Three things Theresa May should do to become a good media interviewee

Three things Theresa May should do to become a good media interviewee

Theresa May is now two and a half months into her honeymoon period, and, to be frank, we haven’t seen much of her. First we had the summer holidays, and then other political parties grabbed the limelight during their own party conferences in September. In fact, it was only yesterday – during her BBC interview with Andrew Marr and then her first speech to conference – when we really got a good look at the new Prime Minister.

So how did she do? Well, she’s not a natural, by any means. She never has been, if truth be told. Just like her predecessors, Gordon Brown and Edward Heath (and entirely unlike, for instance, Tony Blair and David Cameron), she appears ill at ease in front of the cameras, and has a particular issue projecting warmth.

Of course, people will compare her with Margaret Thatcher, who also struggled, particularly in the early days, with her media image. To her credit, Thatcher realised this, and employed coaches and trainers to help her – and, as a result, she became reasonably good (though she was always better at conveying strength, conviction and authority, rather than warmth and humanity).

So what should Theresa May do to improve her media skills? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Talk about herself, her background and what makes her tick. She needs “a story”. Like it or not, politicians are judged more and more not just on what they do, but who they are. When Andrew Marr asked her about her past and the traumatic effect of losing both her parents at an early age, he gave her a great opportunity to win our hearts. Yet May quickly moved the topic back to politics. That’s understandable. She may well have deep wounds from that time. She may be desperately uncomfortable talking about herself. But now she’s Prime Minister, people will want to know about her and her past. And it’s far better that she frames that story, rather than having it framed for her.
  2. Talk in pictures, not concepts. At present, May makes it far too easy for viewers simply to tune out and lose interest, because she fails to spark our imagination with stories, anecdotes and simple “mind pictures”. So instead of talking about “the skills shortage”, she could invite us to imagine a healthcare company searching in vain for skilled lab technicians to work on a new flu vaccine. These stories might be real or hypothetical. It doesn’t matter. She just needs to get us picturing things. An audience that pictures things stays engaged and gets the message.
  3. Answer questions directly. Just like Gordon Brown, May seems to regard most questions as potential banana skins, and as a result her answers are often quite short and sometimes evasive. For sure, some questions can be dangerous, but not all by any means. Her default should be to answer questions honestly and openly, and if, for good reason, she doesn’t want to answer a question, or simply can’t, she should just tell the journalist honestly and openly why she can’t.

May is fortunate – very fortunate – that the three other main UK-wide political parties (Labour, the LibDems and UKIP) are all struggling. But it may not always be like that. So now is the time to cement her authority, and develop her media skills. Because there’s bound to be a time, perhaps not too far away, when she needs those skills to keep her premiership going.

Article date

October 3rd, 2016

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer

@RT_MediaTrainer

My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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