Bernard O'Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer
Let’s face it, reporters love talking to people who tell stories and provide valuable insights, particularly during a TV or radio interview.
But sometimes the gift of the gab can also be a curse, as the hosts of Sky News Real Estate discovered last weekend.
As you can see in the YouTube clip below, presenter Prue Miller tried several times to wind up a guest on the program – Jeff Patchell, a building industry publisher – without much luck.
Mr Patchell continues to talk as the presenter becomes increasingly exasperated.
Eventually, Mr Patchell’s microphone is muted. Even though his lips are still moving, a co-host starts chatting to another guest. (Clip Credit: Mumbrella).
In Mr Patchell's defence, we suspect he simply could not hear the presenters back in the studio, probably because his earpiece had fallen out or was not working. It's a reminder that things can go wrong on live TV, but it's also a reminder that it's not your job to fill dead air by continually talking.
Regardless of whether you are doing a TV or radio interview, talking to a print reporter or taking part in a panel discussion, it’s crucial that your responses are strategic, sharp and succinct.
That means sticking to two or three brief messages that make ideal quotes for print reporters or soundbites for radio and TV reporters.
Remember, yes/no responses and responses under five seconds add no value and will only force a reporter to ask more probing questions. So you need to be interesting and engaging.
On the flipside, someone who talks for too long - 40 seconds or more - without taking breath is just rambling. When you try to dump everything on the table in one go it’s not strategic, it’s not focused and you risk losing the patience of the reporter, who will probably cut you off.
If a reporter wants you to expand on an idea, they’ll ask for more information, or you can provide it in follow up responses.
So, what is the ideal length of time you
should be speaking for in a media interview?
Ideally, most responses in a media interview (particularly a broadcast interview) should last no more than 20 seconds, although it depends what the subject matter is and whether it requires more detailed explanation.
Typically though, if you can’t say what you need to say in under 20 seconds you run the risk of being cut off or interrupted.
What's more, it’s important to note that reporters will use only a fraction of what you might say in that 20 seconds.
Consider, for example, that the average sound bite or ‘grab’ used on TV or radio news bulletins lasts just five to seven seconds. That's why it's vital that you deliver a response that is well-planned and flows nicely from the start.
For print interviews, reporters need quotes to support their story, and usually that involves no more than 27 words.
Think about that for a moment. You might sit down with a reporter for close to an hour, and discuss a range of issues, but they end up using just 27 words.
That’s why you should have one clear message that you spit out early and spit out often (in different ways) during a media interview.
For example, you might deliver your main message in the first response, in just three sentences.
Then on a follow up question you could use some statistics or research to back up that message, again in just a few sentences. And as the interview progresses you might tell a short story or provide an anecdote that supports your key message.
The point is you are not repeating the same message verbatim - which would be tiresome and see through - but you are reinforcing a message you want the reporter to hear. And you are doing it using short, sharp soundbites.
And as with Mr Patchell, don’t feel as though you need to keep talking. Deliver your pre-planned message, provide some facts and figures or maybe a brief story, and then take a breather and regather your thoughts.
It’s the producer’s job to fill dead air, not yours.
Here are a few simple tips to consider to ensure you are sharp, succinct and interesting: