Some Tips for Dealing with Hostile TV Interviewers

I have been thinking about all those poor folk who are invited to appear on TV only to find themselves ambushed by the BBC and Channel 4. For example being invited on to talk about your book and then simply being personally attacked, but with no mention of your book at all. (Like Rod Liddle on Newsnight recently.)

For anyone going on the BBC or Channel 4, the first thing you can do is ask for a different chair (giving an excuse such as having a bad back). The producers will have arranged the set in a particular way for their own purposes . If they have no other agenda than to hear what you have to say, then it will not matter what chair you sit in or where you sit. By asking for a different chair you interrupt their power in this regard and interfere a little with their agenda.

Assume that the producers will have designed the set and plotted the lighting and camera angles to make you look bad.

So, when you get your new chair move it into a different position, that makes it harder for the tech guys to follow the producers’ plans for you. Just 6 inches to the right or left or forward or back is enough!

If you can reposition yourself entirely – even better. You might say the lights affect your eyes in the place they put you, and move.

They will probably have designed it so that you appear in front of a particular image – probably on the back screen. (Subliminal manipulation of the viewers.) So if you put yourself somewhere else, it throws them and it also makes you look better than you would have.

2. When the interviewer turns to talk to you, you want to begin to talk BEFORE they ask a question. Be nice and polite and smile at everyone saying something like “Thank you SO much for inviting me to talk about my book, I am delighted to be here ….” By speaking first you introduce the topic which you were invited to speak about and thereby make it difficult for the interviewer to ignore that topic. You are also taking leadership in the conversation, which makes it harder for the interviewer to dominate the direction of the interview. Your speaking first makes it more difficult for them to follow their bullet points and attack you.

3. To respond to insults keep Mrs Thatcher’s strategy in mind. No matter what you think of her she was good at this! When they say something insulting like “You are a racist aren’t you?”, answer in a gentle and slightly disappointed voice, with some version of ‘Now, Dear … lets not be so hasty ….’

Ann Widdecombe did her version of the ‘Now Dear’ strategy recently, when she said “I know that you’re bright enough to understand an argument …” Her whole interview here is a master class in clear argument, and not letting the interviewer get away with anything , it is well worth watching here:

And rehearse!

Role play with a friend before you go on TV or radio interviews. You are going to play a role, so you need to make sure you have your own script and you know it inside out.

Always bring a notebook and pen. (Claire Fox does this)

Write down any insults

a) so you have a record

b) so you can calmly address them when you eventually get the chance.

If you are going to quote, bring those with you too in really large print.

And remember to bring your book and show it to the camera.

TV programmes use props and sets and lighting to get their message across and so can you. You can use your pen and notebook as props,

e.g. pointing with the pen to make a point, writing furiously while nonsense is being spoken etc.

Another useful prop is to have a cup of water with you. Any object which you can use and is not in their plan will do because simply introducing things on to the set, objects that they have not planned for, will help you!



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