How these spokespeople delivered gold medal-winning media interviews

It tends to be easier to find examples of media interviews that have gone badly wrong.

But we don’t just want to share the bad and the ugly with you in our media training blogs.

We also want to highlight those spokespeople who excel and deliver compelling interviews.

And our expert media trainers have been captivated by two excellent interviews.

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Let’s start with Dame Laura Kenny, who appeared on Channel 4 News after announcing her retirement from cycling.

Britain’s most decorated female Olympian has previously spoken about suffering a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy.

And as the interview came towards the finish line, she was asked about Kate Middleton and whether she sympathised with her desire for privacy during her health issues (before it was announced she was undergoing cancer treatment).

“I think health issues and what you go through personally should be kept completely quiet until you feel it is the right time,” Dame Laura said.

“Honestly, if someone had been speculating about what I had been through before I was ready, I think it would have broken me.

“It was a hard enough time as it was going through what we were having to go through, let alone any sort of speculation or gossip in the background.

“I fully believe any sort of health issues, be it pregnancy, be it illness, is your news to tell. I do believe it should be personal until you feel you are ready to speak out about it.”

Asked whether we should “give her a break”, she added: “You don’t know what is going on.

“These things could be delicate subjects. So, for me, yes, I used my platform to speak out, but it was on my terms.

“And I was very much ready to speak out about it.”

What media training lessons can we learn from this?

Well, firstly, it is a reminder that spokespeople need to consider what other subjects could be brought into the interview.

Dame Laura was announcing her retirement but found herself facing questions about the health and privacy of the Princess of Wales, a current hot topic in both mainstream and social media.

Anticipating these questions is one part of the process. You still need to answer them in a way that does not distract from the message you want to get across.

Expecting the unexpected is something we always stress during our courses.

And Dame Laura did that expertly, answering the questions in a way that didn’t say anything about royal health and then moved to the safer ground of her own experiences and how she felt at those times.

Chris Maughan, one of our expert journalist tutors, highlighted the interview to me. He said: “Dame Laura did very well.

“She stuck to her subject, namely her own situation.

“Many others would have been tempted into speculating about the Duchess’s health and privacy issues. 

“And importantly she did this seamlessly. At no point did it sound as though she was avoiding presenter Cathy Newman’s questions.

“She knew where she was heading - just as she did in so many velodromes during a distinguished sporting career.”

 

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The other interview that recently stood out to us for all the right reasons was provided by Professor Sir Chris Whitty.

England’s chief medical officer will always trigger memories of the pandemic press conferences beamed into our homes every day that made him a household name.

This time, he appeared on Radio 4’s The World at One (which you can listen to here at 17:10) ahead of the unveiling in Parliament of tough new anti-smoking measures, which include handing ministers the power to restrict the flavours and promotion of vapes.

Asked what he would say to those who believe the measures are an extension of the ‘nanny state’ and an infringement of the freedom of choice, he told a story from his early medical career.

He said: “I remember very vividly as a young doctor having been involved in an operation that removed a patient’s leg because smoking had led to a clogging up of the arteries.

“And this patient had to go outside and light up, weeping as they did it because they were trapped in addiction.

“That is not choice. It is an addiction that is doing enormous harm.”

It is a graphic, striking, memorable example.

You can picture the stark scene. You can almost sense the despair the patient must have felt.

And it sticks with you. I keep thinking about that story since I heard it.

It’s more impactful than facts and figures about the risks of smoking and vaping.

If anything, I think he could have spent a little more time on the story – people are fascinated by stories about other people.

During our media training courses, we stress to delegates the importance of adding plenty of detail to their stories and examples.

Names, ages, places and locations are the sorts of information that help draw people further into a story.

Imagine if we were told the first name of Professor Whitty’s patient or how old they were. It would make the story even more compelling and engaging.

Damian Watson, another member of our brilliant training team, said: “This story was doing the rounds all day and I'd heard and seen several interviews and arguments for and against restricting the promotion of vapes - to the point where I wasn't really engaged any more.

“Then I heard Chris Whitty's example, which stopped me in my tracks.

“It was just so vivid - almost shocking - and had such impact.

“It's my one 'take-away' from the whole day's coverage and illustrates perfectly the reason why we encourage spokespeople to give powerful examples in interviews."

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 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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