you want to say to the reporter and practise, practise and practise saying it. Get a trusted colleague to listen to you who will give you honest but constructive feedback. What are the 3 main things that you want to get across? Say them in a concise way using ordinary language not jargon or too many statistics.
Know which audience you’re addressing. The Today programme on Radio 4 or Newsnight on BBC 2 is clearly a different audience to your local radio station. Tailor the style of your message.
Don’t try to pretend you’re someone you’re not. BE YOURSELF. Be polite, stay calm (on the outside!) and listen to the question. If you don’t know the answer to a question make sure you address the overarching issue so the audience knows you’re across the situation.
That may sound easy but every day you see and hear interviewees breaking the rules. And their message suffers.
The next time you watch an Evan Davies or Jeremy Paxman interview put yourself in the position of the interviewee for a few minutes and think about how you might react in a similar situation.
And then console yourself with the thought that they’re probably not going to knocking on your door any time soon. But who might? Well the local news reporter might be a more likely option and if that’s the case are you prepared for his/her questions? What style is it likely to be?
And are you likely to be Paxoed or Evanned?