How to avoid a Liz Truss disaster moment during a media interview

Prime Minister Liz Truss’s recent series of disastrous local BBC radio interviews was a classic example of how not to handle broadcast media opportunities.

After a short media blackout Liz Truss appeared on eight local radio stations, rather than national outlets. Apparently, it is common practice for the prime minister to do this prior to the Conservative Party Annual Conference. It is likely her advisers thought it would be less risky. 

Perhaps in less challenging times it might have been. But against the backdrop of the falling pound and a rising cost of living it could not have been more opposite. The prime minister’s rapid interviews were brutal and generated more widespread coverage and online sharing of content than one appearance on Sky News or BBC Radio Four would have done. 

Unconstrained by complex relationships with Downing Street advisors combined with the absence of having to maintain local relationships and likely wishing to demonstrate their journalism is on a par with London based outlets, the radio presenters did not hold back. They all maximised the chance to represent their listeners and make a name for themselves. 

The interviews were conducted by the BBC Central News Service, which delivers news content to the BBC’s 40 local outlets across the country. On this occasion eight local stations were given interview slots of around five minutes each. It meant the prime minister had little time to reflect before heading into the next interview. Truss faced regional questions on top of the national issues and she was caught off guard both by the tone and the subject matters. 

Are you ashamed of what you have done,” asked BBC Radio Kent. While BBC Radio Tees left Truss reeling with questions regarding fracking and dead crabs washing on the shores of the North Sea. Boxed into a corner the prime minister paused and replied, I don’t accept the premise of your question.”

Media opportunity

The interviews (listen to the highlights here) demonstrated the high-quality journalism and strength of audience that local radio has in great abundance. This is to be celebrated and in terms of corporate communications should be viewed as an opportunity. Broadcast media interviews provide organisations and individuals with opportunities to develop reputation, build brand awareness, address key issues and communicate directly with large target audiences.

Do not let the prime minister put you off utilising local radio to communicate your messages, or to face up to a tough situation should you find yourself in one. Being open and present is important in leadership roles and your audience want to hear from you. Media interviews are an opportunity to communicate to your audience and say what you want to get across. Each opportunity should of course be carefully considered and preparation is vital.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. 

Here are some of our key considerations for successful media appearances. 

First impressions

Listeners and viewers will make very quick judgements about you based on your verbal and nonverbal communication skills and your appearance. Wear comfortable and appropriate clothing and ensure you are well groomed. Employ effective body language, think about your energy, eye contact, gestures, posture and tone of voice. If you are being interviewed via a video call at home make sure you remove anything unsightly. 

Make sure you are dressed and behave in a way that is appropriate both to your role and the context of the interview. 

Key advice includes: 

  • TV appearances – dress accordingly, maintain good eye-contact with the reporter, speak clearly, confidently and with enthusiasm. 
  • Radio interviews –be precise and to the point, allow the presenter to ask their questions and be polite. 


If you have a PR agency your representatives will proactively seek appropriate broadcast media opportunities for you. They will also manage inbound inquiries from media outlets. In the case of the latter, they will assess whether the opportunity is worth taking up. 

In any event they will discuss the opportunity with a producer, editor of presenter and agree the theme of the piece, areas to cover and a common ground. If required, this is where negotiations will take place and your PR adviser may request certain topics are covered or even ignored. When handling delicate subject matters your PR adviser will also take this opportunity to brief the media on the wider market landscape and context, background detail and what your position is. This can help shape the tone and angle of the piece. 

Ahead of any broadcast media opportunities your PR agency will prepare a media briefing and Q&A document for you ahead of the interview. This will outline what the interview opportunity is, who it is with and what topics will be covered. It will then cover a set of questions you may be asked and recommended answers. The document will include key messages and lines to take. 

From this document it is then advisable to run through your key messages and write down your top-three points. They need to be to the point sound bites.’ Practice them in a mock interview with a colleague or friend, or even in front of the mirror. Practice delivering each of your top key messages in less than 20 seconds. It is also important to prepare for worst-case questions. 

If you are in-experienced in taking part in media interviews your PR agency can provide or arrange media training.

Know your audience 

Typically, a broadcast interview requires a news hook, and interviewees are allocated airtime as they are often in a position of authority in relation to the topic. 

For example, it could be the CEO of an organisation in the airline industry is asked to comment on recent delays passengers have experienced at airports. Or a fundraising manager at a charity may be issuing an appeal for public donations in support of a good local cause that needs support. 

In any example, a story will have a purpose and an audience. On a niche radio show the audience will likely be more informed on the subject matter than on a general radio show. Therefore, it is important you adapt your messaging slightly depending on the show you are appearing on and the topic you are talking about. Remember the interview is a means to communicating with your audience, this might be your customers (current and future), partners, suppliers and colleagues. Do not get distracted by who is interviewing you, they are a gateway to the real audience. 

Be the expert 

Your knowledge and expertise of the topic being broadcast is likely the reason why you are being interviewed, so do not be afraid to showcase this. 

But remember your audience is unlikely to be educated to your level, and often speaking in a way the public can understand and relate towards will help your position. It is important to speak with authority but remain respectful and appropriate to the situation. Tone of voice is key here. The topic may require a light hearted approach, a sympathetic approach, an informative approach, an authoritative approach, or a mixture. As Truss demonstrated what is vital is that you understand the subject matter and are well briefed on the opportunity and risks. 

Live broadcast vs pre-recorded

Before an interview takes place, a PR agency would help manage the opportunity. This includes aspects of the broadcast from location to timings, who the spokesperson is, what the interview’s theme will be and what questions are off limits. 

It will also be agreed if an interview is to be broadcast live or recorded in advance. The interview’s format can, in part, dictate how the interviewee prepares for and delivers their answers. 

If your interview is taking place in a studio arrive at least 30 minutes early. This allows time to settle in and removes the risk of getting delayed and stressed. If you are speaking into a microphone maintain a distance of around six inches. 


  • Live TV interviews must run to the programme’s schedule, so you will only have a limited amount of time to speak – very rarely more than one minute. Make sure your answers are clear and concise and you say your most important key messages first. 
  • Live radio interviews typically last five minutes but can go on for longer. Radio is an opportunity to speak in greater detail. 


  • A pre-recorded TV interview will last between four to six minutes – but as little as 10 seconds of the recording might be broadcast. You should not therefore be afraid to repeat those all-important key messages. 
  • Pre-recorded radio interviews are often more relaxed and typically cover a broader spectrum of topics and sectors. 

Modern considerations

Perhaps the reason so many people feel nervous before speaking to the media is our collective awareness of the now viral interviews which did not go to plan. 

In March 2017, Professor Robert Kelly was left rather red-faced when one his children unexpectedly interrupted his interview live on BBC News discussing South Korea. 

Although the interview was completed, it acts as a reminder to take every precaution possible to avoid your airtime being interrupted. The below measures can help avoid this: 

  • Turn your phone to silent 
  • If being interviewed via Zoom, position yourself in a secure area
  • Make people in your area are aware you’re being interviewed

Professor Kelly’s interview can be watched here.

Best interview practice 

Relax, be yourself and be natural. Speak in simple terms and avoid heavy jargon. Assume you are always on air while in front of the camera, or on the phone. Remember to keep it real’ and direct your answers to the listeners or viewers and limit your answers to around three sentences to avoid waffling. 

Avoid confrontation and becoming defensive or angry and keep to your own agenda be providing factual answers and your key messages. Have a glass of water to hand and try not to fidget. If you are sitting in a swivel chair, avoid the temptation to move around. 

At Fortitude Communications, our team of communications and media advisers are experienced in delivering high-quality media training and advice. The team includes former Fleet Street and regional journalists and current national broadcast presenters. 

We can assist with defining key messages, helping clients prepare to give clear and concise answers and run through mock interviews to build confidence. 

How can we help? 

If you would like to chat about how media training could help you please get in touch.

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