Back when I was a journalist at the ABC, part of the journey was 5am radio reporting shifts. I clearly remember doing a recorded interview with a CEO from a not-for-profit peak body on a pressing issue at the time. She would speak for two sentences and stopped. Then she would speak for another two sentences and stop.
I remember thinking, this is odd. We’re getting nowhere.
Then I realised. She thinks she’s helping me. She’s trying to give me succinct bits of info thinking that will make it easier for me to edit.
But that was a big problem. Because she was so focused on being edited well, she forgot she had to convince me that her message, story or point of view meant something, that it mattered to the public and was newsworthy. But I couldn’t see it. There was nothing to go on.
Talking in two sentence staccato is a waste of time. If you try to control the interview by creating editable phrases, then you will probably watch your interview later and it will have been edited to a 4-15 second grab that doesn’t even reflect what you wanted to say. In fact, your interview may not even go to air, because you didn’t give the journalist a reason to make it news.
To prove my point of view, here’s an example.
A number of years ago, I interviewed Kurt Fearnley, the celebrated Paralympian. His message to me was that disabled kids need every opportunity possible to participate in sport at school. He went on to explain how he was the youngest of five kids living in the tiny NSW town of Carcoar. He was born without certain parts of his lower spine and all of his sacrum. His parents took their new son home and with the heart of a lion, he defied all expectations and thrived with the abilities that he had. He told me how he loved sport, but to participate, he had to drag himself or at best, be carried out to the oval, play using his chair or on the ground as best he could, and then drag himself back to class. And then he concluded, “Tony, don’t you think disabled kids deserve a better go at sport at school than that?”
And I totally agreed.
Kurt’s message was really simple: ‘Disabled children deserve opportunities at school sport.” But if that had been all he’d said to me in the interview, it would’ve had little impact. He would’ve been stating the obvious. But he didn’t stop there. He supported his message with his personal experience, one of the most influential and powerful ways any interviewee can drive the message home. Not only that, he also had statistics around this issue, as well as ideas of how schools could do things differently.
I was ready to broadcast our interview to air in full, no editing. Why? Because he convinced me of his message. He influenced me to see his point of view. He gave me everything I needed to become invested in this angle as news.
The lesson here is that a message of one of two sentences is never enough as an answer. Your only job as an interviewee is to sway the journalist to your cause. You need to support it with stories, experiences, and facts. Once the journalist sees your point of view, they will handle the boring stuff like statistics and industry context, because they’ve possibly become advocates for your cause.
If you’re not sure how to build up your message or convince a journalist, check out my other posts:
- Got a Media Interview? Sandwich Your Story
- Shirtfronting: A Lesson in Creating Soundbites
- Why Media Interviews Aren’t Conversations
What’s the best story you’ve heard that supported a message?
Tell us below in the comments section.
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Founder and Director of Good Talent Media