Tour de France star and Olympic silver medallist Mark Cavendish made a great comment yesterday on the BBC’s Today programme that should be noted by anyone who does media interviews.
When he was asked about how he’d not made the Rio 2016 pursuit team and subsequent suggestions that track and Tour king Sir Bradley Wiggins was in some way responsible for keeping him out – and also Cavendish’s much reported comment about how Sir Bradley “wants to be the hero” – the Manx man remarked:
“When you say something with a smile, it’s translated completely different with the print press, you can take whatever context you want.”
He was effectively flagging up something so obvious about print interviews, yet something that catches out many an interviewee: the reader can’t hear your voice.
It’s a point we make to the sports people we train (and spokespeople in many other professions) and is one we will continue to make, because it’s so important not to treat all media the same – print is very different.
If you’re smiling, joking or laughing, there’s a good chance that unless the reporter draws attention to it with, say a “Cavendish joked/added ironically/quipped with a smile…” before or after the quote, it won’t come across.
It’s why irony and humour can be very risky when you’re talking to a newspaper or magazine journalist.
Cavendish, Wiggins and company will also be only too aware that there’s far more potential for newspaper reporters to “cherry picky” quotes. In other words, they, as interviewees, can make positive comments and convey upbeat messages for 90 per cent of their interviews, but if a negative remark, a loose comment about a rival or an unguarded quip slips out in the dying seconds of the interview, that can become the focus of the entire article that follows.
These are just two reasons why knowing how to handle media interviews should encompass specific training for print interviews.
Just as being a Tour de France superstar is unlikely to be qualification enough to make you invincible in the velodrome, the same goes for interviews: being filmed or recorded practising various interview techniques is only half the story; you should also experience a mock print interview during the training day and see how your comments are written up by the trainer in an article – which is what we do.
Not experiencing this is to, well, risk watching “the wheels come off” in a real-life interview.