Thursday, May 07, 2009

Is it Spin, or is it Media Mastery?

No-one likes a spin doctor, but everyone admires a good communicator. Is there a difference? Maybe it depends on your point of view. Politicians of all persuasions try to ensure that their audiences, and particularly their supporters, know what they stand for.

So how do politicians ensure that they really do deliver a clear message, and what can we learn from them? Like him or loathe him, George Galloway MP demonstrates communication skills of the highest order. His advice for interviews? “Know exactly what you want to get across in the interview, and don’t be diverted or put off in any way by the questions that you are asked. In a very real sense, it doesn’t really matter what the question is. You have a few moments on the media, and you want to make the most of that opportunity, to get across the message you want to deliver. Now, if you can make it fit the question, it is much better, since the message will be better received and understood, but don’t be sidetracked by an interviewer trying to take you down a siding you don’t want to go down, because then you will lose the opportunity of getting across your unique and important message.”

Jo Swinson, the UK’s youngest MP, adds “When doing an interview, it is important to control your nerves. I always take a deep breath and smile, even on radio. When I appear on ’Any Questions’, I have one-page briefing sheet about the issues, and at the top it says in big letters ‘Slow down and smile’, since I do have a tendency to speak rather quickly. You also need to be authentic. If it’s something that you aren’t passionate about, or don’t even care about, are you the right person to do a media interview? Particularly in politics, but also in business too, if you are passionate about something, people will engage with you and relate to what you say”

So much for those in the front line of politics. But what about those in the background? Political blogger Iain Dale says that a sense of humour comes in handy during tricky interviews. “Often if David Cameron is asked a tough question by John Humphries or Jeremy Paxman he dismisses it with a laugh. The questions can get quite personal, but he doesn’t get upset, he just giggles. Nick Clegg on the other hand, will do the same interview and he’ll start getting tetchy at the tough questions. At home, the listener or viewer will see him start to lose his temper. Whereas Cameron doesn’t let himself get riled.”

So it’s all down to technique. Whether you laugh it off, slow down and smile, or use the question as a prompt to deliver your message, the important thing is to know what you are doing. Very few of us are natural communicators, but learning a few simple strategies can make us sound like one.

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