Media training skills: Why we couldn’t get excited about this Facebook interview

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Why we couldn’t get excited about this Facebook interview

If you have been on one of our media training courses you will know we stress the importance of spokespeople not sounding like corporate talking robots.

And if you ever wanted an example of what that sounds like on the nation’s airwaves you needed to be listening to Radio 4 on Monday morning (4/12).

Nicola Mendelsohn, the vice president of Facebook, produced a performance so robotic sounding it could have been created in one of the ‘London labs’ she was discussing.

Whatever the question, whatever the issue, Ms Mendelsohn always brought the interview back to how ‘excited’ she was.

Of course, she had a lot to be excited about as she appeared on the Today programme to discuss the social media giant opening its new London office. (You can listen to the interview here at 1hr 17 mins)

But she did not need to crowbar this excitement into every answer.

Ms Mendelsohn managed to tell listeners she was excited in no less than five separate responses in an interview which left listeners bemused.



And this constant compulsion to tell us how exhilarated she was led to some awkward exchanges, including completely ignoring business presenter Dominic O’Connell’s first question.  

Mr O’Connell: Nicola, what will the extra staff be doing?

Ms Mendelsohn: Good morning Dominic, it’s great to be here with you. We are incredibly excited to be opening our new offices today. It’s about 10 years since we first came to…

Mr O’Connell: Sorry, what will the extra staff be doing?

There are couple of main issues with this approach. Firstly it sounded like Ms Mendelsohn was either over-rehearsed or was regurgitating a press release.

The second issue is it created a completely unnatural sounding conversation. One of the keys to any good media interview is to create a conversation which sounds natural, as if two friends are talking in a coffee shop or pub.  A good spokesperson is a credible voice and sounds human. Audiences are simply put off by someone who sounds like a corporate talking robot.

Although not quite as bad, the more I listened to Ms Mendelsohn’s interview the more it brought back memories of Stephen Bates’ appearance on BBC Breakfast in 2013. You may recall the then BlackBerry boss ignored virtually every question he was asked and instead focused on telling everyone how excited he was about a new product launch.



But the ‘excitement’ was not the only issue with Ms Mendelsohn’s interview. It also turns out she is one of the seemingly growing number of spokespeople who likes to start responses with the word ‘so’.



Regular readers of this media training blog will know that we have written about this subject before, so we won’t go into it in any great detail her, but again it makes interviews sound unnatural and can be a huge distraction.

To be fair to Ms Mendelsohn, she probably anticipated an easier interview than she received. Instead of facing questions about the new office and the jobs it was creating, she found herself being probed about policing content on the network, investigations into possible Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum and its tax arrangements.

And she did answer those questions in some detail, showing she had at least prepared for the wider issues which could come up during the interview.

But there is also an important reminder here for other spokespeople that good news interviews can sometimes be the hardest.

In this situation it is imperative spokespeople do not show their frustration at the line of questioning they face or opt for short answers. The best approach is to use media training techniques, like bridging, to try to steer the subject to what you want to talk about.

But most important of all, do not ignore the question – that will not get you many likes.


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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