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One of the challenges media spokespeople face is producing content which is memorable.
If it’s a print interview, they need to come up with the messages that are going to make strong quotes.
In a broadcast interview, they should aim to come up with sound bites which are going to trigger a reaction from the audience and stick in their minds.
One spokesperson appearing on Radio 4’s Today programme (1hr 44mins) yesterday came up with a memorable phrase which stuck in my mind.
Dr Joanne Preston, a marine biologist from the University of Portsmouth, appeared on the programme to discuss regenerating oyster populations through sea bed cages.
Now, with a complex subject like this, there is plenty of potential to overwhelm, confuse and ultimately lose the audience altogether.
But Dr Preston kept it simple from the start explaining that oyster grounds have been destroyed through over-fishing. “85 per cent of all oyster ecosystems globally are now extinct,” she said.
And then she succinctly explained why this matters: “One of these critters could filter 200 litres of sea water a day. They eat the algae, the green stuff floating around the water that we don’t like to have too much of, and they can clean the water. But more than that, they create a whole ecosystem.”
Good stuff, but the best part was still to come. Asked what the university was doing to reintroduce them, part of her response included the line “we are hanging oysters in cages, like love hotels”.
So what’s so good about ‘oyster love hotels’?
Firstly, it’s unusual – who has heard of an ‘oyster love hotel’ before? Because of that unusual element, it made me – and I’m sure many others - sit up and listen that bit more intently.
It’s completely free of jargon and complex language – you could imagine Dr Preston using the same language if she was talking to a friend in a coffee shop. It’s conversational English.
Additionally, it helps to paint a picture of what the university is doing.
It’s also a funny expression which just lightens the tone – it even made the reporter laugh.
And finally, it’s short and snappy – if this had been a print interview, you could easily see ‘oyster love hotel’ forming part of the headline.
The #oyster love hotels have gone down well on @BBCRadio4 @portsmouthuni @uopresearch @UoPScience - their capacity to clear this murky water was extraordinary. Imagine what they would be doing to improve UK water quality if we helped conserve them back to their original numbers https://t.co/u2V7e09dp7— UoP Marine Biology (@UoPMarineBiol) February 7, 2019
So how else can spokespeople produce memorable phrases and quotes?
Spokespeople who are prepared to provide a personal context and share a relevant story from their life tend to really resonate with an audience.
We also find on our media training courses that when spokespeople discuss personal stories they appear more confident, fluent and natural.
The words ‘you’ and ‘I’ are really powerful in media interviews and journalists and audiences alike love this type of content. Once you start to talk about ‘we’, it becomes less specific - generalities do not capture an audience in the same way.
People love stories about people. It taps into their natural curiosity about the lives of others and enables them to relate to what they are watching or hearing.
Spokespeople who explain exactly what their announcement means for people and can put the human element at the heart of their message produce strong quotes and sound bites.
Long, rambling answers are hard for both the journalist and the audience to follow and there is a risk they may be harshly edited, misinterpreted, or abandoned altogether. The aim is to keep answers clear and concise and support key points with relatable examples.
It is generally the more nervous spokespeople and those discussing a complex issue who tend to ramble. Regular media training and interview practice will help with nerves while spokespeople with complicated subject matters should remember the words of Albert Einstein who said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Passion and enthusiasm are great traits in a media interview and play a crucial role in helping to bring messages to life and keep audiences focused.
It is compelling and plays a key role in keeping the audience listening, watching and reading. This was true of Dr Preston’s interview, where her enthusiasm for her work came through strongly.
Statistics can be a powerful tool when they are used well.
The key is to be creative and present them in a way the audience can visualise and remember.
So, to give you an example, instead of saying that 3.3 million people in their early twenties and thirties live with their parents, that statistic is much more memorable as ‘one in four people in their early twenties and thirties now live with their parents’.
Get to your strongest content at the start
An audience’s attention and interest can diminish pretty rapidly. To capture it, spokespeople need to be forceful and take control from the start of an interview rather than wait for the right question to come along for their message.
Aim to create something that is around 15 seconds long – that's the typical length of a sound bite. That may not feel like a lot, but that is usually around 45 words which offers plenty of room to deliver a message in a succinct, snappy way.
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.
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