I always say in my media training sessions “the interview will feel like a conversation. It will sound like a conversation. But it’s not a conversation.” Why oh why did David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the European Union, fail to remember that? When he told Nick Ferrari on LBC “What’s a requirement in my job? I don’t have to be very clever” he did what is known as a Ratner – from the moment Gerald Ratner told the self-deprecating joke that one of his products was ‘crap’, and then saw the most successful jewellery retail business in the UK disappear almost overnight.
And so, twenty years on, our Brexit Bulldog shows the nation he has learned nothing from that iconic cock-up. Faced with Ferrari he did a fatal thing. He relaxed, leaned back in his chair, decided to impress his charming host by saying something ironic. Ferrari engages him with twinkling eyes and a warm smile. And Davis is effectively skewered.
Why? Because he’d forgotten the audience. In any interview, whether for print, radio or TV, you’re never talking to the actual journalist asking the questions. You are, or should be, talking to your audience. What do they already think? What do they want from you in order to trust you? My advice – listen to the question, decide what you want the audience to hear, tell them that. It will go down well, you’ll feel more confident, and it will actually be a better interview.
The proof of a successful interview is in the reaction afterwards – so let’s look at today’s headlines: “David Davis Has Damaged Trust In The UK Says Verhofstadt” – The Guardian. “European Parliament Chief Condemns Unacceptable Davis” – The Independent. “EU Parliament to Harden Brexit Stance After Scathing Attack On Davis” – The Telegraph. “You’re Like Gangsters! MEPs Ramp Up War Of Words With David Davis” – The Daily Mail.
Ironically this interview was done to put right his gaffe of the day before which had effectively undermined the Prime Minister’s solution to the Irish Border impasse. Amazing what can be achieved in 20 seconds.