Four tips any charity media team should know

Last Friday, communications professionals from a wide range of charities joined us for another successful media training day at Scope’s London HQ.

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Last Friday, communications professionals from a wide range of charities joined us for another successful media training day at Scope’s London HQ. From Mind and RSPCA to smaller charities such as Fresh Water Habitats and The Healing Foundation, our delegates were put through their paces by Chris and Tony from Inside Edge Media Training, who delivered a masterclass in how charities can work effectively with the media.

The focus of this session was how charity media teams can best ‘accentuate the positive’ – in other words, how to ensure that you or your spokesperson can highlight the good work of your charity when faced with the daunting prospect of a broadcast interview.

Our speakers used a variety of techniques to drive some really powerful points home, and everyone at the session agreed that they were left with a lot to think about ahead of their next encounter with a microphone or camera. The lucky few were even able to put what they had learnt in practice by recording a soundbite on their charity’s work, with our tutor Tony playing the role of reporter in a mock interview situation.

With so much to take in from such an informative session, in this blog we’ve compiled a list of the key pieces of advice to take away, which could help you to make your next interview a great success.

 

  1. Set the agenda with engaging content that works for your message

Picture this: a politician is asked a run-of-the mill question and wheels out a competent, yet uninteresting answer. Of course, to spice things up the interviewer moves on to another, far less palatable topic, and the politician is suddenly staring down the barrel of an embarrassing and potentially damaging five minutes.

Charities can learn from this situation by arming their spokespeople with relevant and engaging content that is likely to generate follow-up questions. Substantive, specific and audience-appropriate material can set the course of the interview in your favour, reducing the likelihood of the interviewer changing tack to make the session more interesting.

Don’t say: “Well there are many different, equally valid views that you could take on this question. Some of the more interesting ones include…“

Do say: “We think that the best way to solve this problem is…“

 

  1. Get to the important stuff – and fast

Our mentors for the day were keen to emphasise the importance of ‘shortcutting’ – and rightly so. Cutting out unnecessary preamble gives you more time to focus on what you’re really there to talk about, and stops your audience from switching off before you’ve had the chance to get your message across.

It’s important to emphasise that this doesn’t mean rushing through your material. By getting straight to your key messages, you give yourself more time to focus on what really matters – the good work of your charity.

Don’t say: “It’s such a pleasure to be here, I’m such a fan of the show! Let me give you some background on my history at this charity…”

Do say: “The answer to your question is yes, and this is because…”

 

  1. You are the embodiment of your charity – so act like it!

It’s no secret that tone, manner and pacing are key to a successful interview, and this is especially true for charities. It’s important to remember that in an interview situation, you are a human representation of your charity – how the audience perceives you is likely to impact on how they will see your charity in future.

The main implication is that you must be ‘human’. In the minds of the general public, charities are supposed to be caring, compassionate and relatable, so a robotic performance will be perceived as fundamentally ‘anti-charity’ by your audience.

This sounds like a daunting proposition in a high-pressure interview environment, but thankfully Chris and Tony gave us some key tips on how to ensure that you or your spokesperson comes across as ‘human’ as possible.

Firstly, try to adopt a conversational tone by remembering that an interview is first and foremost a chat between two individuals. Your audience members will respond much better if they feel like they’re being spoken to directly, rather than as part of a mass of generic listeners.

Secondly, remember that pacing is important. A brief pause before each answer prevents a rushed response, and puts a brake on thoughtless, robotic-sounding answers.

Don’t say: “That’s a good question and the public should know that… um… 80% of our, uh… voluntary income goes on charitable spend…”

Do say: “*pause* … I understand that when you donate to us, you want to know that we’re getting the best value out of every penny. That’s why I think …”

 

  1. Use personal or emotive examples

Finally, consider including a personal element to your answers.  This can help you come across as more genuine and sincere, and really drives home that the work of your charity has a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Be careful, however, to assess how much personal content to include – consider the work of your charity and the setting of the interview to make sure that you aren’t seen to be insensitive, inappropriate or insincere. We’re all familiar with how irritating it is to hear David Cameron talking about his recent conversations with the likes of ‘Frank, a builder from Shropshire’!

Don’t say: “This is a problem because X% of homeless people also experience substance addiction, and X% experience mental health problems.”

Do say: “We work with people who are sleeping rough on our streets every day, and I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that substance addiction – which a staggering X% of homeless people suffer with - can have.”

 

So there you have it, four key points to remember for the next time you interact with the media. Follow these, and what seems at first like a daunting, risky interview could instead prove to be a great opportunity to tell the public about the good work of your charity.

Jonny Harper
 
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