Interview crumbles as spokesperson fails to produce examples

If you tuned into the radio yesterday morning you may have heard a journalist repeatedly ask a spokesperson to provide an example to support a claim.

And it became a bit of radio that makes you sit up and pay extra attention as the interviewee repeatedly tried to sidestep and fudge those attempts to gain a case study.

It certainly grabbed the attention of one of our current working journalists tutors who stopped what she was doing to make sure I was listening to it.

It happened on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday (1/7), which you can listen to here (at 2.22) for as long as the broadcaster makes it available, when Business Secretary Alok Sharma was interviewed about the government’s ‘Project Spend’ infrastructure plan.

The interview began to crumble as presenter Nick Robinson asked the politician about the Prime Minister’s criticism of the planning system. Here is the key exchange:

 

Mr Robinson: “Can you give us an example of where the planning system is stopping this country building houses on the scale it needs to?”

Mr Sharma: “Well, look, over the last year we built 241,000 homes...”

Mr Robinson (interrupting): “No, I asked you for an example, Mr Sharma.”

Mr Sharma: “Well, the Prime Minister referred to where we are looking at speeding up. I think we mentioned environmental issues. Of course, what we don’t want to do…”

Mr Robinson (interrupting): “Can you give me an example?”

Mr Sharma: “As I said, we are not talking about cutting back. We are talking about…

Mr Robinson (interrupting): “No, no. I’m just asking you for an example of something that was at the centre of the Prime Minister’s speech and you are the business secretary.”

 

When Mr Sharma eventually decided to bring in an example, he gave one about how the system would be changed rather than one the journalist has asked for.

It was a memorable exchange and social media was predictably unforgiving.

So how could this have been avoided and what can other media spokespeople learn from this?

It all comes down to AMEN.

No, not a plea for some divine intervention, but an acronym we use on our media training courses -whether face-to-face or on video conferencing software - to help delegates prepare for their interviews and get their message across.

It stands for Audience, Message, Example and Negatives.

Mr Sharma’s example – or lack of one - fits into the last two parts of that model.

If the message he wanted to get across was that the planning system needs to be sped up – a key point in what the Prime Minister had said a day earlier – it needed to be supported with examples of where planning had delayed infrastructure projects.

We need evidence. As we say on our media training courses, messages without examples are just rhetoric.

If that was not where he wanted the focus to be, then he still should have anticipated it could be something that may be asked, given its prominence 24 hours earlier. Journalists often play devil's advocate and present an opposing view and Mr Sharma should have prepared for that under the 'negative' part of AMEN. 

Again, that preparation should have included examples to support the government message.

Download your free copy of our AMEN message development sheet from our website by clicking here

 

Of course, this isn’t the only media training lesson that can be learnt from this example.

Spokespeople should always avoid trying to dodge questions they don’t like or don’t know how to answer. Instead, of ignoring the requests for an example, Mr Sharma should have said something along the lines of “I don’t have one to hand, but what I can tell you is…” and tried to steer the conversation away.

Journalists hate it when their questions are ignored and will simply ask them again. And every time the spokesperson ignores a question, they appear more evasive.

It is a maddening habit for journalists and audiences alike.

And we have plenty of examples to support that claim in previous editions of this blog.

 

Find out more about our training by videoconference options, including media training crisis mead management, presentation skills and media management.

 

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. 

Subscribe here to be among the first to receive our blog.

Our Services

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.

Online learning
Training by videoconference
Media training
Message development and testing
Presentation skills training
Crisis management testing
Crisis communication training
Leadership communication training
Writing skills training
Social media training
Video sound bites
Identifying positive media stories
How to film and edit professional video on a mobile
Media skills refresher
Media skills

Recommended Reading

General media skills — 5 August by James White

Out of the office forever? How to communicate with a long-term remote workforce

How would you feel about working from home until the summer of next year? That idea may fill you with dread if you’ve been longing for a return to the office. Others may have adapted to this new way…

Spokesperson training, General media skills — 3 August by James White

What skills should the Prime Minister be looking for in his new spokesperson?

Boris Johnson is on the lookout for a spokesperson to front live press briefings that will be televised to the country. The White House-style events aim to build on the interest shown in the daily…