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Media Training – Milton Keynes, 19 November 2013

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‘You want me to go on the radio, right?  And talk about my subject…?  You’ve got to be joking.  I’m not doing it!’   This imaginary conversation helped me to make up my mind to sign up for what turned out to be a really interesting (and fun) media training course.

For reasons that I won’t go into, I always thought that I wouldn’t ever be in a position to go anywhere near a microphone.  After having taken a couple of courses as a student with the Open University, I started to realise that I had always learnt a huge amount from the audio materials that accompany some modules.  Even if I wasn’t ever going to be on the radio as a subject matter expert, there might (one day) be a possibility that I may be asked to record some podcasts that might find their way into some module materials; signing up to a short half day media training course seemed like a very good idea (at the time).

This isn’t going to be one of my longer blog posts.  The course was pretty hands on.  We were asked to carry out two mock interviews; one was face to face (in a pretend studio), and another over the telephone.  Despite the clear emphasis on the practical, there was also a bit of theory that was worth remembering.

Firstly, it’s essential to come across as a person, i.e. don’t talk like a scientist.  If you do, you just end up sounding defensive (or like a politician) - scientists (or engineers), are different.  Let something about ‘you’ come across – sharing the personal is okay.  In fact, you should expect ‘the personal’.  We were also told to think of an interview in terms of having a cup of coffee with a friend.

During the session I learnt a couple of interesting phrases.  One of them was the phrase ‘news values’.  In retrospect, what makes a news story ‘news worthy’ is pretty obvious, but it’s a phrase that allows you to articulate what aspects of a story might be interesting (or relevant) to listeners.

One point that recurs is the subject of control, i.e. whether an interview is controlled by the interviewer or the interviewee.  We were clearly told that it is certainly okay to take the initiative.  It is important to answer a direct question; it’s okay to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, for example, returning to the main subject or focus of the interview by using linking phrases.

What do we do if we’re asked about subjects or areas that are beyond our area of expertise?   In this case, we might say something like, ‘this is a complicated subject and for the purposes of this interview’.  There are many different audiences, and one audience is your academic peers.  Whilst it is important to acknowledge this group of listeners, it’s more important to consider the general listener.

Sometimes the stating the obvious can really help.  When it comes to language, avoid acronyms and using scientific or technical language that is specific to a subject (always consider the audience), and avoid language that is ambiguous (since you might come across as being evasive).

I’ve made a note of quote that was used during the day.  It was by Alexander Graham Bell: ‘Before anything else, preparation is the key to success’.  Again, the point of this is pretty obvious: have a think about what you’re going to say before you get into the studio.

I found the whole experience both tough and interesting in equal measure.  I continue to have no immediate plans to step foot into a radio studio.  I am, however, slightly more aware of how things might work if I were ever called upon to make a recording.

My take away points are: expect the personal, think of it as a chat over a coffee, don’t use complicated language, and you should be free to take control: the interviewer has chosen to speak to you about your subject – you’re the expert in that situation, not the interviewer.

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