Explaining complex information and ideas is not easy.
And it can be even harder to communicate it effectively in media interviews.
Many interviews are based on complex information. Think how many stories are in the news about scientific breakthroughs, academic research, technological advancements and healthcare improvements.
One of the biggest challenges spokespeople on these types of subjects face – and ask us for advice on our media training courses – is getting complex stories across without being misunderstood or losing the audience.
Here is just some of the advice we regularly offer during our media training courses:
The key when explaining anything complicated is to show what it actually means to people.
Let’s say a spokesperson is discussing some new technology their organisation is about to launch.
They need to make it clear how this new tech will help people. Will it save them time? Make a specific task easier? Remove stress? Help them lead healthier lifestyles?
By turning the subject around so that it focuses on people and what matters to them, the audience is able to form a connection with what is being said.
Spending time telling us in detail how the technology works isn’t going to make us sit up and take note – in fact, it will bore the majority of the audience. But showing us how it will improve our lives might stop us getting out of the car because we want to keep on listening or stop us making a cup of tea or switching TV channels.
If you have been on one of our media training courses you will know we place a lot of emphasis on the power of the example.
And they are even more important when discussing complex topics.
Spokespeople should look to tell stories that will aid the audience’s understanding and provide a context to what is being discussed.
Everyday examples are best, but even fictional scenarios, along the lines of ‘picture the scene...’, can be useful.
People love hearing stories, so telling stories in an interview to illustrate your point will make your audience sit up and pay attention.
Know the details to leave out
When you have been working closely on a project and are enthusiastic about it, it can be easy to believe that every detail is crucial.
But a spokesperson discussing a complex subject needs to be able to self-edit. What you don’t say can almost be as important as the points you deliver.
The bottom line is that actually there are details which, while important to those working on the project or initiative, will not be interesting or relevant to a general audience. And they can complicate the story.
You need to determine what the points are which are really important and leave the rest out. Boil it down to the bare bones.
We’ve used this quote before in our media training blogs, but it is worth recalling the words of Albert Einstein here, who said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Keep the language simple
Simplicity is crucial.
Long, technical words might appear impressive, but they don’t help the audience understand what is being said.
And if the audience has to stop and wonder what a certain word or phrase means, then they are very quickly going to become lost and not hear your next point. It can also make spokespeople seem aloof and out of touch with the audience.
They should instead aim to use the same language they would use if they were talking to a friend or family member, from outside of the sector, in a pub or café.
Simplicity is not the same as dumbing down. It is about making the content accessible.
If you really can’t avoid using a technical term, or one inadvertently slips out, make sure you immediately explain what that means. So, after you use that term, say something like ‘and what that really means is…’.
Take your time
As we mentioned earlier, spokespeople who are close to technical subjects tend to be enthusiastic.
And that enthusiasm can lead to them falling into the trap of talking quickly in media interviews.
This means messages may be missed altogether or misunderstood. In print interviews it can also lead to spokespeople being misquoted.
While enthusiasm is important and can be a great trait in a media interview, spokespeople need to make sure it does not result in them talking too quickly.
Nervous spokespeople talking about complex subjects often have a tendency to ramble.
But long, rambling answers are hard for both the journalist and the audience to follow and there is a risk they may be harshly edited, misinterpreted, or abandoned altogether. The aim is to keep answers clear and concise.
Provide a summary
In a print interview spokespeople can provide a brief summary of their main message at the end of the interview.
This can help the journalist to understand where you think the focus should be – particularly useful if you have been discussing a broad subject.
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.