How does your spokesperson react when their responses are interrupted by a journalist during a media interview?
Interruptions are a regular feature of media interviews, yet they are something that many interviewees struggle to cope with.
They can result in a spokesperson losing their train of thought, their composure and the support of the audience.
And that’s why our current working journalist tutors regularly interrupt delegates giving interviews during our media training courses.
We can probably all recall interviews where a spokesperson has faced several interruptions.
Probably the most infamous example of this came several years ago when John Humphrys interrupted the then home secretary David Blunkett 30 times in 11 minutes during a particularly bruising encounter.
Most spokespeople are extremely unlikely to face interruptions on that scale - Humphrys received a telling off from his employers for the constant interruptions. And the vast majority of interviews will not last anywhere near that long.
But spokespeople will face interruptions. How they manage them is key.
Here are some tips spokespeople can take to reduce their chances of being interrupted and, if they are, avoid them becoming a distraction:
Expect to be interrupted
One of the best ways to avoid interruptions ruining an interview is to be realistic and accept that you are likely to be interrupted at some point – it happens in the majority of interviews.
If you expect it to happen then you are less likely to be caught off guard and become annoyed and far more able to take them in your stride.
Consider how you can prevent these interruptions from distracting the audience from the message you want to get across.
There are a few crucial steps spokespeople can take to reduce the chances of a journalist feeling compelled to interrupt.
One of the key ones is to avoid being evasive. If a reporter believes that you are completely ignoring their question, they will very quickly intervene and ask the question again. This can rapidly turn into a heated exchange.
Rambling responses, especially ones which attempt to make multiple points, should also be avoided. Journalists know that long, complex answers can be hard for audiences to follow and that they will either zone out or switch off altogether. So they will often interrupt when they feel spokespeople are rambling.
A journalist is also likely to interrupt if a spokesperson sounds robotic or like they are regurgitating a press release or statement. Putting messages into your own words and supporting them with human and, where possible, personal examples, is crucial.
Let’s face it, none of us like to be interrupted when we speak. It can be hugely frustrating and feels rude. And it is infuriating if it happens repeatedly.
But it is vital that spokespeople do not get rattled by these interruptions and avoid showing any frustration.
If they start to show their irritability the interview can very quickly descend into a hostile exchange. That usually makes for compelling listening and viewing, but the audience will remember little of what was said. They will simply know that they’ve just witnessed an on-air argument. And that means that messages have been lost.
Avoid trying to raise your voice to talk over the presenter – no-one will be able to understand what is being said when two people are speaking, or shouting, at the same time – and instead maintain a calm tone.
Wait for the reporter to finish their interruption and then say something like ‘just let me finish what I was saying because it’s an important point’.
It’s worth remembering that in TV interviews, frustration and annoyance can be shown through body language just as much as it can be from words.
Deep sighs, eye-rolls, folded arms and slumping in your chair all need to be avoided when faced by interruptions.
Sometimes it is not the journalist who does the interrupting. Panel discussion interviews, where a reporter speaks to a number of spokespeople about the same issue are a regular feature of broadcast news programmes and offer audiences the chance to hear differing viewpoints.
These are invariably live and can often turn into heated exchanges with lots of people talking over each other at the same time. In fact, the presenter sometimes seems more like a referee than a journalist.
Again, the key here is to remain composed. A good presenter will try to ensure that everyone gets the same amount of time to give their views, so focus on making sure you are ready to take advantage of your opportunity to speak.
On the other side of that coin, if you are the one doing the interrupting the audience may well feel that you appear rude and aggressive.
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.