I hate to mention the “C” word but it’s noticeable that since coronavirus struck the media has never been so keen to speak to experts. Doctors, virologists, epidemiologists, vaccinologists and others are constantly popping up on TV, radio, podcasts and in the print media to offer explanations and insights.
Some have come across as interesting, informative and engaging while others have had us reaching for the TV controller or clicking onto the next page. The need for these experts to grab the attention of audiences and hold them has never been greater as attention spans contract and the pool of people that we journalists can speak to widens.
As well as scientists we provide media training for a wide range of experts including lawyers, architects, accountants and others working in professional services. So, how can you, as an expert, come across well during a media interview.
Here are six top tips:
1. Think carefully about technical jargon.
If you use language that we don’t immediately understand then you’ll lose your audience. Words and phrases that might be appropriate in the lab, the office or the clinic won’t necessarily work for the BBC Six O’clock news or the Daily Mail. You don’t have to dumb down, you just have to translate into simple language.
2. Give some examples.
Even if you’re talking about a technical subject, think about how it will relate to a general audience. We wrote a blog about Professor Sarah Gilbert, the vaccinologist at Oxford University who is leading the research in the UK to find an effective vaccine for the coronavirus. She talked about some of the side effects of having a vaccine injected, “such as a sore arm”. It was natural and immediately understandable.
Even a phrase such as “You know what it’s like when you have a cold…” or “We’ve all had that infuriating experience of waiting ages for a web page to load…” Paint us a picture that we can relate to in order to illustrate your point. As we say in our media coaching courses, it’s no coincidence that so much of the language around understanding is visual – do you see what I mean?
3. Give us a little nugget of information.
We human beings don’t remember big theories and overarching concepts, but we do remember fascinating facts and little nuggets of information. Those little “did-you-knows?” are going to make us more fun in the virtual get together tonight and there’s even evidence that we get a little dopamine hit from passing on information. So, give us a quirky little factoid that we can remember and use in conversation – and this will, in turn, remind us of your interview and your key message.
4. Offer a simple takeaway.
We like it when experts provide an interesting insight or a fascinating fact. But what are we supposed to do with this information? As with any good interview – in fact, any piece of communication, generally – think about what you want your audience to do with the information that you’re giving them. Currently experts supporting the government are clear on actions such as washing our hands and keeping two metres away from other people.
More broadly, do you want your audience to do something – or to avoid it? Should they sign up for something or lobby for it? When we provide media training for lawyers, we usually say that the takeaway here, albeit very subtly conveyed, is: “Instruct us.”
5. Smile and speak slowly.
It might sound obvious, but this will improve your performance. Sometimes the adrenalin rush of a live interview and someone’s passion for their subject means that they speak too fast. TV and radio producers, in particular, are looking for interviewees with knowledge and authority but who have warmth and a relaxed, engaging manner. Speaking slowly, especially when you’re making a key point, and smiling (unless the subject matter is very serious and sad) will give you this warmth and encourage your audience to listen and take on board what you’re saying.
6. Be a bit humble.
Don’t take this the wrong way but there’s a tendency sometimes for experts to come across as arrogant and superior. They might appear surprised that the interviewer doesn’t understand a particular technical term or they seem to be irritated by what they see as a desire to dumb down. Admitting that you don’t know something or that an idea might work in theory, in the lab but not necessarily in the real world or accepting that people don’t always act rationally just adds to that warmth that we mentioned above.
The demand for experts has never been greater and the good news is that if you come across with warmth and authority and have a clear message, the journalist will put a “GT” next to you in their contacts file (short for “good talker”) and they’ll come back to you.
As we say to the experts that we train in our media training courses you can educate the public and raise the profile of your work. Meanwhile the journalist has a great media performer that they can return to again and again, without reinventing the wheel. It’s a win-win.
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If you or your company require professional advice or media training, get in touch by giving us a call on 0800 1777080 or emailing us or to find out more about our media training, crisis communications and presentation courses.