How would you have handled this calamitous interview? Media training advice

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How would you have handled this calamitous interview?

This has been quite a week for calamitous interviews.

We could have written about the disastrous radio interview performances from Conservative Greg Clark or Labour’s Angela Rayner, who both came unstuck when put under pressure.

We could have also blogged about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reportedly taking the bizarre approach of hiding in the White House bushes to avoid reporters after news broke that FBI chief James Comey had been fired.

But despite all this it was another interview which really grabbed our attention because it was altogether more dramatic.

It took place across the Atlantic and saw Iowa Congressman Rod Blum facing questions from local television reporter Josh Scheinblum before a town hall meeting following his recent decision to vote for the American Health Care Act.

But it didn’t last long – in fact he didn’t make it past three questions before storming off.

The initially relaxed looking politician, who was being interviewed in front of a group of schoolchildren, was initially asked a simple set-up question about what he expected to happen at the meeting.

The pressure was then cranked up when he was challenged on why it was necessary to check people’s ID at such a public event. Mr Blum said he wanted to ensure the meeting was attended by people he represented.

But when the reporter then countered by asking whether he would accept donations from people who live outside the district, proceedings came to an abrupt end.

Mr Blum got up from his chair and said ‘I’m done’ while frantically trying to remove his microphone. He then went on to say ‘this is ridiculous’ before accusing the reporter of ‘badgering’ him.

All pretty dramatic stuff, and don’t forget it took place in front of bemused children.

Mr Blum later discussed his interview actions during the meeting.

He said: “Well, we get there and we were ambushed. It was very apparent that he had an agenda. It’s my right to say that this interview is over.”

The interview didn’t look like an ‘ambush’ from the footage I have seen and in fact it appeared to take placed in a controlled, calm environment.

But more importantly, there are much better ways for spokespeople to deal with questions they don’t like than walking out of the interview. It is not a good look and I would imagine the clip was used to promote that evening’s bulletins.

Storming-off or losing your temper in an interview is dramatic and attention grabbing and even if it happened later in an interview than it did in this particularly abrupt example, the audience would not remember any of what had been said before.

'Storming-off or losing your temper in an interview is dramatic and looks ugly' http://bit.ly/2r48Ezt via @mediafirstltd

It also virtually always leads to some pretty damaging wider coverage. Here is how Mr Blum’s actions were reported:

 

Republican Blum walks out of interview with Iowa TV station Washington Post

Iowa Rep. Rob Blum quits interview over town hall questions Minneapolis Star Tribune

Iowa Rep. Rod Blum walks out of interview over town hall questions Los Angeles Times

Iowa Congressman Rod Blum storms out of interview Good Magazine

 

So what should he have done differently?

Well, firstly, he should have remained calm and not shown his frustration at the questions he was being asked. The audience is much more likely to be sympathetic if the spokesperson remains composed.

'Audiences are more likely to be sympathetic if a spokesperson remains composed' http://bit.ly/2r48Ezt via@mediafirstltd

On our media training courses we also stress the importance of preparation. Ambush interview or not, Mr Blum should have expected questions about screening people before letting them into a public meeting, because it is an unusual action and something which is likely to trigger a journalist’s interest. It’s newsworthy. A strong, prepared response would have helped him navigate the question before using media training techniques to get to the messages he wanted to get across.

Mr Blum also should have been much more proactive and forceful. The first question he faced was very open and he should have looked to have got to his main message here rather than provide a fairly bland response which handed the initiative straight back to the reporter. For example, he could have said something like ‘what I really want to get across at the meeting is…’.

'Be forceful in media interviews. Look to get to your main message right at he start' http://bit.ly/2r48Ezt via @mediafirstltd

Similarly, having provided a response to the question about screening, Mr Blum should have looked to use media training techniques, like bridging, to gain some control of the interview. We tell participants on our media training courses that simply answering questions without trying to take any control generally leads spokespeople on to increasingly uncomfortable ground.

What would you have done in this situation? Let us know in the comments section below or emails adam@mediafirst.co.uk

 

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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