Feedback was a crucial feature of our latest webinar.
If you watched it, you will have heard us argue it should be a part of the media briefing process, enabling spokespeople to develop and improve their skills.
Each interview and every spokesperson are different and it is vital to spend time reflecting on performances, identifying what went well, and the areas for improvement.
Our webinar guest Kirsty Waite spoke in detail about feedback and, in this blog, we look back at her brilliant advice and tackle the questions asked by the audience.
Let’s start by looking back at what Kirsty said about feedback.
Kirsty, a business coach with our sister company The BCF Group, brought fresh insight to media interview feedback.
She told our webinar audience it is pivotal for development, and spokespeople should understand it is part of the briefing process.
“You should make spokespeople aware that there is a feedback session as part of the interview process,” she said. “Otherwise, they might think ‘they don’t do this for everyone, they can’t be happy with me’.
“Make it clear it is a standard session and always invite them to start the conversation. That causes them to reflect on their performance.
“If they aren’t encouraged to do that, they may not give it another thought until the next interview.
“Even if they have done well, it is an opportunity to look back at it and think about what you would do again in the next interview – feedback should always be future-facing.”
The objective of the feedback sessions should always be to improve future interviews.
Kirsty said: “It is not a case of pointing the finger and tearing their performance apart. It is about having an open, honest conversation.
“The person sat in front of you will want to get better. They won’t want to sit in front of a camera and give a poor interview. They will want to shine for themselves and the business.”
On our media training courses, we provide feedback immediately after each interview. But when should these conversations take place away from the training room?
“As soon as possible because it is fresh in your mind,” Kirsty said.
“When you first do something, you tend to go over it in your head. Having that conversation openly is much easier than trying to think back to it two weeks later. Ideally, look to give feedback within 24 hours of the interview.”
Another aspect that stood out for me was when Kirsty said comms professionals should consider their performance as part of the feedback process.
She said: “You also need to look back at your performance. Did you give that spokesperson what they asked for and what they needed? Did you brief them in the right way? And are you qualified to give the feedback – did you watch the interview?
“There is nothing worse than people giving feedback they have cobbled together from other sources. The person you are talking to will not receive that feedback.”
You can watch the webinar and hear Kirsty’s thoughts on building better relationships with spokespeople here:
But let’s move on to some of the questions about feedback.
What is the best way to give feedback to a senior person?
This can feel daunting.
There tend to be three main concerns people have. There are feelings of insecurity about giving that feedback. People also tend to worry about how their feedback will be received. And there are sometimes concerns about whether it will be held against them in future.
The crucial thing to remember is most people, no matter how senior, will want feedback because they strive to get better.
So, how should you do it?
Well, firstly, make sure the feedback is timely. Don’t wait until another interview looms.
A good way into the feedback conversation is to ask them for their thoughts first. If you ask something like, “how do you think that went?”, you will probably get a general answer like “yeah, I think that went ok.”
So, be specific with your questions. Consider questions like:
- Do you think you got your key message across?
- How well do you think you handled that negative question?
- Do you think your examples worked?
- Did you feel confident and relaxed or nervous?
Another good opening approach is to get their thoughts on your performance. You could ask these questions:
- Did you feel you had everything you needed to prepare for the interview?
- Was there anything you would have wanted to add to the interview briefing document?
- Did the briefing contain too much detail?
- Would it be better if the briefing was shorter in future?
Once they have given their thoughts, move the conversation to what you want to get across.
Kirsty said: “Tell them that you have got a few points, and ask them where they want to begin.
“Do they want to start with the good points or the areas for improvement?
“This approach gives the senior person control of the conversation and takes away some of that fear of ‘I’ve got to tell them something bad’.”
The feedback you give must be specific and backed by examples. Generalities are unlikely to lead to future improvement or encourage the spokesperson to listen to what you have to say.
Present the feedback as, “when you said this… it came across this way, and the impact was... How we could do this better is…”.
Another crucial consideration when giving feedback to someone senior is to ensure you are the source.
Don’t get yourself into a position where you are providing another person’s thoughts on the interview.
It will only confuse the person you are speaking to and could make them concerned people are talking about them behind their back.
Stick to what you know and your thoughts. The only time to deviate from this is if you have some feedback from the journalist.
Comments from the reporter can add weight to your response and provide additional expert analysis.
How do you give feedback to senior leaders who don’t take feedback well?
This is a trickier situation and can feel intimidating.
The starting point is to try to find out why they don’t want feedback. Is it because they think the interview went brilliantly? Do they not have the time?
There could be several reasons.
But it is crucial to remember a senior leader is just another employee and if the organisation is going to get better everyone needs to receive feedback. Explain that feedback is part of the interview process for all spokespeople.
Then, ask them what feedback they would give themselves.
Agree that the interview went well (presuming you think it did overall), and look to bring in what you think can be improved through more questions.
You can then say something like: “I saw you did this - I was wondering about delivering it this way as an alternative to give more impact – what do you think?”
Ultimately, most spokespeople will want to improve, but if you continue to face challenges, consider asking one of their peers to provide feedback (as long as they have seen the interview themselves).
How do you give feedback to spokespeople without making them more nervous next time?
This is at the other end of the spectrum from those who think they don’t need feedback.
Media interviews can feel daunting.
Many spokespeople, including some who have done them many times, struggle with nerves.
So, how can you give feedback and highlight areas for improvement without making them feel more nervous about their next interview?
“Get them to provide feedback on their performance first,” Kirsty said. “It is very likely they will say that they felt nervous.
“Once they have done that, you can then ask them what you can do to help them with those nerves.”
And there are many things that can be done. It was something we discussed during the webinar, and we have included more tips in this blog.
Kirsty added: “If they don’t mention it, you need to be open and honest and say, ‘I noticed you seemed a bit nervous, what do you think about that?’
“That honesty and openness are crucial. Without it, you are not supporting that spokesperson to improve.”
How do you give feedback after a remote interview?
It has become normal for interviews to be carried out remotely during the past 18 months.
During the height of the pandemic, it was just about the only way journalists could speak to spokespeople.
Even though restrictions have relaxed, it remains a well-used format, enabling channels to quickly get spokespeople on air. Many of our media training courses continue to be delivered remotely.
And it is a format that presents spokespeople with specific challenges. Does it also make giving feedback trickier?
If your spokesperson is taking part in a succession of interviews on Zoom and Teams it can make it harder to give feedback on each one during the gaps. Those natural opportunities, such as when you are travelling from one studio to the next, are not there.
So, you need to build it into the schedule. Factor in five minutes between each call where you can give any pressing feedback, such as if you spot something where the phrasing needs to be tweaked or a question that needs to be managed differently.
If it is one remote interview, you just need to ensure feedback is timely. It doesn’t need to happen immediately but should take place within 24 hours.
One thing we would advise against is PR advisers and press officers sitting in the same room as the spokesperson during a remote interview.
We understand the temptation, but in our experience, it becomes a distraction.
It results in spokespeople breaking that crucial eye contact with the webcam because they naturally look at their colleague to see how they are reacting.
And when spokespeople look away from the camera to other parts of the room, they look shifty.
Don’t forget, you can watch the webinar again here and find our response to the other question asked during the session in this blog.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 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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