Facing a two camera interview? This is why you should worry

If you arrive for a television interview and you see two cameras set up, be prepared.

Be very prepared.

Why? The producers are probably expecting you to walk out on the interviewer.

You see, a normal single camera television interview doesn’t end with the last question. Both the interviewer and spokesperson are expected to stay behind to shoot ‘cutaways’ – shots used in the editing process: the two shot (both you and the journalist), the reverse two shot (taken from the opposite angle) and the ‘noddy’ (the journalist nodding sagely as if listening to you.)

A two camera shoot means the crew is anticipating an interview so hostile that you won’t want to stick around for the cutaways. That’s why they need two cameras to pick up those wide angle and reverse shots in real time.

Or, worse, they’re hoping you will be provoked into walking out of the interview.

That is television ‘gold’ and a guarantee you will be featured in the program promo, the opener and commercial break teasers, and forever on the Internet.

Who remembers why former French president Nicolas Sarkozy walked out of an interview with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl?


Leaving so soon, Mr President?

Or why the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Jordan Belfort walked out on Australia’s 60 Minutes? Or Joan Rivers on CNN? Or the Bee Gees on the BBC?

Chances are no one will remember why you walked out either. Stay calm, resist the urge and remember why you are there.

You don’t want to be on a top ten list of all-time classic television interview walk-offs.


Messaging: How to minimise media misquotes

A former newsroom colleague (whose identity shall remain secret) used to get so frustrated with his interview subjects’ long-winded responses that he would take out his notepad, write down what they were trying to say and tell them, “Here, just say that.”

Shockingly, many did.

They were lucky. Time-pressed journalists trying to distil a spokesperson’s position are more likely to edit down a short ‘grab’ that can strip away meaning and context, often with distorted results. Qualifying phrases stand little chance. Nuance is a no-go zone.

The New York Times still carries on its masthead, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The flip side is, if it doesn’t fit it won’t get printed.

Unfair? Possibly so, and this may be a factor in the erosion of trust in news media.

However, it’s an academic argument if you have already ceded control of your message. Spokespeople and communications professionals need to come to any conversation prepared with a tightly-framed point of view, ready to express it with clarity and colour.

Editing – the art of honing and refining language – involves ruthlessly cutting words.

Winston Churchill – who knew a good sound bite when he heard one – once observed, “Broadly speaking, the short words are best, and the old words best of all.”

Edit first, or risk being edited out of context – or even out of the conversation altogether.

Three tips for handling a tough media interview

The hot seat is an uncomfortable place to be, especially when you are being asked to defend your position on a contentious issue or in a crisis. These three tips will help you get through the experience and communicate your points effectively:

1. Nail the first answer
No matter how confronting, the first question is usually your best opportunity to deliver your message and supporting points. Be ready to take it. Follow-up questions are likely to become more narrowly focused and harder to bridge to your message from: it is far better to stake out your territory at the outset.

2. Match your message
If you’re facing a quality or service issue, there’s little point in trying to steer your responses towards a new product offer. Your message needs to be aligned to the issue at hand, otherwise you’ll be accused of avoiding or evading the question. Make sure the message shows an understanding of your audience’s concerns.

3. Keep responses short
Point. Reason. Example. Point. It’s that simple. Long or waffling answers frequently get spokespeople into trouble. When in doubt, re-state your most important message and stop. An interview may look like a conversation but it’s not: don’t speak just to be polite. Crisp, message-focused responses will help you stay in control.

And remember, don’t take it personally. Hostile or provocative questions are asked for a reason: it’s only your answers that count.