It is not often a spokesperson feels the need to apologise after a media interview.
But that is what one chief executive did after his TV performance was met with damaging headlines and a social media backlash.
It came when Warren East, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, appeared on BBC News following the aerospace giant’s job cuts announcement.
Mr East was appearing by a video-link and produced a distracted performance, which seemed to show him smirk when presenter Victoria Derbyshire asked about the job losses.
He also seemed to be more interested in what someone in the same room as him was saying, repeatedly looking away from the camera.
It wasn’t a great look when delivering such bad news and it didn’t take long for the damaging headlines to kick in.
Here are a few examples.
Rolls-Royce boss smirks while announcing 9,000 job losses in BBC News interview Metro
Sickened Piers Morgan slams Rolls-Royce CEO for 'laughing' over job cuts in BBC interview Mirror
Awkward moment Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East SMIRKS as he discusses 9,000 job cuts in disastrous BBC TV interview Daily Mail
Social media was equally damning:
@RollsRoyce CEO Warren East, what an absolutely obnoxious, horrible man. Where is his compassion? Job losses may be necessary but that mans lack of humility is disgusting. People will lose their homes and livliehoods. Shame on you.— Rachael (@rachaelashley92) May 20, 2020
Thanks Warren East. While us who work there are panicking as whether we can keep out houses never mind our job you are laughing. Easy when you got paid 3.1 million a year i suppose. #RollsRoyce @BBCNews @BBC_HaveYourSay https://t.co/0FywcjwVTX— shockerhippy (@shockerhippy) May 20, 2020
Mr East subsequently apologised for his interview performance in a regional newspaper that covers its Derbyshire plant.
He said: During a BBC interview, I was actually caught a little off guard by the figures that were being used and looked to a colleague off-camera to see if I’d properly understood the question.
"I appreciate that didn’t come across at all well on a video call, for which I apologise.”
While it was good he apologised, the additional bad publicity his interviews created could so easily have been avoided.
Here are some tips for remote media interviews and videoconferencing .
Make sure that you do not have any distractions in the room where you are giving your online interview. This includes PR advisers and press officers.
Having someone else in the room makes it much more likely that you will break that crucial eye contact with the webcam – you’ll naturally be looking to see how your colleague is reacting to what you are saying.
When you look away from the camera to other parts of the room you can look shifty – not a good look when delivering bad news.
If you are unclear about a particular question, ask the journalist to repeat it. If you are unclear about the numbers the reporter is presenting, start your response by saying ‘those are not numbers I recognise’, before going on to use your own statistics.
Both these options are preferable to seeking the opinion of a third person who isn’t on the camera.
Body language is crucial in media interviews and can often trump the words you use. You must avoid smiling or laughing when delivering bad news. The audience is unlikely to find it funny – particularly if they are among the thousands who will lose their jobs - and it will make you seem distant from the bad news you are giving and uncaring.
Mr East is not the first interviewee to find this out to his cost recently. Politician Helen Whately endured a similar fallout when she appeared to laugh during an interview with Good Morning Britain about care home deaths.
Coronavirus and social distancing measures have made interviews via video conferencing software, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the new normal.
But they are far from normal and present spokespeople with different challenges to being interviewed in a studio.
This is why we are currently focusing on remote interviews in our training by videoconference courses.
Not only do these prepare you for this new interview format, but the skills learnt are also transferrable to post-lockdown media interviews. You’ll still learn crucial media training techniques like bridging and signposting, which are just as important in face-to-face interviews.
Avoid swivel chairs
Finally, this may seem fairly obvious, but after watching Mr East’s interview, it seems it needs repeating.
If you sit on a swivel chair for your interview, you will swivel. And that constant movement is likely to be hugely distracting for your audience. Similarly, avoid chairs with wheels as you may find yourself regularly altering your position.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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