Media training: 'Silly' interview highlights dangers of rigidly sticking to same response

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'Silly' interview highlights dangers of rigidly sticking to same response

If you have been on one of our media training courses before you will know that our current working journalist tutors stress the importance of a spokesperson not sounding robotic.

One of the ways a spokesperson can fall into this trap is by rigidly sticking to the same pre-prepared line even when it offers no real substance or relate to the question being asked.

And one interviewee gave a perfect example of what this can look like, during an interview you may want to watch from behind your hands.

It happened in Canada when Alberta’s health minister Tyler Shandro spoke to reporters about the future of a working group looking to ban conversion therapy.

Mr Shando met every question with the message, “I look forward to getting back to them in due course.”

In fact, in just over three minutes of questions and (non) answers he used the “in due course” phrase nine times.

At one point he was even asked what he meant by 'in due course' and he said: “That in due course, I will be getting back to them to be able to answer their questions.”

As proceedings became increasingly farcical, an exasperated journalist could be heard saying that 'this looks really silly' and that the politician was giving them 'talking points' in response to 'straightforward questions'.

 

 

It is a clip that makes for some uncomfortable viewing and you have to agree with the journalist who said it looked “silly”.

But apart from sounding scripted and robotic and, as one commentator put it, that he would rather be having root canal treatment, the other consequence of this flawed approach was that it made it perfectly clear to both the media and the audience that he was stonewalling – a long way from the image of transparency he should have been striving for.

It is an approach which can damage the credibility of a spokesperson and their organisation as some of the subsequent tweets suggest.

 

 

But it is also something which can easily be avoided without spokespeople being drawn into talking about something they don’t want to discuss. You can convey the same message without constantly using the same words.

For example, when Mr Shandro is being asked about timelines in the above clip, instead of saying 'in due course', he could say, “I haven’t decided yet, but I will let you know as soon as possible.”

Any variation like that would make him sound more human, less evasive and, let’s face it, more pleasant.

Its also worth stressing that if a pre-prepared line begins to unravel in front of you, move away from it before a journalist points out how bad it looks.

 

Of course, Mr Shandro is not the first spokesperson to fall into the trap of rigidly sticking to the same message.

Here are some other memorable examples:

 

Jason Garrett

When the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys American football team met the media after one of his players had been cut from the team following a shoplifting incident, he was clearly not prepared to move away from his prepared statement.

In fact, Jason Garrett repeated it 10 times during an awkward press conference.

No matter what he was asked, Mr Garrett would respond with a slight variation of “Yesterday we made a decision that we deemed to be in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys. We’re standing by the decision. We’re going to move on.”

The embarrassing three-minute episode ended with the coach being met by silence from reporters when he asked the journalists if they had “any other football questions” they would like to ask him.”

 

John O’Keefe

When Garda Representative Association spokesperson John O’Keefe was interviewed by Irish broadcaster RTE he tied himself in knots with his refusal to move away from a pre-approved and poorly constructed line.

The interview came as rank and file officers rejected findings in a report into alcohol testing checkpoints that claimed they falsified results.

As the same question was put to him repeatedly, Mr O’Keefe managed to claim both that they did not falsify the results and that they did so under pressure from senior management, before denying he said they had falsified results – I hope you are still following this.

The exasperated reporter told him that his response was 'ludicrous' and that, “it’s like saying black is not black, black is white.”

 

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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.

 

Click here to find out more about our bespoke journalist-led media training courses. Or book a place on our next media training open course.

 

 

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