“We contacted the Government/Opposition for an interview but unfortunately nobody was available …”

The ‘refusal to comment mantra’ seems as much a regular part of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 as the weather or sport.

This ‘Keep your head down’ philosophy chips away at the public’s shaky trust in politicians and detracts from the quality of the media platform itself but it’s such a well-established reaction that we’ve come to expect it.

As I often tell clients, if you’re not a politician don’t try to ape them as they operate under different rules to the rest of us.

So if you’re not a politician..

Media coaches and consultants like me are always banging on about authenticity – “Be yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not”.

Yeah, yeah.

We do this because modern broadcasters, more than ever before, hold great sway in having ‘ordinary’ people on their programme, beyond the political argy-bargy ; they strive for interviewees whom their listeners can relate to, who do not speak in jargon and who answer questions in a clear and honest manner because they’re not overly precious about their public profile.

“Well I’ve never been interviewed on the telly/radio before so how do I know how I’m going to appear or what I’m going to sound like?”

Well there are a few a ground rules that apply so you can prepare yourself for when your company has been asked to provide a spokesman or interviewee.


  • Prepare your message and  keep it simple. Make sure you’ve lined up a maximum of THREE things you really must say to best represent your organisation and prepare OUT LOUD beforehand with one of your colleagues or your comms person. And keep to the message. Is the information you’re preparing crucial to the message? If not, put it to one side, it’s not important. But don’t take a script into the studio and read from it – it doesn’t sound authentic,it sounds like you’re a robot. If you need a few promps write down some key buzz words to remind you what to say.
  • LISTEN to the question being posed and answer it honestly and succinctly. If there are certain things that you can’t mention for perfectly reasonable reasons then work out beforehand what you’re going to say if that question is posed.
  • Which leads me onto probably one of the most important prep features – WHAT IS MY NIGHTMARE QUESTION(S)? And then work out with your team how you’re going to answer. It’s in your locker for when you need it.
  • If you’re under pressure and the interviewer is trying to get you into a corner use a BRIDGING phrase to lead onto one of your key messages – if it’s done in a conversational but authoritative way so as not to sound evasive then you stand a good chance of success, but as with all this information this should be practiced out loud in your PREP whether you’ve been asked to do a live or recorded interview. Don’t overdo it or you’ll sound evasive.


  • Never go into an interview unprepared and not knowing the areas you are going to be questioned about. In most circumstances,no interviewer worth his or her salt will ever send you a list of questions prior to interview ( and if he or she does, more fool them) but it’s certainly reasonable to know the areas that you’re going to be questioned about. The producer or  interviewer will usually want you to look and sound good as it improves the programme so it’s in their interests to be as helpful as possible.
  • Don’t be afraid of short silences, particularly on radio.There are few things worse than seeing or hearing someone cut off the end of an interviewer’s question no matter how articulate the answer might be. Not only is it rude and will alienate you from the audience it also gives the impression that you’ve thought of the answer before you even know what the question is. A short silence before an answer can make you appear thoughtful even if you’re panicking inside -but again don’t overdo it !
  • Beware of a request by a journalist to talk “Off the record” unless you’re 100% sure it’s in the interest of your organisation to do so and you can trust them to keep the information to themselves until are happy for it to go public.
  • Remember, although the reporter or presenter will want you to come over as articulate if he or she thinks you are hiding something important or being evasive they will go for the jugular, regardless of whether the microphone light is on red or not. Their job is not to do you favours so keep on your guard whether the red light is on or off.

This is just a snapshot of what’s required when preparing for a media interview with little or no time to prepare. But there’s no substitute for real training done in a strategic and effective way.

If you want to discover how Mickord.com can support your organisation in a clear and compelling way which will protect and enhance your reputation, contact Mick Ord  via [email protected] or 07850 757845 for a no-strings-attached chat.

See also
Interviewing Technique – A Bridge Too Far?