Lessons learnt from Diane Abbott’s car-crash interview

ALIA AL-DOORI   •   MAY 8, 2017  


Diane Abbott hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons last week when being interviewed by Nick Ferrari on LBC radio about Labour’s pledge to recruit an extra 10,000 police officers.

Political orientation aside, one thing that everyone can definitely agree on is that Diane came top of the class on how not to conduct an interview.

Like many interview scenarios, interviewees are provided with a platform to deliver key messages, stand strong, instil behaviour change, show authority and insight, however, get it wrong and the consequences can be just as damaging to a business or personal brand.

For those of you yet to take the plunge into an interview scenario, or those who simply need to brush up on your skills, here are a few tips to make sure your interview doesn’t land on the Diane Abbott scrapheap.

1. Preparation

There are many ways to prepare for an interview, but the main element is to be completely clear on what it is you’re trying to convey – sounds simple enough but it is surprising how many people let nerves get the better of them. It is often best to have just three short key messages that you want an audience to take away and practice, practice, practice.

Prioritise your key messages. Interviews can be really short, so don’t waste any time and get your first, main key message in as soon as you can.

You don’t want to seem over rehearsed, but if you’re more on the nervy side of the spectrum, it is better to be over prepared then end up like Diane.

2. Plan for your hardest questions

Depending on which media outlet you’re being interviewed by, you can usually be sure that the journalist has some kind of agenda, political orientation or personal view and it is always better to be prepared for curveball questions, even if the subject matter is something you talk about on a daily basis.

Having a few people, who may not be fully involved with the interview subject matter field you questions ahead of time will help to get fresh input into what you may be asked. Gathering multiple opinions will ensure that you won’t get caught out and have all bases covered. Often it can be the most obvious of questions that you have overlooked if you’re the only one giving it consideration.

3. Be authentic

Authenticity will help your delivery no end. Truly meaning what you say will help to convey the same sentiments to the audience. Fluffing your facts or not ‘practising what you preach’ is hugely dangerous and can unravel all your hard work instantly, particularly if evidence is easy to come by. Diane Abbott fell victim to this, not only by getting her numbers wrong, but also by her continuous efforts to cover her mistakes. She went on to the radio to talk about police officers, but had no statistics (or couldn’t remember them) to back up her argument. Rather than humbly, yet still quite embarrassingly, confessing that she didn’t have the correct information, simply making up the figures meant that her authenticity went straight out of the window. Why should the audience believe anything else she says…?

If you don’t feel passionate about the topic you’re speaking about, you probably shouldn’t be on the radio or TV anyway.

4. Know your audience and your interviewer

LBC, otherwise known as ‘Leading Britain’s Conversation’ is Britain’s only national news talk radio station and reaches 1.5 million people on average across the UK each week, and Nick Ferrari’s show is one of the most popular. It tackles the big issues of the day, with intelligent, informed and provocative opinion from guests, listeners and presenters. LBC radio and Nick Ferrari are renowned for being feisty, wanting the facts, bold opinion and not letting any interviewee get away lightly on questioning. Evidently, being under prepared for an interview of this nature is unlikely to end well.

If you know the station likes facts and figures or if you’re talking about a subject where you need to justify your opinion or actions, numbers can certainly help to prove your point. If you aren’t on screen in a live TV studio for example, have a small card with your top 3 facts and figures on to refer to if needed. The beauty of a down the line or pre-recorded interview is that you can have some prompts written down should you need them. Just try to avoid the manic paper shuffle *ahem* Diane…

Doing your homework on the presenter is crucial to spotting any danger areas, or areas where a rapport can be built. Ensure you check out the last articles the presenter or journalist wrote or were featured in, the last or most regular topics that they tweeted about or posted on LinkedIn. Use their interests to your advantage, or know which topics are no-go areas if you can help it.

Doing a small bit of research can pay off in the long run.

5. It is ok to say no

Live interviews can quickly change course and leave interviewees in uncomfortable, uncharted waters but there are some nifty techniques to help keep conversations on track or avoid situations which you really, really don’t want to talk about. Sometimes, it is ok to say no. Exactly how you do it is an art though, but if you want to know those kinds of pearls of wisdom, I guess you’ll have to give us a call…

If you haven’t seen Diane Abbott’s interview, firstly, where have you been?! Secondly, take a look here.

Good luck media stars!

Benjamin Thomas