Spokesperson shows there’s no riddle to giving a good media interview

Have you played Wordle yet?

If you haven’t, you’ve probably noticed some of your friends posting cryptic grids of different coloured squares on social media and either lamenting or boasting about their vocabulary skills.

And, judging by how the game is attracting new players, it won’t be long before you join the craze.

The online word guessing game has taken off in recent weeks, going from just 90 players at the start of November to more than 300,000 at the beginning of the year.

It is free to play and challenges people to find a five-letter word in six guesses, with a new puzzle published every day.

Alongside the surge in people playing the game has come a clamour to find out more about the person behind it.

Almost overnight, articles about Josh Wardle and his game have appeared pretty much everywhere, from the Daily Mail and Evening Standard to the Sydney Morning Herald and USA Today.

Taking over the Wordle! British software engineer’s online word game attracts thousands Daily Mail

Wordle – the love story behind the brain teaser Britain’s addicted to The Telegraph

He has also been interviewed by The New York Times and, last week, he appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme.

So, how has he coped with suddenly being at the centre of the media’s attention?

Well, there has been much to like about his media interviews.

On the Today Programme (which you can listen to here at 1:24), he began with a clear explanation of how the game works.

He said: “It is a puzzle game you can play once a day. The way it works is there is a hidden word you are trying to guess. It is a five-letter word, and you have six tries in which to guess it.

“The way you play the game is that you input a guess, and the game will give you feedback about how close that guess is to the hidden word. So, it will tell you if you got letters correct and if you have letters that are in the solution but are in the wrong place. Over time, with those clues, you can work out what the hidden word is.

“One key component is that everyone is playing the same game each day – there is only one word, and everyone has it. So, you can talk with your friends and family about the path it took you to get to the solution.” 

 

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We’ve shown in these media training blogs before – and during our training courses – that sometimes the more innocuous questions can cause spokespeople the most trouble. And that they can need as much preparation as the potentially hard-hitting, negative ones.

The question asking why it was just one word a day falls into the seemingly innocuous yet tricky category. But the game’s inventor, a former Royal Holloway College student who now lives in America, dealt with it well.

He said: “I’m a little suspicious of mobile apps and games that want your attention. And they are designed in particular ways to grab your attention and will send you a push notification when you are not playing the game so you start thinking about it again.

“I like the idea of trying to do the opposite of that. What about a game that deliberately doesn’t want that much of your attention? Wordle is very simple - you can play it in three minutes a day. That’s it, it is done.

“Most people do the attention-grabbing stuff to drive growth. With Wordle, by doing the opposite, it has caught people’s imagination.”

On our media training courses, we stress the importance of spokespeople including personal anecdotes and stories in interviews. It helps interviewees show their human side and can make them more relatable. Mr Wardle did this well in response to a question about whether he comes up with the word each day.

“I took a list of all the five-letter words in the English language – there are around 12,000,” he said. “And I filtered them down to around 2,500. But then, because I was making this game for myself and my partner to play – it wasn’t meant to go viral – I randomised all the words. So, I actually don’t know what the word is tomorrow because I want to be able to play the puzzle along with everyone else.”

We got a bit more of this later on when Mr Wardle explained how the game had come about.

“It was at the beginning of last year, and my partner and I really got into doing crosswords and playing word games,” he said.

“And I wanted to make a game for us to play in the morning each day as part of our routine.”

In an interview with the New York Times, he went further and explained that after creating the game for his partner Palak Shah, he shared it on his family’s WhatsApp group, where it proved so popular, he decided to release it more widely.  

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You could argue that the questions Mr Wardle faced were not particularly tough. That’s partly because he is currently on the crest of a wave and because these were the questions those listening and reading would like answered.

Nevertheless, the money question asked at the end of the Today programme had the potential to crush some of the feel-good factor surrounding the game.

There are no-ads or flashing banners on the game’s website. And Mr Wardle doesn’t make any money from Wordle.

But would it stay that way?

“Why can’t something just be fun on the internet?” he said.

“I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I am comfortable. I don’t have to charge people for this. I don’t begrudge people making things and charging for them online. That’s fine.  But with Wordle, that was never the goal. And I would ideally like to keep it that way.”

Faced with a similar question in his interview with the New York Times, he said: “I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun.

“It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”

Who would have thought that such a simple game would generate so much interest?

The story is a reminder that, as we say during our media training courses, you never know when you or your organisation might be in the media spotlight or what might spark the interest of journalists.

And Mr Wardle has shown that giving a good media interview doesn’t need to be a complicated riddle.

 

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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