During the Conservative party leadership candidates’ debate last night, there were some decidedly aggressive interactions between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. In particular, Sunak was criticised by some viewers and commentators for talking over and interrupting his opponent.
We’re often asked how to handle an aggressive interviewer in our Media Training courses. These include people such as Nicky Campbell, Nick Ferrari and Kay Burley.
It should be said, first of all, that in most cases, a journalist is unlikely to give you a hard time. Our Media Trainers are all working journalists. They will tell you that in most cases, whether they’re reporting for the print media or broadcast, they want some punchy, topical and relevant information for their report. It’s only if the interviewee is defending something or they appear to be dodging the question that the temperature might rise.
When it comes to aggressive interviewers, prevention is better than cure. You can’t do much about a habitually belligerent interviewer who is simply having a bad day. Still, you can be sure that it’s more likely that they’ll take this approach if you appear to be equivocating or avoiding a question which seems to most people reasonable and relevant. So, we advise participants in our Media Coaching sessions to ensure that they have an answer for any difficult questions – and this is something that we can help with.
Similarly, journalists will get irritated and bad-tempered if they feel that they are not getting useful information from you. They might have spent some time and effort arranging this interview, and if they fear that they won’t have anything to show for that investment, they will, quite understandably, feel aggrieved. This is another reason for ensuring that you have something exciting and relevant to say to their audience.
Do your research!
Another element of preparation involves finding out about the interviewer. Your PR company or in-house comms team may well know the journalist and be familiar with their style, so they can offer a warning and some advice on how to handle them, especially if they tend to go in with all guns blazing. It might be the case that the journalist has a particular down on your organisation. Or, more likely, they might be relatively junior and are hoping to make their name as a tough cookie who puts people on the spot and gets excellent stories as a result. Again, research beforehand will help you prepare for this kind of interaction – assuming you want to go ahead with the interview.
How to handle being interrupted in conversation
One of the most common – and often most difficult – experiences with an aggressive interviewer is constantly being interrupted. During our Media Training workshops, we advise people to stay calm in these situations. It’s better if you allow the interviewer to interrupt, and then you can pause and continue your answer with a phrase such as “As I was saying…” or “If you just let me finish the point…”. In a broadcast interview, if you sound calm and patient even as the interviewer appears to be attacking you, you’ll earn brownie points with your audience.
A valuable tactic for managing an aggressive journalist is simply to breathe. It sounds obvious, but our breathing often becomes short and shallow when we’re under attack or feel nervous. As a result, less oxygen gets to the brain, and our feelings of panic can increase. Taking a deep breath before answering a question will not only allow you to feel calmer, but the pause that it requires will add to your authority. As we say in our Media Coaching sessions, high-status individuals are happy to speak slowly and frequently pause because they’re self-confident and believe they’re less likely to be interrupted.
Concentration is key
Finally, don’t repeat any negative language used by the journalist. You’ll want to refute suggestions that the situation that you find yourself in is a disaster or that your organisation’s behaviour has been disgraceful, or that this state of affairs is highly embarrassing for you. But when you reject these ideas, use a generic rebuttal such as “Not at all,” rather than repeating the negative language. The problem is that even if you’re rejecting the idea, repeating the words or phrases emphasises them in the audience’s minds. In a broadcast interview, it also means that the journalist has you using these negative and helpful phrases on tape – so don’t say it!
Media Training London
Our Media Trainers can be as aggressive during our role-playing media interviews as the situation requires. However, in our Media Training courses, we always provide tips and techniques for not only dealing with an aggressive interviewer but also doing so in a way that will help you as the interviewee to come away from the exchange in as good a light as is possible.
Media Training Near Me
At Communicate Media, we love working with various companies in and around London, the UK and globally, including law firms, financial services firms, fashion and clothing professionals’ firms, architects and more.
If you want to perfect your media skills, including how to articulate your message to a journalist and present yourself professionally, get in touch with our media trainers.