What if I face Jeremy Paxman?

It’s another question that comes up frequently in media training sessions. “I’d be terrified to be interviewed! I’ve seen what Jeremy Paxman and John Humphries can do to an interviewee.”

Well. How can I put this kindly? You won’t be. You’re not the Prime Minister. For a start, Paxman’s retired and now only ever seems to interview party leaders, so that, I can safely say, rules out most of you. Second, John Humphries and other grand inquisitors save their most forensic dismemberments for those in power who genuinely should be attacked. The rest of the time, they do know their interviewee has an interesting point of view, right or wrong, and they want to make sure that point of view comes across clearly.  Here’s John Humphries on the Today programme interviewing the Shadow Education secretary Gordon Marsden about the latest ‘A’ level results: Humphries: “You were against the A* reform. What’s your view now?” Not too challenging a question. Then “You were opposed to A*s, would you reintroduce the old AS levels, in power?” then when he didn’t answer “It’s a straightforward yes or no question isn’t it?” Answer – “no it’s not, it’s more complicated than that and I’ll tell you why…” Certainly the inexperienced interviewee might find Humphries’ style intimidating but when you actually listen to the questions it’s quite easy to use them as an opportunity to get your message across to the public. Here’s how: “I hear what you say but let me tell you what we’re finding…” or “I can’t give you a yes or no on that, but what I can say is…” or “that’s a question for another day. I think the priority today is…”

The rabbit, caught in the headlights, will freeze. The savvy rabbit knows that with one step to the left or right, those headlights will pass smoothly by.

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