Do you know what we found annoying about this interview?

We’ve written before in our media training blogs about spokespeople who start their responses with ‘so’.

It’s an infuriating habit we continue to hear in TV and radio interviews.

But, after listening to a radio interview yesterday morning where a spokesperson used a filler phrase 31 times, ‘so’ is not the only expression harming responses.

Gillian Keegan, the minister for apprenticeships and skills, appeared on LBC and tested my tally chart skills by saying ‘you know’ in almost every answer.

On some occasions, it was used several times in the same response.

Asked whether it was fair to expect students to pay more than £9,000 when courses will continue to be blended in the autumn term, the politician said: “Some of the blended lectures, you know. I was looking at one the other day with FE (Further Education) colleges, and they can get speakers from abroad that they can never normally get.

“They can get, you know, access to a broad range of, you know, very high-quality lectures which are made easier from being online.

“So, I think there will be some element of blended that will benefit people.”

There were a similar number of ‘you knows’ when Ms Keegan faced a question about whether she was sad to see the nurse who looked after Boris Johnson resign and return to New Zealand.

She said: “Yes, I am (sorry to see her go). But, you know, I think there are a lot of nurses from New Zealand here and from many countries here. You know, nursing is one of those professions that is, you know, very transferable.”

When Ms Keegan began a response to a question about queues at Heathrow Airport, with “Look, you know”, presenter Nick Ferrari said, “Well, I don’t know actually.”

There are many more examples I could quote. Not just from this interview, but also from one she gave to Talk Radio yesterday that I have heard in part.

And it is a shame she was so reliant on this filler expression because there were some good parts to the LBC interview.

She dealt well with a question about her holiday plans in the summer, talking about her hope to travel to her home in Spain if it is put on the ‘green list’.

And she responded confidently when Mr Ferrari asked whether she knew what nurses get paid – a response that earned a “well done” from a presenter who has a reputation for skewering politicians with questions about figures.

But what is the problem?

Well, when a spokesperson uses filler expressions like ‘you know’, ‘look’, or ‘so’ excessively it distracts audiences and prevents them from hearing the message.

It can also create the impression the interviewee is unsure of themselves or the subject they are discussing, particularly when used in response to tough or challenging questions.

They can sound nervy and uncertain.

We are often asked on our media training courses – which can now be delivered face-to-face and remotely - what spokespeople can do to stop using filler words in interviews.

We tell them not to worry too much about the occasional ‘ah’, ‘um’ or ‘erm’. We all use them and they sound natural. Audiences rarely notice them.

But they are aware of this newer breed of filler words, and they often jar.

One issue for some spokespeople is they are not aware of just how often they use these phrases. It can be a bit of an eye-opener on our media training courses when we play recordings back to the delegates.

And we would recommend that spokespeople listen and watch their performances – being aware there is an issue is the first step to resolving it.


Find ways to relax

Often spokespeople revert to filler words and phrases when they are feeling nervous. Take a deep breath before an interview and view it as a conversation. Being relaxed doesn’t mean you will lose control of what you are planning to say.


Slow down

Speaking quickly in a media interview can not only cause your audience to struggle to keep up with the points you are making, but it can also see spokespeople use filler words as their brain tries to catch up and think what they are going to say next.

Slow the pace of responses, pausing occasionally to add emphasis to key points and allow yourself to gather your thoughts.


Silence is golden

Instead of uttering a filler phrase while you think about what to say, briefly stay silent while you gather those thoughts. You don’t need to verbalise your thought processes.

Although the silence may feel like an eternity for you, the audience is unlikely to notice it and, even if they do, they will think you are just considering your responses.


Include more examples and stories

Stories and examples are a crucial component of strong media interview performances. They bring answers to life and make messages memorable. And they often allow spokespeople to talk more fluently and confidently, particularly when they are personal anecdotes.  


Get media training

As I’ve already said, an unconfident spokesperson is more likely to fall into the trap of using filler words and phrases. It’s critical that anyone being asked to speak to the media has had the chance to take part in recent and modern media training.


About to face the media? Get your media interview homework off to the best start by downloading your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 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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