So you want to be on TV?

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5 May 2011

Gus Sellitto, a director at legal PR specialists and Legal Futures Associate Byfield Consultancy, shares his top 10 tips on dealing with broadcast interviews

1)  Be prepared to react quickly. The broadcast media is the first to react to news developments, which means that requests for interviews can come in suddenly and that you will often have little time to prepare. Equally, as the news agenda is constantly changing, you may find that your interview is cancelled at the last minute. However, the benefits of conducting broadcast interviews far outweigh any drawbacks.

2) Live or recorded? If the interview is recorded, you will have more time to prepare. You also don’t have to worry about getting it right first time as you will be able to repeat the interview if you need to. A live interview means less time to prepare and a bit more pressure to get it right first time.

3) Remember, you’re the expert. Lawyers often get nervous when asked to do a TV or radio interview, particularly if it’s their first time. This is a natural reaction but keep in mind that the interviewer is looking to you for guidance on the legal points that are relevant to the story. This means that you’re in control of the direction the interview should take, which should help alleviate any nerves.

4) Think of three key messages you want get across. Before carrying out your interview, prepare three key points you want to get across. This will ensure that you cover off all the points you wish to make (broadcast interviews rarely last more than two minutes) and help steer the interview in the direction in which you want it to go.

5) Use short sentences and avoid legalese. Unless you are being interviewed for a specialist programme, your audience will be made-up of a broad range of the population who, in the main, do not have expert legal knowledge. Accordingly, keep your language as simple as possible by using short, concise sentences and explain any legal terminology clearly.

6) Remember to breathe! An obvious point but often, and particularly in live interviews, nerves can mean that the speech becomes very rushed, which makes for a bad interview. Pace your answers with suitable pauses and breathe from the lower abdomen, rather than from the top of the chest, which will help to keep the pace of your speech measured.

7) Build rapport with the interviewer. This is key to giving a good interview. Do not disagree with the interviewer, even if they ask a leftfield question. Rather, acknowledge their point and move the questioning in the direction in which you want it to go. For example, when asked a difficult question you could say: “I think the more important issue here is…” or “That’s an interesting viewpoint; others would argue…” Smile at your interviewer and nod in acknowledgement (but don’t overdo it) when they ask you a question. All of this will help you to build rapport with the interviewer and help ease any nerves at the same time.

8) Body language. This is particularly important for TV interviews. Dress appropriately by wearing neutral colours and avoid striped or checked ties or blouses. Never cross your arms when giving a TV or radio interview as this comes across as being defensive. Keep your arms by your side or on the arm rests of a chair and avoid swivelling in your chair. If you are being interviewed and the interviewer is in the same room as you, make sure you keep eye contact with them. If you are giving an interview by link from a studio you will find yourself staring at a blank screen or down the lens of a camera. In this scenario, look slightly up and to the right, rather than looking straight ahead where it is very difficult to keep the gaze for a prolonged period without the eyes wandering.

9) Model good interviewees. Model how the professionals do it by watching programmes like Newsnight and Question Time. Politicians and industry leaders are seasoned media spokespeople.

10) Rehearse and rehearse again. Rehearse the interview and possible questions before you go on air. Practice makes perfect…

Byfield Consultancy provides tailored media training programmes for lawyers. For more information, please call Gus Sellitto 020 7092 3988.

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