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How did the Deputy Director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service Perform on the Today Programme?
November 8, 2023

In a few weeks, world leaders will gather for the next COP meeting. For many years, we’ve been providing media training for climate change scientists, climate change campaigners and investment houses who are conscious of climate change as an issue.

Dr Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, appeared on the Today programme this morning to discuss the upcoming meeting. As specialists in media training for climate change organisations, we were interested to see how she performed.

Overall, we would say she did well. She spoke at the right pace and had the kind of energy that works well in broadcast interviews. Delivery is one of the things that we work on with the people who do our climate change media training courses. In this case, Dr Burgess spoke clearly and slowly, which helped drive her important messages home. She began with a good summary of the situation, setting out how this year has seen the warmest October since records began. “It was warmer by 0.85° than the recent average,” she told us.

Getting Your Message Across in a Media Interview on Climate Change

She was clear and factual. We also liked her comment that “these [figures] are really surprising climate scientists by how much these records are being broken.” This is an example of what we call signposting; in other words, telling your audience that something that you’re going to say or that you’ve already said is important. Phrases like “What’s really interesting here is that…” or “What really struck me…” also work well here.

The only problem is that the 0.85° figure probably doesn’t sound significant for this general audience. It’s less than one per cent, after all, isn’t it? We recommend that climate scientists and others doing media interviews put these figures into context – why is this, in fact, such a large figure? What is significant about it? A phrase such as “That might not sound like a huge amount, but, actually, what it means is that…” would be good.

It’s always tricky to get a word in edgeways when Nick Robinson is presenting, and he came in very quickly here with a reference to El Niño. This is relevant to the conversation, but if Dr Burgees had wanted to continue her point about these record October temperatures, she could have used a phrase such as, “That’s really interesting, but just to finish the point that I was making,” before going on to do so. She could then address the El Niño question if she wanted to. Either way, she went on to land her point that despite El Niño, these are record temperatures.

She then put this into context by talking about previous El Niño events, adding that we now have more greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere than we had in 2015 or 2019 – previous years of El Niño activity.

Dealing with Unexpected Questions During Media Interviews on Climate Change

Nick Robinson then dives in again. “Your message to leaders gathering for COP?” This is relevant and timely, and it also adds an element of practicality. After all, the science is important, but these are the people who are going to take action – or not. It’s the kind of question that, again, in our media interview training for climate change experts, we throw at course participants during our role-play interviews to see how they handle it – and to provide advice and recommendations in the review we do with the participants of their performance.

Here, Dr Burgess comes back with a good answer. “The scientific evidence is overwhelming, and we need ambitious action now,” she says. This is strong and punchy and would have made a great soundbite if it had been taken out and used in a package on this issue. However, we would say that this answer was too short. Here was an opportunity for her to elaborate on her theme. We always advise participants in our media training courses for climate change organisations to include examples, stories, striking stats and even little anecdotes. In this case, what does this “ambitious action” mean in practice? Could she give some specific recommendations? Either way, she could take the opportunity to develop and repeat her message here.

Dealing with Political Questions During Media Interviews on Climate Change

Nick Robinson’s reference to a claim by the prime minister yesterday that “he thinks it is possible to continue to aim to reduce our global climate change emissions at the same time as exploiting the gas that’s available in the North Sea, as that would contribute to the security of our energy supplies,” was tricky. However, we were not at all surprised by this question.

Dr Burgess might have been invited on the programme to talk about the next COP meeting, but, as we warn those in our media training workshops for climate change scientists and others working in climate science, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for the left-field, “While I’ve got you here…” question. This might not have been discussed with the producer or the researcher when you agreed to go on the programme. Still, it is topical and relevant and therefore regarded as an appropriate thing to ask you about once you’re live on air.

Dr Burgess handles it well. “Energy security is obviously important,” she says. Who could disagree with this? “But equally, the climate crisis is impacting people every day around the world, and people are dying, so we need to do everything possible to reduce emissions.” Good point. Could she add a surprising little fact? A little “Did-you-know?” These are the kind of things that stick in the minds of your audience and help them to remember your interview – and your key messages.

Climate Change Media Interviews – Helping the Audience to Remember Your Messages

Nick Robinson persists: “Does that involve turning off the tap to oil and gas?” he asks. “Of course, it does,” says his guest. It’s great to see somebody answering a question so directly and comprehensively on the Today programme, but this response is still rather short. We would have advised Dr Burgess to develop it and return to her key theme about governments taking ambitious action immediately. Partly because of the brevity here, Nick Robinson comes back for another go. Dr Burgess, “I don’t speak on political issues, but in my view, the sooner we emissions fall, the sooner we’ll stabilise our climate.”

Just one final thought. The reference to “In my view” is interesting. It’s always worth remembering that if you’re doing a media interview, you’re speaking on behalf of the organisation. Sometimes, during the role-play interviews in our Media Training courses for Climate Change experts, we’ll ask the interviewee about their personal views. Occasionally, they will happily share this – and then their PR, who is sitting in on the course, will remind them that they are acting as a spokesperson for the organisation.

We recommend that you sound as if you’re giving your own view and speaking personally, as this sounds genuine and authentic, but, on the other hand, you should ensure that everything you say is, in fact, in line with the organisation’s official view.

Media Training for Climate Change Scientists

Overall, as we say, this was a good performance. But there are other things that Dr Burgess could have done to really gain more control of the interview and put across some of her key messages. Being proactive and taking control of the interview is one of the things that we look at in our media training courses for climate change scientists and other organisations. We would be delighted to talk to you about this – if you think we can help, then please do get in touch. Call 07958 239 892 or email gareth@communicatemedia.com. Alternatively, fill in this contact form.

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