The spokespeople and interviews that stood out in 2020 – day two

It's the second day of our look back over the spokespeople and interviews that stood out for all the right reasons this year. 

Yesterday we brought you the personal anecdotes and many metaphors of Johnathon Van-Tam

And we are following that up today with another spokesperson who has spent plenty of time in the spotlight over the past 12 months. 


Making the complex simple

Professor Sarah Gilbert is another spokesperson who has showed a great ability for making the complex simple this year. 

Andrew Marr finished his interview with the vaccinologist, at the start of the pandemic, by saying “Professors do give you very clear answers sometimes.”

And that was a verdict we had to agree with, as the professor leading the research in the UK to find an effective vaccine, produced an excellent interview performance.

One of the issues we often find on our media training courses is spokespeople tend to struggle to get complex information across in interviews without confusing or losing the audience.

But here, a complicated subject area was explained with great clarity – not just the vaccine, but also wider questions about the virus, including why older men are more susceptible.

Take for example the way she described the likely side-effects of the vaccine - “you may have a slightly sore arm, a slight fever for a day or two,” she said.

What stood out for me was all of Professor Gilbert’s answers were developed. There were no short answers. Instead, she filled her responses with examples to show what action was being taken to progress the vaccine.

But what was also impressive was her handling of the trickier questions. First-up she faced the sort of ‘guarantee’ question that has tripped up many a spokesperson in the past. Could she guarantee the vaccine would be ready by September? “No-one can be sure, but I think the prospects are good,” was a measured response.

Later on, she faced potentially tricky questions about who would own the vaccine and whether money would be made from it.

Here, the professor acknowledged the questions and then bridged away to safer ground, saying “for the moment, what we are concentrating on is having a vaccine available for public health.”

There was even a great sign-off to the interview. “Right, I’ll get back to work”, she said.

An impressive performance and one other spokespeople should study.

Media training tips:

  • Find ways to make the complicated easy to understand. Remember the words of Albert Einstein who said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
  • Avoid offering guarantees in media interviews – they have a tendency to come back to haunt you.


Who else will we feature in our selection of the best interviews and spokespeople of 2020? We will reveal the third person tomorrow. 

About to face the media? Get your media interview homework off to the best start by downloading your copy of our free media interview preparation eBook.


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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