Media training skills: What you can learn from Mavis about media interviews

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What you can learn from Mavis about media interviews

As a media training company we love it when we hear or watch interviews that are executed really well.

Often they will be from corporate spokespeople who coped admirably with a challenging interview or a spokesperson who has taken control of an interview by including a strong example early on in proceedings.

But one interview that stood in my mind last week came from an unlikely source – 76-year-old Mavis Nye, from Kent.

Now, Mavis’s story (which you can listen to here at 2hrs 48mins) is an emotive, remarkable and inspiring tale of overcoming particularly horrible adversity – a few years ago she was given just six months to live after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure. 

She is, however, now in remission, after taking part in a clinical trial.

But apart from her enormous will to survive, what also really impressed me about the interview, and what I think a lot of corporate media spokespeople can learn from, is the simplicity with which she got her message across.

Asked by Nick Robinson on The Today Programme about people still coming into contact with asbestos, despite heightened awareness, through things like DIY, she replied: “I always say asbestos killed people going in, but it is now killing people coming out. “

That is certainly a straightforward message, but it is also powerful, human and it is one that the audience will hear loud and clear. It was so impactive that Clare Catford - one of our current working journalist tutors - emailed me almost immediately to bring it to my attention.

This message is also the ideal length for a sound bite. Journalists look for sound bites because they are attention grabbing, make great headlines and can enable a story to be boiled down to a 15 second clip of around 20 words.


'Journalists look for sound bites because they are attention-grabbing and can enable a story to be boiled down to a 15 second clip of around 20 words' via @mediafirstltd


We place emphasis on them during our media training courses because not only do they make a spokesperson’s messages memorable – the shorter the message the easier it is for people to grasp and remember – but they also get more coverage as the reporter can use them in the headlines at the start of the news as well as in the main story.

Short, pithy messages are also less likely to be harshly edited or misinterpreted.

But we still regularly find that some spokespeople feel their message is too complicated to be delivered in such a succinct manner.

The other particularly impressive thing about these six minutes of radio (which I implore you to listen to) was that you could have been forgiven for thinking you were eavesdropping on a conversation in a coffee shop rather than listening to an interview on one of the country’s most influential news programmes.

It sounded completely natural, and that should be the aim of any broadcast interview whether you are discussing surviving cancer, launching a new product or defending your organisation’s reputation.


'The aim of any broadcast interview should be to create a completely natural sounding conversation' via @mediafirstltd


Sure, there are far more hostile interviews than this one faced by Mavis, but all too often, we witness interviews where the spokesperson sticks rigidly to pre-approved corporate lines, regurgitates a press release or falls back on complex language and jargon.  Not only does that make the conversation sound artificial and disjointed, but it can make the audience switch off or misunderstand what is being said – completely defeating the point of the exercise.

The key, as highlighted by Mavis, is to use language that everyone can understand. On our media training courses we tell delegates to keep language simple enough for a 10-year-old to understand.


'Spokespeople should keep language simple enough for a 10-year-old to understand' via @mediafirstltd


And to put that in context, if you introduce a term like mesothelioma, you need to quickly explain exactly what that is.

Mavis is the first UK patient to be able to claim remission from mesothelioma. She is also someone media spokespeople should try to emulate in front of the microphone.


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 journalist-led media training courses.

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