For media relations experts, nothing produces more anxiety than an
interview on live TV. An anchor can pivot from a previously discussed line
of questioning, leaving your executive hung out to dry in front of
thousands or even millions of viewers.
I admit I’ve watched
this interview at least 15 times. The now famous BBC broadcast where Professor Robert
Kelly, a father of two, is humorously interrupted by his kids on live TV is
equal parts humorous and cringe-worthy. If you’re a veteran of the PR
industry, chances are you had a similar reaction. At first, uncontrollable
laughter as the mother dives for the door handle, followed by the fear that
this could happen to anyone—even executives at your own organization.
Sometimes real life is unavoidable. Here are a few tips to prepare your
executives for anything—even kids:
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation.
Live TV can go several different ways and you cannot
anticipate everything. However, presenting possible scenarios to your
executives can mean the difference between failure and success. Professor
Kelly probably prepared extensively for this interview, including childcare
arrangements—but things still went awry.
: Dry runs are critically important. Practice alternative scenarios so your
executive is not caught off guard. Talk through, or act out, possible
situations and see how they might react. It’s a great way to evaluate how
well your executives keep their focus and makes them more nimble should
something unexpected happen on live TV.
2. Control what you can control.
You can participate in a media event in many ways, from broadcast
interviews to video conferencing to Facebook Live and Periscope. No matter
which environment your executive is connecting from, you can control
certain things like the lighting, background and camera angle. These are
all critical to establishing credibility.
Review the location your executive will be joining the interview from,
remove possible distractions like knick-knacks and pictures, and check the
room for both lighting and sound quality. If joining remotely,
Polly Calm has several more helpful “vidiquette” tips.
3. Body language is important.
Watching the video, you can feel the angst. With any broadcast interview
it’s important that your executives smile and maintain good eye contact and
strong posture. Despite outside variables, maintaining these things will
ensure that the interview stays focused on the message.
Record a video of your executives presenting during a dry run and share it
with them. Watch for things like eye contact, posture and body language.
Identify facial reactions and idiosyncrasies that may deter them from
delivering the message.
[Related: Announcing the PR and Media Relations Summit, featuring speakers from Time, Huffington Post, the FBI, PwC and more.]
4. Just roll with it.
This interview did teach us a valuable lesson: Sometimes you must play off
an awkward scenario and move on. In Professor Kelly’s case, a slight laugh
followed by two apologies was all it took. And in turn, the anchor
maintained decorum and seemed empathetic.
: This goes back to preparation. Before the interview, provide detailed
descriptions of the anchors your executive will be meeting with, including
interview style, common lines of questioning and their personality, so
they’ll be ready to roll with anything that comes up.
5. It’s not as bad as you think.
Chances are Professor Kelly came away from that interview feeling it could
not have gone worse. Several days later, he has become an internet
sensation, receiving both praise and empathy. As a father of two myself,
the same thing has happened to me during video meetings. Sometimes it’s
embarrassing, but there are no lasting consequences.
These interviews aren’t easy. If something goes awry, it can feel 10 times
worse than it is. Focus on the positives from the interview while
acknowledging what may have gone wrong. Who knows? You could be the next
Professor Kelly’s interview is viral and likely will be for a while.
Compared to some catastrophes that have occurred on live TV, this one is
mild. It presents an opportunity for us to learn and be better PR
professionals. What lessons have you learned from this?
Cameron Craig is a communications professional with 20-plus years of experience working with Apple, Visa, PayPal, Polycom and Yahoo!
Formerly, he was a tour publicist for Johnny Cash. Follow him on